Every business should aim to adopt a policy of equality and fairness. So it’s important that a company understands its obligations to treat individual employees even-handedly, as many rights are enshrined in law and can land the unwary in hot water.
When it comes to marriages and civil partnerships, the Equality Act (2010) makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because they are married or in a civil partnership. While this seems clear - and fair - misunderstanding the practical application of the law can lead to disgruntled employees and possibly result in costly legal battles.
Many of the issues covered by the Equality Act are founded on common sense. Essentially, employees who are married or in a civil partnership – whether same- or opposite-sex – have the same rights as those who are single. Employers mustn’t discriminate on the grounds of their marital or partnership status, nor on account of their sexual orientation. This applies to recruitment and selection procedures as well as to areas such as pay and promotion.
Discrimination can take several different forms and businesses do need to be vigilant if they are to stay within the legal framework. For instance, when considering someone for promotion, it’s not fair to rule someone out because they’re married and might not be prepared to travel/work late/entertain customers in the way it’s assumed that a single person would.
In general terms, a company’s terms, conditions and benefits shouldn’t disadvantage or exclude anyone based on their sexual orientation or marital status. Employment policies should give thought to issues of flexible working, parental leave and discretionary benefits (such as extra days off when an employee marries).
That said, an employer may be able to justify varying terms and conditions if there is an important factor unrelated to partnership status – perhaps connected with professional experience, qualifications or a geographical location, for example. The best approach? Keep things on the level.
 Acas advice: Equality [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1363
 Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
 Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/8
 Employment Tribunal - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/courts-tribunals/employment-tribunal
 Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/12