5 Types of Marital Status Discrimination in the Workplace in Minnesota

man putting ring on bride

Minnesota Employment Law Attorneys

In the US, we strongly believe that independent adults have the right to build their own personal lives. To date, marry, have kids, raise pets, and develop hobbies without these things impacting our professional careers. Even though employers can employ us ‘at will’ and fire us without cause, we also have a right to a workplace without harassment and can hold employers accountable if their ‘at will’ decisions turn out to follow discriminatory patterns. This is called the Right to Work. In other words, even if you’re weird or your employer doesn’t like you, you still have the right to a job that matches your skills and interests.

The equal rights and employment laws written by the federal government and states are there to protect that. Everyone knows about the Americans with Disabilities act protecting the right to work of people with medical conditions. And the EEOC protecting gender, ethnicity, family status, race, religion, pregnancy, and age. But here in Minnesota, we also protect people from discrimination for their marital status.

Marital status discrimination is insidious, and it can stem from a surprising variety of situations. If you think that you or someone you know has become the target of marital status discrimination, it can help to have a clear perspective on what this can look like. Let’s examine five different types of marital status discrimination and how it can appear in the workplace.

1) Failing to Hire or Promote Staff With Family Obligations

By far the most well-known type of discrimination related to marital status is the assumption that people with family obligations will be “less committed” employees. In other words, they will want to go home at quitting time and won’t be available for overtime, late nights, or weekend shifts. If an employer is used to working young single employees around the clock, someone married and possibly with kids is going to be seen as aloof and unavailable based on their desire for a more stable personal life.

Because of this, married people may be denied promotions or even removed from hiring consideration because they are seen as not offering as much value as unattached and uncommitted employees.

Interestingly, there’s another permutation of this based on a sense of camaraderie. For managers who care about being buddies with their teams, the ability to attend events and happy hour after work can -feel- like commitment to the job and closeness with the boss. People who have spouses to go home to, especially spouses that don’t want to join them at the bar, can be excluded from cliquish promotion decisions. Which is another form of marital status discrimination.

2) Worst Hours For Staff Without Family Obligations

However, the attitude of an employer can turn this same issue around into another type of marital discrimination. Let’s say there’s a manager who is married and “understands” the importance of getting home to the spouse and kids. So they always give preferential scheduling to married employees, allowing them to take the most reliable and parent-friendly hours.

But as a result, unmarried employees are given all the worst hours and required to take almost all the overtime work because married people are being given the better hours. This is an incredibly common problem in workplaces where employers think they’re being accommodating and clever at the same time. While it’s true that unattached people are more likely to be available for late and weekend shifts, you also have a right to a reliable schedule even if you don’t have anyone waiting for you at home. Or if you do, but they are not your spouse.

3) Preferential Treatment for Staff with Spouses

Along the same lines, preferential treatment for married people might be even more pronounced than simply being given the best hours. For businesses that consider themselves ‘old fashioned’, marital status can matter an unreasonable amount. Especially if your higher-ups like to socialize. This usually takes the form of, or is directly related to, dinner parties.

Let’s look at a company where senior management are all, incidentally, married And they enjoy the occasional dinner party with their spouses as a group of married people. When it comes time to promote a new senior manager, somehow they always choose someone who is married, and possibly someone whose spouse they have met and enjoyed at company parties.

Over time, this preference becomes obvious. The dinner parties with married people causes the careers of married people to accelerate, while the unmarried are also unchosen for parties because A) they wouldn’t be as fun at dinner and B) they may be seen as less ‘grown up’ and reliable by the company culture. Interestingly, this can also turn into discrimination against married people with introverted or unliked spouses who don’t fit in with the married-people culture.

This can also appear even without the dinner parties. Particularly with employers who feel that marriage is a sign of maturity and that unmarried people are simply not mature enough to settle down (or be trusted in management positions).

4) Work Decisions Based on the Identity of Your Spouse

Of course, sometimes marital status discrimination can happen even if the issue isn’t whether or not you are married. Sometimes, it’s about who your spouse is. There are numerous examples of people who have been denied promotions or even job opportunities because their spouse is well-known, and the employer disagrees with their view points.

Being denied a promotion because of your spouse’s political beliefs, for example, is a common mistake of employers who can’t see spouses as two separate people. Or being distrusted because your spouse’s religion, or because your spouse is the same gender.

This can also happen outside of normal discrimination biases. Especially if husband and wife are in the same industry or work for the same company. A business with strict fraternization rules might treat husband and wife unfairly, denying them opportunities to keep them from working near each other. Or the actions or bad reputation of one’s spouse might be used to judge them unfairly in the same professional circles.

5) Pressure to Get Married or to Divorce

Finally, there are instances of marital status discrimination that go beyond casual decision-bias. In some cases, professionals may find themselves pressured by co-workers or even their superiors to pursue a particular marital status. And it’s not always what you think.

There are many traditionally minded businesses who value marital status but, in effect, pressure their single staff to get married. Unmarried women may be expected to be looking for a husband. And unmarried men are constantly cajoled to ‘meet a nice girl’. This is often accompanied with biased promotion and raise decisions, but not always.

There are even some places where the boss has been through a bad relationship and is pushing the idea of single-hood and divorce for everyone. This is usually possible in locations where one boss’s personality can influence the entire office culture. People who are happily married find themselves pressured to free themselves, or their spouses pointlessly put down as the ball-and-chain. Some go so far as to actively sabotage current and new relationships of their employees. And if you are in this situation, it’s important to know that your boss is doing something illegal and can be stopped.

Contact Villaume & Schiek, P.A. Today – Bloomington, MN Lawyers

Being in a workplace that discriminates based on marital status can be incredibly hard. Even for those who are favored by the biased system who may feel bad about the unfair treatment. It can damage careers, relationships, and a company’s ability to function. But most of all, it’s illegal in the state of Minnesota. If you or someone you know is in a maritally biased workplace, there is something you can do. Contact us today and our legal team will be happy to consult on the instances of marital status discrimination at play.


Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individualsituation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.