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Single parents are some of the most hard-working employees at work. Although marital status is generally irrelevant in the workplace, there are legal issues relating to single parents that business owners should keep in mind.
So on this National Single Parents Day -- an observance that began with a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 -- here are three legal facts for employers when dealing with single parents at work.
During the interview stage, it's illegal to ask the applicant questions that pertain to their marital status. This can include asking about maiden names or whether the candidate would like to be addressed as "Miss." or "Mrs."
Not only are marital-based questions off-limits in interviews, but questions about family status are as well. For example, it's unlawful to ask an applicant if they have any children or plan to have any in the future. So asking a potential hire if he or she is a single parent is out of the question. It's fine if the applicant brings it up voluntarily, but steer the conversation away from any marital or familial status issues.
For federal government jobs, discrimination based on status as a single parent is prohibited under Executive Order 13152. But that order does not apply to private employers.
For private employers, single parents aren't considered a protected class under federal anti-discrimination laws (whereas traits like race, religion, and national origin are protected). This means single parents can't sue employers for discrimination based solely on the fact that they're single parents.
However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advises that "there are circumstances where discrimination against [single-parent caregivers] may give rise to sex discrimination under Title VII or disability discrimination under the ADA."
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it's generally illegal for most employers (those with 15 or more employees) to discriminate against people based on their sex or gender. Another law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits the unfavorable treatment of pregnant employees.
So if an employee tells you that she plans to have a baby in the next year and you fire her because you don't want to deal with issues that may arise with a pregnant worker, then the employee may be able to sue you for discrimination.
If you need more help understanding how these laws apply to single parents at your business, consult an employment law attorney in your area.
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