Can I Be Denied A Promotion Because My Spouse Works With Me?

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An AOL Jobs reader asks:

Is it legal for an employer to deny an employee the chance to move up to manager just because their husband works at the same place? Keep in mind they already work together at the same place, but he won't consider her because her husband works there.

In general, an employer can deny a promotion (or fire or demote) for any reason or no reason at all, including that your spouse works for the same company. That being said, there could be some circumstances where denying you a promotion just because your spouse also works there could be illegal:

Sex discrimination: If only women are denied promotions when they work with their spouses but the company is fine with promoting male spouses, then that could be sex discrimination. If there are other married couples at work, are any of them managers? If so, are they all male? Then it might be sex discrimination.

Marital status discrimination: In some states, it's illegal to discriminate against you based on marital status. That usually means the fact of being married, not who you're married to, so if you're in one of these states, you may still be out of luck. However, if unmarried couples, especially couples who live together, work for the company, are any of them managers? If so, the company may be discriminating against you because you're married.

Association: If you aren't being promoted because they don't like your spouse, then there could be some illegal discrimination happening. If, for instance, they don't like your spouse because he's of a different race or national origin than you, then that would be illegal. They also can't discriminate against you because your spouse is disabled or in the military. Similarly, if they are retaliating against you because your spouse took a Family and Medical Leave, made a worker's compensation claim, or blew the whistle on illegal activity.

Most companies don't want to promote an employee if they'll end up supervising their husband or wife, so there could be good reasons why they are denying your promotion. If there is another department, team or division you could supervise that wouldn't put you in a position to discipline or give your husband a raise, then you might have a shot a convincing the company they should not be concerned about giving you the promotion.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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