By Peter Brooks
Under the sex discimination legislation, married people have the right not to be treated less favourably than an unmarried person of the same sex just because they are married. This includes the right not to be dismissed or selected for redundancy on those grounds.
In addition, employers who put in place practices or provisions which apply equally to married and unmarried people, but which still put a married person at a relative disadvantage to an unmarried person of the same sex, would be engaging in indirect discrimination. An example of this might be a non-negotiable job-requirement (as in field sales) for overnight stays.
However, it is not unlawful to discriminate against unmarried people, and that includes those who are non-registered couples.
Under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, gay and lesbian couples can register a civil partnership. In most employment matters, this confers on them the same rights as a married couple. This means that any benefits made available by an employer to married employees and their spouses have to be extended to those employees in civil partnerships and their partners. This might include insurances, pensions, flexible working arrangements and statutory maternity and paternity leave.
Whilst there is no legal requirement for confidentiality, employers should be mindful of the sensitive nature of the information to those concerned, and recognise that there is no need for disclosure of an employee’s sexual orientation and/or status. A generic description which includes ‘married or in a civil partnership’ will generally suffice for record-storage purposes.