ACAS has published new guidance – Marriage and Civil Partnership Discrimination : Key points for the workplace.

As with most of ACAS’ material, it is a very useful resource for employers and employees, providing guidance on the areas where marriage and civil partnership discrimination may creep into a working relationship, how to deal with it if it occurs and how to limit the risks of future discrimination.

Marriage and Civil Partnership is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. The Act protects (opposite and same-sex) married couples and people in a registered civil partnership from discrimination.

The guidance identifies six key areas where marriage and civil partnership discrimination could occur in the workplace.

Don’t forget that in many of the risk areas outlined below, there may be other protected characteristics to watch for. As an employer, your behaviours towards employees who are married or in civil partnership could also amount to discrimination because of sexual orientation, gender or pregnancy/maternity.

I take thee

Recruitment is definitely a risk area. A decision not to employ someone because they are married or a civil partnership would, in almost all cases, be direct discrimination which cannot be justified. Be alert to this during any recruitment process and ensure that you have up-to-date policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination in recruitment and selection.

ACAS provides some decent advice here, including:

  • Take care when writing the advert, job specification or job description to make sure that any requirements that you specify for the role are actually relevant to the job.
  • Stay objective in your decision-making and try hard not to let unconscious bias creep in. It helps to be clear in your own mind from the outset about the skills, experience and qualifications required for the role. A well-thought-out job spec will help you here.
  • At interview, steer clear of questions relating to home/personal life. It might be tempting to ask these questions to help you build a fuller picture of the candidate before you, however you run a real risk that these questions could be misconstrued and used against you if you don’t ultimately appoint that applicant to the job. If a candidate discloses personal information voluntarily, take care not to be influenced by it.
  • Use at least two different channels of advertising so that you gather as wide and diverse a pool of candidates as possible. Avoid “word of mouth” recommendations from your own workforce.

For richer, For poorer

Pay and terms and conditions of employment should not generally disadvantage or exclude people because they are married or a civil partner.

Terms, conditions and benefits given to same-sex married couples, opposite-sex married couples and civil partners should be generally the same. Watch for areas such as flexible working, parental leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave.

If employees are treated differently, employers will need to be able to objectively justify the difference in treatment and/or be able to point to a material factor not related to this (or any other) protected characteristic. For instance, skills, experience and qualifications may be a justification for offering better terms.

For better, for worse

Always aim to promote the best person for the job. Equality of opportunity in promotion is vital; employers should not deny promotion or discourage employees from applying for promotion because of their marital or civil partnership status. Fight the misconception that married and civil partners are in some way less committed, less flexible, less able to travel, or less likely to fit in at more senior levels of your business.

Equally, failing to offer training opportunities or failing to agree training requests for employees who are married or in a civil partnership could give rise to claims for discrimination.

As long as you both shall live?

Dismissal is unlawful on the ground of marital or civil partnership status.

Equally, an employee must not be discriminated against or disadvantaged in a redundancy process because they are married or a civil partner. In a redundancy process, take particular care with the criteria that you choose for selection and how you go about scoring those at risk.

The ACAS guidance itself and the associated myth-busting fact sheet are well worth a read. You can find them both on the ACAS website.