Marriage and civil partnership discrimination

Advice and Guidance

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • Great Britain

      Great Britain

What is marriage and civil partnership discrimination?

This is when you are treated differently at work because you are married or in a civil partnership.

What the Equality Act says about marriage and civil partnership discrimination

The Equality Act says you must not be discriminated against in employment because you are married or in a civil partnership.

In the Equality Act marriage and civil partnership means someone who is legally married or in a civil partnership. Marriage can either be between a man and a woman, or between partners of the same sex. Civil partnership is between partners of the same sex.

People do not have this characteristic if they are:

  • single
  • living with someone as a couple neither married nor civil partners
  • engaged to be married but not married
  • divorced or a person whose civil partnership has been dissolved

Different types of marriage and civil partnership discrimination

There are three types of marriage and civil partnership discrimination.

Direct discrimination

This happens when you are treated worse than other workers in your workplace because you are married or in a civil partnership. For example:

  • a woman works night shifts in a distribution warehouse but is dismissed when she gets married because her employer thinks a married woman should be at home in the evening

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when an employer has a policy or way of working that puts people who are married or in a civil partnership at a disadvantage. 

Such a policy is only permitted if your employer is able to show that there is a good reason for it and if the implementation of the policy is appropriate and necessary. This is known as objective justification.

Victimisation

This is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of marriage or civil partnership related discrimination. It can also occur if you are supporting someone who has made a complaint of marriage or civil partnership related discrimination.

Circumstances when being treated differently due to marriage or civil partnership is lawful

The Equality Act only protects you from discrimination at work because you are married or in a civil partnership.

In some specified circumstances an employer can refuse to employ you because you are married or in a civil partnership if the work is for the purposes of an organised religion, for example as a Catholic priest.

The harassment provisions that relate to other protected characteristics do not apply to marriage or civil partnership. However, if you are subjected to hostile, intimidating, humiliating, degrading or offensive treatment because you are married or a civil partner you could bring a claim for direct discrimination, if you can show that you have been treated worse than others who are not married or in a civil partnership.

Alternatively, you may be able to bring a claim for sexual orientation harassment.

Last updated: 04 Jun 2018

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082
Textphone: 0808 800 0084

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

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