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ACAS Publish Guidance on Marriage and Civil Partnership Discrimination

The three types of discrimination within the protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnership under the Equality Act 2010 are ordinary direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and victimisation.

To avoid discrimination in recruitment ACAS recommend that an employer should:

  • generally be careful when writing an advertisement, job description and person specification for a vacancy. Stay clear of any reference to marriage and civil partnership, and do not say that applicants should be single;
  • avoid advertising solely in one kind of place or media. Use at least two different channels so as not to end up with candidates from too narrow an audience;
  • make sure the job application form asks only for personal information relevant to the job and/or for the administration of the recruitment;
  • avoid asking the candidate direct or indirect questions of a personal nature unrelated to the job and their application. Where such information is volunteered, interviewers or others in the selection process should take care not to be influenced by that information; and
  • where possible an employer could look to redesign jobs, perhaps by making them part-time, job-shares or considering other different types of flexible working so a wider range of candidates might feel able to apply, including people who are married or in a civil partnership with responsibilities for child care or other dependents.

Employers should also make sure they understand what marriage and civil partnership discrimination is and how it can happen, their employee’s rights and what behaviour and actions are unacceptable.

An employer should provide training for all employees in constructively developing their awareness and understanding of each other, and building a culture in the organisation of promoting equality and diversity.

The ACAS guidance states that it can be acceptable for an employer to have a policy on personal relationships at work, but there needs to be a good reason for having one,  what is technically called ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

This means that such a policy should only be in place:

  • to guard the employer’s interests – for example, that a personal relationship does not damage work life, lead to favouritism, bullying, a conflict of interest or breach of confidentiality, and
  • if those business needs, and in looking to strike a balance with employees’ right to a private life, be married or in a civil partnership, still outweigh any necessary restriction on those rights.

Generally, an employer should not seek to ban personal relationships at work, but restrictions on employees in a personal relationship (including married couples and civil partners) working in the same team, on the same projects or managing each other may be appropriate.

This bulletin is for general guidance purposes only and should not be used for any other purpose.


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