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Direct Discrimination in the Workplace: How to Identify and Prevent It

2022-06-02
Direct Discrimination in the Workplace: How to Identify and Prevent It

It's no secret that the workplace is a major site of discrimination. In fact, it's one of the most common areas where people face discriminatory behavior. Direct discrimination can be difficult to identify, but with some knowledge of what to look for, you can protect your employees and yourself. This article will discuss direct discrimination at work and provide tips on how to prevent it.

What Are the Forms of Workplace Discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace takes many forms and can be directed at any number of different groups. In order to make sure that your business is operating in a fair and equitable manner, it's important to be aware of the various forms of discrimination that can take place.

This includes direct, indirect discrimination, harassment, victimization, intentional, unintentional, systematic, and reverse discrimination.

Check out our blog article to discover more about 8 Forms of Discrimination in the Workplace: What to Look For.

What Is Direct Discrimination in the Workplace?

If you are being discriminated against directly, you are being treated differently from someone else who doesn't have the same protected characteristic.

Direct discrimination is unfair treatment because of your race, age, spiritual belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage, civil partnership, gender reassignment, etc. For instance, if a woman is told she cannot apply for a job because the employer wants to hire a man, this would be direct discrimination. There are various causes of such discrimination at work, but it is always unlawful.

How Can Direct Discrimination Occur in the Workplace?

Discrimination almost always stems from prejudice. Social psychology defines prejudice as negative emotions and feelings towards another social group, whereas discrimination refers to the negative actions towards a group. Here are some ways direct discrimination can occur:

  • Community and family influence. A community may believe that all members of a certain ethnic group are criminals, even if there is no evidence to support this claim. In other cases, the beliefs may be more deeply rooted, such as the belief that one gender is inferior to another.
  • Lack of diversity. When people are surrounded by others who are like them, they tend to develop prejudices and stereotypes. This can lead to discriminatory behaviors, such as exclusion or harassment. Additionally, people who lack diversity in their social networks are more likely to hold racist or sexist attitudes.
  • Social taboos. Taboos often relate to sensitive topics such as religion, sex, or ethnicity. When people feel uncomfortable discussing these topics, it can lead to misunderstanding, conflict, and discrimination. For instance, those with privilege may be uncomfortable discussing discrimination as it requires them to acknowledge that they are privileged.
  • Tendency to blame. When we are frustrated about something, we often look for someone to blame for our problems. People who look, talk or behave differently than us can easily become scapegoats. Phrases like "immigrants take our jobs" are too common, unfortunately, and eventually can lead to discrimination.

Examples of Direct Discrimination in the Workplace

Direct discrimination is the negative treatment of an employee or job applicant because of a protected characteristic under employment law, such as the Equality Act 2010, UK. Here are a few examples:

  • Direct age discrimination. An employer refuses to assign certain tasks to an employee who is over 50 with the assumption that older workers are slower. That would constitute direct age discrimination.
  • Direct disability discrimination. If an employer refused to promote a qualified disabled person to a vacant management position, this would be discrimination based on disability.
  • Direct racial discrimination. In the US, black workers' hair has become an ongoing debate in the courtrooms, as many employees prefer white workers' natural hair and label certain hairstyles by black workers as "messy." This is direct racial discrimination.
  • Discrimination by perception. Believing that someone possesses a protected characteristic, even though it's not true, and discriminating against someone because of that is perceived discrimination. For instance, a colleague who is bullying a heterosexual male employee for perceiving him to be a homosexual, even though they are not.

What Is the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Discrimination at Work?

The main difference between direct and indirect discrimination is related to how forthright the discriminatory behavior is. Direct discrimination occurs when employees are treated unfairly directly because of protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination, on the other hand, occurs when a policy or practice seems to be neutral, but actually gives a disadvantage to a particular group.

How To Prevent Direct Discrimination at Work

Workplace discrimination can take many forms, but one of the most common and damaging is direct discrimination. This type of discrimination can have a profound impact on both the individual and the workplace as a whole, creating an environment of disharmony and mistrust. Here we list some examples of how to prevent discrimination at work.

Establish clear policies and procedures

Policies against discrimination should be clearly written and easily accessible to all employees. They should outline what behaviors are considered to be discriminatory. Procedures should also be put in place for reporting instances of discrimination and investigating complaints on the basis of any protected characteristic.

Educate employees

First, explain what discrimination is. It's important that employees understand that discrimination can take many forms, including race, religion, gender, age, and disability. Remind employees of what constitutes unlawful discrimination and what the consequences will be if they engage in it.

Be observant

As a manager, it is important to be on the lookout for signs of discrimination. Some early signs of discrimination include offensive comments or jokes. If you notice any of these, it is important to take action immediately. By promptly addressing instances of discrimination, you can prevent discrimination and create a more positive workplace culture for everyone.

How To Deal With Direct Discrimination at Work

Being the victim of direct discrimination at work can be a difficult and stressful experience. If you feel that you or your employee has been the victim of discrimination, it is important to take action. There are some ways you can do this.

Gather evidence

First, look for any written correspondence that reflects discriminatory attitudes or practices. This could include emails, memos, or performance reviews. Second, try to identify witnesses who can attest to the discriminatory treatment - colleagues, clients, or customers. Finally, keep a record of any instances of discrimination that you or another employee has experienced, including dates, times, and names of those involved.

Talk to your seniors

If you can't speak to the person who discriminates against you directly, speak with management about your concerns. When you meet, be prepared to discuss the evidence you gathered and explain how the discrimination has made you feel. It is also important to be clear about what you would like to see happen in order to resolve the situation. For example, you may ask for a formal apology, a change in policy, or additional training for employees.

File a formal complaint

If your supervisor or HR representative is not able to resolve the issue, they should be able to help you to file a formal complaint following your company's internal procedures. This will usually involve submitting a written statement detailing the nature of your complaint. Once your complaint has been lodged, an investigation will be conducted and you may be asked to provide further information or attend meetings.

File a charge with Acas (UK) or EEOC (US)

If you are not happy with how your organization deals with the discrimination complaint, you can take legal action. Employment law protects employees against discrimination Under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in the US. This allows workers to file official complaints about discrimination at work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Direct Discrimination Be Objectively Justified?

In order for discrimination to be objectively justified, the person or organization must be able to show that there is a good reason for it. It has to have a legitimate aim and proportionate means of achieving that aim.

For example, if an employer can show that a requirement to be of a certain sex is necessary for a job role, then this would be permissible. Similarly, if a business can demonstrate that a dress code policy is necessary to protect health and safety, this would also be justifiable.

The question of whether direct discrimination can be objectively justified is a complex one, and there is no easy answer. Ultimately each case must be considered on its own merits.

Is Direct Discrimination Unlawful?

It's only unlawful discrimination if you are treated differently because of a protected characteristic.

In the UK, The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. This includes age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage, and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

In the US, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

How Early Can Direct Discrimination Occur in the Workplace?

Direct discrimination can happen at any stage of the employment process, from recruiting and hiring to firing and promoting. In some cases, it can even occur before an individual is hired, such as when an employer only recruits candidates who are of a certain sex or religion. It can also occur when an employer makes assumptions about an individual's abilities or qualifications based on one of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

For example, if an employer assumes that a pregnant woman will not be able to perform her job duties due to morning sickness or fatigue, they may refuse to hire her or promote her into a position that requires more responsibility.

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