Can jobs ask if you are married?

Whether an employer can ask about your marital status during a job interview is a common question many applicants have. There are laws in place to prevent discrimination based on marital status, but employers may still find legal ways to obtain this information.

In this article, we’ll explore whether jobs can legally ask if you are married during the interview process. We’ll cover the quick answers to key questions about marital status and employment, examine the laws prohibiting marital status discrimination, look at how employers can legally obtain the information, and provide tips for handling these types of questions.

Quick Answers

Can an employer ask if I’m married in an interview?

No, an employer cannot directly ask about your marital status in a job interview. This is considered discriminatory under federal and most state laws.

Can I be asked if I’m married on a job application?

No, it is illegal for an employer to ask about your marital status on a job application.

What should I do if asked about being married in an interview?

Politely decline to answer the question. You can state it is against the law for them to ask about marital status. Or deflect by restating your qualifications for the job.

Can an employer find out if I’m married during a background check?

Yes, they may be able to discover your marital status during a background check, depending on the information reviewed.

Is it illegal to discriminate based on marital status?

Yes. Both federal and most state laws prohibit employment discrimination based on marital status.

Laws Prohibiting Marital Status Discrimination

It is illegal under federal and most state laws for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their marital status. The main laws that prohibit discrimination based on marital status include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – This landmark federal law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Although marital status is not specifically listed, it has been interpreted to fall under the “sex” discrimination ban.
  • Executive Order 11246 – This federal executive order prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of marital status.
  • State Laws – Many states have laws that specifically prohibit marital status discrimination in employment. This includes large states like California, New York, and Texas.

These laws apply to all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, job assignments, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers are prohibited from treating employees or applicants differently because they are single, married, divorced, separated or widowed.

How Employers Can Legally Obtain Marital Status

Although employers cannot directly ask about your marital status, there are certain legal ways they may be able to discover whether you are married or not. Methods that employers might use include:

  • Observation of Titles – Employers may be able to deduce marital status from titles used in communications, such as Mr., Mrs., or Ms.
  • Observation of Names – A different surname may indicate a change in marital status for some applicants.
  • Health Insurance Enrollment – Marital status can become evident through health insurance enrollment forms.
  • Background Checks – Marriage licenses and other public records may appear in certain background checks and indicate marital status.
  • Voluntary Disclosure – Applicants may voluntarily disclose marital status without being asked directly.

While these methods do not involve directly asking about marital status during interviews or on applications, they can still provide employers with information that could potentially be used to discriminate.

Handling Marital Status Interview Questions

If you are directly asked about your marital status during a job interview, here are some tips for handling the improper question:

  • Politely Decline to Answer – You can say you do not feel comfortable answering the question since it could violate EEOC laws.
  • Refocus on Qualifications – Redirect the conversation to your skills, experience and ability to do the job.
  • Say It’s Against EEOC Regulations – Inform the interviewer that marital status questions go against EEOC hiring guidelines.
  • Consult Legal Counsel – If you feel you have been discriminated against, consult an employment lawyer about your options.

The key is to maintain professionalism and tactfully rebuff the inappropriate question. Do not become confrontational or accusatory. Simply redirect the discussion to legitimate interview topics.

When Marital Status Can Be Considered

In limited circumstances, an employer may be able to legally consider marital status:

  • To comply with Nepal laws providing spousal benefits.
  • Jobs requiring travel to countries where marital status dictates visa eligibility.
  • National security jobs requiring investigation into dependents.
  • Religious organizations where marital status aligns with religious doctrine.

However, in most standard employment situations, it is illegal for employers to consider marital status in the hiring process or during employment.

Protections Under the Law

Federal and state laws prohibiting marital status discrimination provide the following protections:

  • Ban on publishing discriminatory job ads or application questions regarding marital status.
  • Prohibits hiring, firing, compensation or other employment decisions based on marital status.
  • Requires equal access to employer provided health insurance and benefits regardless of marital status.
  • Protection from harassment or hostile work environment due to marital status.
  • Provision of reasonable accommodation for marital status, such as leave for events.

If you feel you have faced discrimination due to your unmarried, married or divorced status, you have options under the law. Consult with an employment attorney regarding the possibility of filing an EEOC charge or lawsuit against the discriminatory employer.

Penalties for Violations

If an employer illegally discriminates based on marital status, they can face substantial civil penalties under state and federal law. Possible sanctions include:

  • Being ordered by a court to halt discriminatory practices and policies.
  • Back pay, front pay, hiring, promotion or reinstatement if denied due to marital status.
  • Compensatory damages for out-of-pocket losses caused by discrimination.
  • Punitive damages to punish intentional discrimination.
  • Attorney’s fees, expert witness fees and court costs.

Government agencies like the EEOC can also take administrative action against employers who violate marital discrimination laws. This can include fines, mandatory policy changes and required training programs.

Submitting an EEOC Charge

If you believe you have been discriminated against due to your marital status, you can file a charge with the EEOC. Here are some key things to know about the EEOC complaint process:

  • Charges must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory act.
  • The EEOC will investigate your allegations against the employer.
  • Mediation may be offered to resolve the charge informally.
  • If no resolution is reached, the EEOC can file suit on your behalf or provide a right-to-sue letter.
  • Lawsuits against employers must be filed within 90 days of receiving a right-to-sue letter.

Having an employment law attorney assist with your EEOC charge can improve the chances it is investigated properly and strengthen your case overall if a lawsuit is filed.

Avoiding Marital Status Discrimination Lawsuits

Employers should take the following steps to avoid claims of marital status discrimination:

  • Remove any questions about marital status from applications and interviews.
  • Train managers not to consider marital status in decisions.
  • Implement clear EEO policies prohibiting marital status bias.
  • Audit policies and procedures to detect areas of discrimination risk.
  • Investigate any employee complaints of marital status bias promptly.

Consulting with legal counsel to review policies and provide manager training can help organizations comply with marital status discrimination laws.

Key Takeaways

  • Employers generally cannot directly ask about your marital status in interviews or applications.
  • Federal and most state laws prohibit discrimination based on marital status.
  • Employers may still be able to obtain marital status from other sources.
  • Job seekers should redirect inappropriate questions about marital status.
  • You can file an EEOC charge against employers for marital bias.
  • Organizations should ensure their policies comply with marital discrimination laws.


Marital status is a protected characteristic under federal law and most state laws. Employers should be aware that it is illegal to discriminate against job candidates and employees based on whether they are single, married, divorced or widowed. While employers may find ways to determine marital status indirectly, the best practice is to avoid considering it at all unless a legal exception applies. By focusing on qualifications and steering clear of marital status, employers can make hiring decisions lawfully.

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