I would re-print the maddening e-mail she received here but I am concerned that someone at her office might recognize it.
Worker Mobility versus Employee Loyalty
In this case, she expects to be in the area for at least the next two years. I really do not think that in today’s world a company can expect more than that. Even if your spouse is not military, they cannot expect a person will not start a family, move, find a better offer, or change careers for decades anymore. Given the vast number of layoffs, you also cannot expect that sort of loyalty from a company anymore, either.
In answering her question, there are two things to consider: (1) Her rights; (2) Reality.
Military Spouse Employee Rights
I am not a lawyer and you should not consider this actionable legal advice.
Most states do not specifically grant military spouses protection from employment discrimination. However, you may not discriminate against someone based on marital status. An employer making inquiries about your marriage for any purpose is simply inappropriate. They also cannot ask if you are planning to get pregnant and take maternity leave in the near future.
Some recent decisions have also set a precedent for considering this indirect discrimination against a servicemember. That would be a more difficult argument to make, in my lay opinion.
Either way, most of the time, this is a “he said / she said” situation but these people actually had the chutzpah to put their idiocy in writing.
Rights versus Reality
The problem with all of this is that most employees generally want to stay at their jobs and progress in their careers. They do not want to get fired or passed up for promotions and then engage in a lengthy legal battle.
This is where the reality comes in.
My Advice to This Reader
In this case, the cat is already out of the bag and this military spouse has to decide the best way to manage the issue.
My advice was to reassure her office that her “marital status” will not affect her job performance and to clarify that she plans to be in the area for the “foreseeable future” and hopes to build her career with that company.
Chain of Command
If the company were a large, national corporation, I might also recommend investigating corporate policies and possibly taking your concerns up the chain. However, with a small-to-medium local company, it is likely that would just get you passed over even more and possibly let-go at a later date for either manufactured performance reasons or laid-off due to the economy.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
For those who are just starting at their job or in the military life, I would recommend keeping information about your spouse to yourself.
I know it is lonely when your husband is gone on training or deployment. I know that you want to share the joy when your husband gets a commendation or passes a difficult exam. The sad reality is you are probably better off not confiding in your co-workers. Even if they mean well, they most likely do not understand that casual conversations like this can affect your career.
This may be cynical, and this is not something I would have even considered when I was younger, but seeing things like this happen so many times, I’ve learned that discretion is the better part of covering your own rear.
Even with your best efforts, however, you may find yourself in a position where you are being discriminated against due to your husband’s military status. In this case, you have to decide whether it is worth burning bridges to pursue the issue.
There’s what is right, and there is what works. Sometimes you have to sacrifice being right in order to make things work.
What do you think? Am I too cynical? Is a direct discussion about employee rights the way to go? Or am I not cynical enough? Should she just start looking for another job since she is unlikely to advance at this company? And should military spouses have more employment rights to protect them? Do you empathize with the businesses who lose employees due to military moves or is it just part of the sacrifice we should all be sharing more equally?
Photo by Miriam Pastor