Labor Day celebrations gave rise to parades, speeches, picnics,
and back-yard barbeques throughout the nation. The holiday
provides an opportunity for people to relax or play, regardless
of their race, national origin, sex, age, marital status, or
The Department of Labor
says that this end-of-summer holiday
"is dedicated to the social and economic
achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national
tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength,
prosperity, and well-being of our country."
Now that the holiday is over and the nation is
settling down to business-as-usual, it may surprise Americans to learn
that for millions of workers "business-as-usual" involves a pattern of
legalized discrimination against them.
Employment discrimination against racial and
ethnic minorities and women is illegal under many federal and state
labor laws. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and
the Equal Pay Act protect minority workers and women from discrimination
in hiring, firing, promotion, and compensation, including benefits
But what about workers who are unmarried or
without children? Do they have cause to celebrate equal employment
opportunities and equal pay when the Labor Day festivities fade into
The Census Bureau released statistics last
week showing that 44 million American households, some 40 percent of the
nation, consist of unmarried people without children.
The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor
Statistics shows that, when both married and unmarried workers are taken
into account, some 64 percent of the nation's workforce does not have a
child at home. The bureau also reports that 44.7 percent of all
workers are not married.
So how are these unmarried employees and those
without children treated by their employers in the 12 months between
Labor Day celebrations?
Not very well.
What does the government do to protect
singles, domestic partners, and those without children from
discrimination in the workplace?
Not very much.
Federal civil rights laws do not prohibit
employment discrimination on the basis of marital status or family
status. Half of the states have no legal remedies either.
So what's the gripe? Why do workers who
are unmarried or without children feel they are being treated unfairly
and need legal protections from discrimination?
Here are few examples which people have shared
A single teacher complains that her employer
pays thousands of dollars more for a "family plan" of married teachers
with kids at home than they do for her own individual plan. Most
employers violate the principle of "equal pay for equal work" when they
give more benefits compensation to some workers and less to others, all
on account of their marital or family status.
A single woman is upset because she sees other
employees getting months of leave, sometimes paid leave, for maternity
purposes or to care for an ill spouse or child. She was denied
long-term leave to care for her sister who is dying of cancer, even
though her sister is her only close relative since her parents are
deceased and she has no spouse or children of her own.
The Family and Medical Leave Act gives
preference to some family relationships and ignores the needs of others.
It looks like Congress is paying lip service to "family values" and
failing to respect family diversity.
A single man is furious when he receives an
invitation to a company picnic which says that all employees are invited
and "feel free to bring your spouse and children." His immediate
family consists of his father and his sister who live with him, but they
are not allowed to attend the company event.
An unmarried flight attendant protests that if
she dies before retirement, her retirement benefits will revert back to
the retirement fund itself and her sister, who is the named beneficiary,
would not receive a penny. However, if the worker had been married
or had minor children at home, they would have received survivor
benefits if she died prior to retiring.
Singles also complain about being required to
work overtime, or being pressured to work on holidays, while those with
kids leave early due to child care needs or get preference for holiday
time off because of their "family" demands.
The list could go on.
While there is no legislation pending in
Congress or in any of the states to prohibit such discriminatory
practices, some companies are sensing the growing resentment by
unmarried and childless/childfree workers over such favoritism.
For example, a growing number of employers are
now giving each worker a set number of days for Personal Time Off,
regardless of marital status or household configuration. Also,
many employers have moved away from "family friendly" workplace programs
to more generic "work/life" programs, providing employees with more
benefits that are usable by everyone.
But despite some modest voluntary changes by
some employers, the fact remains that millions of unmarried Americans
would benefit much more by having legal protections against marital
status discrimination in the workplace than they do from a one-day
Perhaps the next speeches that politicians
make to pay tribute to the American worker should be on the floor of the
House or Senate promoting an expansion of the Equal Pay Act or the Equal
Employment Opportunity Act to protect 58 million unmarried workers from
unfair discrimination. Now that would be a real tribute.
Unmarried America 2005
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
firstname.lastname@example.org. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and