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Photo of Michelle Cohen Levy

Florida’s protection against marital status discrimination

On Behalf of | Sep 1, 2023 | Employment Law |

When most people think of personal classifications that are legally protected from discrimination in the workplace, they often think of race, gender, age, disability and other innate characteristics. However, in some states, including Florida, martial status is also protected.

Under the Florida Civil Rights Act, employers with at least 15 employees are prohibited from discriminating against applicants or employees because they’re single, married, divorced, widowed or any other status.

Why is this needed?

It might not seem like this should be a problem in 2023. However, you never know what a business owner or hiring manager’s personal prejudices, misconceptions or experience might be. Some might have a strong religious conviction against divorce. They might not want to hire someone who’s divorcing or recently divorced because they’ve had bad experiences with employees letting their divorce interfere with their job. Others might believe that single people don’t have the incentive to work hard that married people do. On the other hand, some might believe that married people have too many obligations that interfere with the kind of commitment and availability they need – particularly if they’re parents.

With marital status as a protected characteristic, Floridians have some protection against employers like this. This protection extends to discrimination and harassment as well. Of course, unless there’s a pattern of discrimination against a group of employees or a manager has made disparaging remarks based on someone’s marital status, it can be challenging to hold them accountable.

A negative employment action could be performance-related

Just about any change in marital status can cause some upheaval and potentially affect your job performance — whether it’s planning a wedding, getting a divorce or dealing with the death of a spouse. While an employer can’t fire an employee because their marital status has changed, they can if their job performance suffers seriously for an extended period and shows no sign of getting back on track.

Most employers are willing to accommodate reasonable requests for time off or a lighter workload if they’re able to. However, if an employee’s performance is unsatisfactory or they make an egregious error – regardless of what’s going on in their personal life — an employer has the right to terminate, demote them or give them fewer hours if they’re in an hourly position.

If you believe you’ve suffered discrimination based on your marital status and you haven’t been able to resolve the matter with your employer, it may be wise to seek legal guidance in order to fully explore your rights and options.