Since the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 it has been illegal to dismiss someone on the grounds of their marital status. However, Debbie Mactaggart, a Partner here at Jordans, simply being closely connected to a particular person may still be a justified cause for dismissal.
Employees need to be aware of the limited protection the Act provides. “In a recent case an employee appealed after she, her husband (who was a senior manager) and their daughter were all dismissed by the same firm. The reason given for the employee’s dismissal was that she was a member of her husband’s family”.
The employee commenced proceedings in the employment tribunal claiming unlawful discrimination on the basis that the reason for her dismissal had been her marital status. The case reached the Employment Appeals Tribunal, which ruled that it was important to appreciate that a case where a woman was dismissed because she was married to a particular person would not always fall within the scope of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. For that to be the case it was essential that the fact that they were married was part of the ground for the employer’s action.
Debbie comments: “In many cases of this kind, the ground for the employer’s action would not be the fact of being married but simply the closeness of their relationship and the problems to which that was perceived to give rise. A common-law wife would have been treated in the same way”.
In the case in question, the employee could not establish that the employers had been motivated specifically by the fact that she and her husband were married, rather than simply by the closeness of their relationship, and so her appeal must fail.