Skip to content
Get help

Marital status discrimination

It’s hard to believe that, only a few decades ago, women were expected to leave their jobs after they married. In fact, the Equal Opportunity Act was specifically created to prevent that kind of discrimination. These days, we know that everyone deserves to be treated fairly regardless of whether they are in a relationship – married or otherwise. The law continues to protect you from discrimination because of your marital status.

What is marital status discrimination?

Marital status discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly or bullies you because of your marital status or your assumed marital status.

Marital status refers to whether you are:

  • single
  • married
  • divorced, widowed, separated
  • in a domestic partnership
  • in a de facto relationship

Examples of marital status discrimination include

  • A landlord refusing to rent to domestic partners because they want a married couple in their property.
  • A jockey club refusing to grant a trainer’s licence to someone because her husband had been convicted of betting fraud in the past, and the club thinks he will have a ‘corrupting influence’ on her.
  • A dance studio offering tango lessons only to people who are single.

How does the law protect me?

Discrimination is against the law if it happens in an area of public life such as:

People who work in these areas have a positive duty to make sure you don’t face discrimination.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly, because they have made complaint about discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint.

You can make a complaint

Get help from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you.

Find out how the Commission helps people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

Marital status discrimination at work

More than half of all marital status discrimination complaints that come to us are work related (57.7 per cent in 2018-19).

While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, employers have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.

Organisations must also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.

The positive duty applies to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they are a major company or a small cafe, and covers all types of workers:

  • full-time, part-time and casual employees
  • agents and contract workers
  • trainees and apprentices.

It applies to all stages of employment, including:

Examples of marital status discrimination in the workplace include:

  • A manager not considering a woman for promotion once she is married because they think she’ll be focused on starting a family rather than on her career
  • A workplace offering bonuses to married staff, but not single staff members
  • A company offering married employees working in remote locations an allowance and leave to visit their families, but not employees who are single or in de facto relationships.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider these rights when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.