“My job is my life.” Sound familiar? So how do you handle the fact that the workplace is a less friendly place for singles? Take a minute to consider these facts: More than 25% of Americans work for an employer that offers family and domestic partner benefits; 51% percent of Fortune 500 companies offer family and domestic partner health benefits, as do 80% of the Fortune 50. (Human Rights Campaign. “State of the Workplace”: 2006). When co-workers can add a spouse, partner and/or children to their health care plan but you can’t list anyone you are, in essence, receiving unequal compensation for work that’s commensurate.
At the end of the day your married peers may be walking away with more money than you. No matter how you look at it, marriage still comes with privileges and these benefits translate into dollars. And if you agree that time equals dollars then it doesn’t stop there. Just consider the “Family and Medical Leave Act” which grants time off from work (12 weeks is the limit) to tend for seriously ill spouses, parents or children without extending these same rights to singles who may be the sole caregiver to a friend, roommate etc. And then there is maternity leave and all the time off leading up to the pregnancy for doctor’s visits and sick days.
Surviving in an office with unfair politics isn’t easy but there are some things you can do about it:
1. Be your Own Health Care Advocate: Contributions you and your employer pay towards your healthcare plan vary from company to company. These premiums may be scaled to account for variable spend for single-employee versus family coverage Since this is not always how companies handle things it’s up to you to make sure. Don’t be afraid to ask your human resource department for a breakdown that actually shows what percentage the company pays on employee health benefits and speak up if there is no scaling of fees for singles.
2. Remember that Time Off Equals Money: While it’s hard to tally up other people’s hours or days in absentia, time off for maternity leave is usually set in stone. If you’re single with no immediate plans to start a family, you deserve to be treated equally. You can be creative without causing a conflict by negotiating more vacation, sick or wellness days, working remotely if that’s more convenient for you or even a future sabbatical. Keep an eye on informal office policies that allow parents to come in early or late to facilitate their children’s doctor’s appointments, as they can be abused. If you feel like you are the only one who has to work a full day every day, consider approaching your employer to have a discussion about a bonus or negotiated personal time to render things more equal.
3. Factor in Your Dependents: Make sure that your company will be flexible in the event that a loved one needs you. If you have dependents, be upfront about it. You don’t have to give relationship specifics, just be honest about your responsibilities and make sure terms are spelled out in your contract or employment agreement.
Salary discrepancies are harder to track and prove. If you detect that you’re not being paid or treated fairly, you might want to consult with your HR Department or an attorney who specializes in employment law.
Of course, all of these items must be approached with discretion. While your rights under the law are clear, items that fall into the gray areas are often dealt with by employers on an ad hoc basis. Be mindful of the need to ensure the security of your employment, but also recognize that you need be treated fairly in the workplace.