Imagine this scenario. A married couple work in a care home for several years, covering each other’s shifts if necessary, with no issues or problems. They are hardworking, reliable and have spotless records. Then a new owner takes over and dismisses them both, because, he says, he “doesn’t like to employ married couples.”
Fortunately, under the Equality Act 2010, “marriage” (which includes civil partnerships) is a protected characteristic. They successfully take their employer to the Tribunal and receive a substantial payout.
Now let’s imagine a different situation – a single parent, also a good employee, to whom the new owner says, “I don’t like single parents. I don’t trust them. You’re dismissed.” Under present equality and discrimination law, that employee would have no legal comeback at all. How can it be that individuals who are married or in a civil partnership are protected from discrimination whilst single parents are not?
I should perhaps declare an interest (as so many politicians don’t.) I was raised by a single parent myself. Discrimination against single parents is an issue that has directly affected me in my life and I witnessed my mother struggling to juggle home life and work; an assumption being made at interview or when being considered for promotion that supporting a child or children on your own means a lack of focus or commitment. And yet anecdotal evidence from employers is that single parents are more not less committed and responsible than other employees.
That’s why this month I am writing in support of Single Parents Rights campaign to join single parents to the Equality Act.
During the pandemic, existing problems were brought sharply into focus. Working parents had a tough time working from home whilst caring for children who were off school, and single parents had no one available to take up the slack. No wonder so many found their physical and mental health suffered. In the economic downturn that followed, many found themselves facing dismissal either because they had not been able to maintain the levels of productivity or because of a perception that they might not in the future.
Female employees can in some cases claim indirect sex discrimination, but that can be hard to prove. Given that around 15% of single parents are male, and they have no recourse at all to the law, it is surely time for an update. “Marriage” as a protected characteristic could be adjusted to “marital status” to encompass single parents. Adding parental responsibility to the ‘maternity’ characteristic would also end the anomaly where a woman is protected from discrimination whilst she is pregnant but not as the mother of that child.
There are other adjustments that could also be made to ensure that single parents get the support they need to provide for their children and make their contribution to the economy. Flexible working needs to be extended, and parental leave doubled for those who don’t have a partner. Single parent families are amongst the poorest groups in the country; acknowledging this through increased in-work benefit support would go some way to levelling the field.
Now is the right time to make single parenthood a protected characteristic and add it to the Equality Act. I hope that politicians, either in this Government or the next, have the willingness to put that into action.
If you are an employer needing advice on how to support your single parent employees, or an employee facing discrimination at work, we can help provide friendly, professional advice. Please contact Zoe on 0203 858 9765 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mulberry’s has offices in Brighton and London.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.