Employee Time Off at the Holidays: Does it pay to be married?

Does your workplace have an unwritten policy benefiting married employees?  John Phillips, at The Word on Employment Law, asks this question and posits some very interesting answers.  In his post, Holiday Pitfalls: Time Off from Work and Marital Status Laws, John points out the common problem of competing requests for time off during the holiday season.  Let’s face it, everyone wants off over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  And, just because someone doesn’t celebrate a particular holiday, it doesn’t mean that they want to sit in the office all day by themselves, as the lone soldier manning the fort.  So who foots the bill when it comes to getting stuck with the holiday shift nobody wants?  John notes:

Single employees may come out holding the short end of the stick when there’s sort of an unwritten policy that married employees, particularly those with children, are given preference on these holiday-related vacation or PTO requests.

He goes on to discuss the application of marital-status as a protected class.  In Delaware, as well 18 other states according to John’s count, marital status is a protected characteristic, just like race, religion, gender, and age.  Another characteristic that has received attention in recent years is caregiver status.  Caregiver, or Family Responsibilities discrimination, occurs when an employee is subject to an adverse employment action as a result of his or her caregiving responsibilities at home. In other words, an employee who has an elderly parent at home or who is raising small children may be the target of discrimination if the employer doesn’t select him or her for a promotion based on the employer’s misgivings about the employee’s “split attentions.”

Generally, discrimination is not found where an employee is given better treatment because of a protected characteristic–but this is not always the case.

Is it a common occurrence around the holidays to hear an employee assert that her request for time off should be granted over the request of another employee because she “has little kids at home”?  If so, is that a fair assertion?  On one hand, it seems fair that a mother with small children has plenty of reasons to be home at the holidays.  But, if you are the employee without children, is it fair that you would be expected to carry the burden of “last man standing” in the office?

As John concludes, this is an issue of workplace relations more than a legal matter.  But, so often, legal problems are largely derivative of a sense of being treated unfairly that it’s unrealistic to separate the two concepts entirely.

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