Are employers giving single employees without children the short end of the stick? Recently many workplaces have become more “family friendly,” allowing parents more flexible schedules to attend their children’s activities and appointments, as well as providing greater health benefits for employees with families or dependents. However, this movement has been described by some as being unfair to single employees because they are not afforded the same benefits as their married counterparts.
In addition to missing out on many of the benefits that are afforded to employees who are married and/or have children, single employees may also be expected to assume more workplace responsibilities.
Single employees may be viewed by an employer has having less outside responsibility because they do not have the same family obligations as their counterparts with spouses and/or children. This perception may cause employers to expect single employees to work longer hours and holidays, or travel more for work.
It is this perception within which the unfairness lies, as many individuals choose to stay single and child free for a variety of reasons. Having such unequal treatment, based on a person’s lifestyle, could cause a backlash from people who choose to be single rather than take a more traditional route.
The law does not require protection for single individuals the same way it does for race, gender, religion, or disability. However, employers may want to be mindful of the effects that a “family friendly” policy could have on single, childless employees. Expecting more from single employees, while allowing special privileges to employees with family obligations, could cause tension in the workplace as well as resentment. This is especially true in today’s world where there is a growing trend in the number of individuals who are choosing to stay single.
Even though employers are not subject to liability for practices favoring those who are married and/or have children, they should still evaluate whether their policies or practices are discriminatory towards single people. One area that is ripe with perceived unequal treatment is health care coverage, where employees with families seem to benefit more from the program because of the number of people covered, as opposed to one individual. Additionally, some employers allow employees with families to be exempt from working overtime and holidays.
To avoid these discrepancies, employers should strive for policies that are agreeable to all employees and not just those with families. This may include instituting a cafeteria-style benefits plan where each employee gets a certain number of credits to use as they see fit, or creating flexible work hours for everybody.
In the end, employers should strive to be fair to all employees. While there is a certain interest in accommodating the needs of employees with families, it should not come at the detriment of single employees. With the speed at which “pro single” lifestyle organizations are gaining popularity, it may only be a matter of time before regulations are passed that will protect single individuals in the same manner as gender and race.
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