Single Parent Discrimination at the Workplace

Single Parent Discrimination at the Workplace

On November, 2009, the US Census Bureau released the document on Custodial Mother and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007. According to this study, there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the US responsible for raising about 26% of 21.8 million children under 21 years of age. The rest of the children lived outside their household. Additionally, 84% of the custodial parents are mothers and 16% are fathers.

When it comes to employment:

Of the mothers who are custodial parents:

79.5% are employed

49.8% work full time, all year round

29.7% work part-time or part of the year

Of the fathers who are custodial parents:

90% are employed

71.7% work full time, all year round

18.4% work part-time or part of the year

These statistics clearly show that most single parents are gainfully employed so that they do not have to depend on others for their family’s subsistence. In fact, out of this large number of single parent households, only 27% of custodial single mothers and their children live in poverty and 12.9% of custodial single fathers and their children live in poverty. However, there are many cases of discrimination on single parents in the workplace. While several companies deny this, this type of discrimination is rampant and accepted by most people in the workforce. This is because there is no federal law prohibiting this type of discrimination. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) has laws against discrimination.

For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) that protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older; Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA) which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments; and so on. While these are clear laws against discrimination, there is no specific law against single parent discrimination. How are single parents discriminated? It usually starts as early as the job interview. Applicants are asked about their marital status. Then, the interviewer asks if the applicant has children.

In some cases, when the applicant says yes, he/she is then asked to leave. For those who are “fortunate” enough not to be asked to leave, they are asked questions like, “Will your parental duties prevent you from working at least 50 hours a week?” If applicants do pass the interview, the probability of being passed over for promotion or more responsibility in the workplace is greater compared to their single (without children) and married counterparts. It seems that a common stereotype for a single parent is someone who “wouldn’t be interested or able to make a move because they have children,” according to Cindia Cameron, organizing director for 9 to 5. So, what should a parent do if he/she is single and experiences discrimination in the workplace?

1. At the interview, try to relax but be straightforward When you are asked questions such as those mentioned earlier, ask the interviewer why they are asking those questions. Then tell them that you would be happy to talk about that but you would like to talk about your skills and accomplishments first.

2. Challenge the interviewer’s assumptions Politely ask why the interviewer thinks that being single and a parent matters in connection to the job. Answer their concerns so as to dispel any preconceptions they have against single parents.

3. Talk to your supervisor or manager At work, if faced with a situation where you feel that you are being discriminated, talk to your superior and tell them that you want the opportunity to advance just like other members of the team.

4. Get support from other single parents in your workplace Seek out other single parents in your office. Meet with them and put together ideas on how you can address issues that you have with the company.

Maintaining a single parent household is difficult. It shouldn’t be complicated further with discrimination at the workplace. Because of the difficulties that single parents are facing at the workplace, a petition has been made, addressed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to support single parents by means of having laws made specifically against single parent employment discrimination.