Marriage and Civil Partnership – The ‘other’ union that business leaders need to know about

You don’t need a professorship in recruitment to know that when it comes to hiring people, there are some things that are out of bounds when it comes to the questions you can ask on an application form or in an interview.

There are the obvious ones about age, sexuality, gender, and race, as well as others that are maybe less well publicised, but which should be pretty obvious with even a few moments’ thought –  for example, a quick route to a tribunal might be asking a female candidate who’s just returned from honeymoon if she and her partner are planning on starting a family.

But there’s aspect of someone’s personal life that might seem completely innocuous, but which is fraught with potential danger in an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) context: marriage and civil partnership.

Marriage and civil partnership are protected characteristics within the UK Equality Act 2010, meaning the legislation recognises the importance of these relationships and seeks to prevent discrimination based on marital or relationship status.

And if you’re sitting there wondering why an institution as ancient and familiar as marriage (or a legally recognised partnership outside of marriage) should need formal protection under equality law, you’re not alone.

I often find myself in conversations on this subject, not because the people I’m speaking to are ignorant, but because they genuinely can’t understand why – or even how – someone who is in a committed relationship might be discriminated against.

And yet it happens more often than you might think. Usually through unconscious bias, rather than overt prejudice. But nevertheless, when it comes to this part of the legislature, innocence is often no excuse.

Here’s an example of how people in a marriage or civil partnership might be unfairly treated in the workplace:

Imagine you’re trying to hire into a role which you know is highly demanding. The hours might be long or arduous, it’s a role that may mean the successful candidate working into the evenings or over weekends or being on call 24/7. There may be other pressures that are time-consuming or stressful and may require the person in the role to be more flexible than most of their colleagues.

You have two candidates. One is single and the other is married. Both are in their early 30s. The single candidate is slightly less suited to the role than the married candidate.

The protected characteristic provision is designed to guard against you appointing the single candidate on the basis that you know they answer only to themselves and will therefore likely be more flexible and more likely to be able to be able to respond to the business’s needs at the drop of a hat.

Protection against discrimination based on marriage and civil partnership is crucial for various reasons.

First, it promotes equality by preventing unjust treatment of individuals in these relationships. Discrimination based on marital status can manifest in different forms, such as denial of employment opportunities, unequal treatment in the workplace, denial of benefits or services, and social exclusion. The protection offered by the Equality Act ensures that individuals in marriages or civil partnerships are not subjected to these forms of discrimination and are treated fairly and equally in all aspects of their lives.

Second, including marriage and civil partnership as protected characteristics promotes societal acceptance and respect for diverse relationships. It sends a powerful message that different types of committed relationships, whether they are based on marriage or civil partnership, deserve equal recognition and protection under the law.

In the world of business, this recognition contributes to fostering a more inclusive and tolerant workplace, where individuals are valued and respected regardless of their marital status.

It also helps to challenge stereotypes and prejudices surrounding marriage and civil partnership, promoting understanding and acceptance of diverse relationship choices.

And of course, this protection also aligns with the core principles of non-discrimination and reinforces the idea that everyone should be treated with dignity and fairness, irrespective of their personal choices, culture, race, or upbringing.

Employers can fall foul of this part of the law in numerous ways during and beyond the recruitment and selection process. Here are just a few examples:

Hiring: As has already been outlines, some employers may have biases against hiring married individuals, assuming that they will prioritise their family obligations over work commitments. These biases can influence the selection process and lead to discrimination during the hiring stage.

Promotion and advancement: Married individuals might face obstacles when it comes to promotions and career advancement. Employers may perceive them as having less availability or commitment to work due to their marital status, leading to missed opportunities for career growth.

Salary and benefits: An employer might offer lower salaries to married employees compared to their single counterparts, assuming that married individuals have an additional source of income or support from their spouse. Similarly, they may provide fewer benefits or incentives based on marital status.

Training and development: Employers may overlook married individuals for specialized training programs or deny them opportunities for professional growth based on assumptions about their commitment or availability.

Work-life balance: Employers might fail to provide adequate work-life balance measures for married individuals, assuming that their family responsibilities should take precedence over their professional commitments. This can result in a lack of flexibility or understanding when it comes to accommodating personal obligations.

If you’d like to know more about how Convergent can help you to ensure you’re up to date with all the nuances of the Equality Act and how it affects your business, why not get in touch for a confidential and informal chat?