Many managers are familiar with the concept of direct discrimination – when an employee is treated differently because of a protected characteristic, such as race or sex. However, they may not be aware of the concept of indirect discrimination, which can also be very harmful to employees. In this article, we will discuss what indirect discrimination is, and how you can identify and prevent it in your workplace.
Within the workplace, discrimination can happen in unique, unexpected, and sometimes unintentional ways.
We can categorize direct (or purposeful) discrimination as either victimization, harassment, or more broadly, intentional discrimination. Other, more subtle forms can include unintentional discrimination, systematic discrimination, reverse discrimination, and of course, indirect discrimination.
These terms can be quite confusing at first but it is important that we draw distinctions in order to get an understanding of this complex issue.
Visit our blog post to learn more about Different Forms of Discrimination in the Workplace.
Indirect discrimination occurs when a workplace policy or rule puts a particular group of people at a disadvantage. For example, if a company requires all employees to work full-time, this may indirectly discriminate against women who have childcare responsibilities.
Indirect discrimination can be harder to spot than direct discrimination. However, it is just as unlawful and can have a negative impact on those who are affected by it.
Rules and systems are at the core of indirect discrimination, which is why it can be so tricky to affect change. Here are some reasons many people are still indirectly discriminated against:
Indirect discrimination can occur in the workplace when an apparently neutral practise puts people of a particular group at a disadvantage. This can mean disadvantaging certain staff members due to personal time constraints, disability, religion, or any other protected characteristics. Here we give some indirect discrimination examples.
Strict or disproportional dress codes can disadvantage certain staff members for a number of reasons. For example, if a job requires staff to wear business attire, this may exclude people who cannot afford to buy such clothing. Overtly feminized female uniforms (such as expecting air hostesses to wear heels) can cause discomfort to female staff, as well as require extra time and money to meet the requirements in contrast with male staff.
Some workplaces indirectly discriminate against employees by having staff requirements about physical appearance. For example, these types of policies can inflict unfair treatment on women, who are often held to higher standards of appearance than men. Similarly, if a job requires employees to have a certain hairstyle or facial hair, this may exclude people from certain cultural groups.
If a workplace requires employees to have a certain physical appearance, they should make an effort to ensure that the policy is fair and inclusive. Otherwise, they may be inadvertently discriminating against some of their most qualified and capable workers.
Indirect religious discrimination can occur when an employer has a policy, practice, or procedure that makes it difficult to conform to religious practices. This includes things like not providing enough flexible working options which would indirectly discriminate against employees whose religion means they cannot work certain hours. Inflexible scheduling can also be a form of indirect sex discrimination as women are statistically more likely to be responsible for childcare.
One form of indirect discrimination is when an employer uses subjective criteria to make promotion decisions. For example, a company may only promote employees who are "presentable" or "confident". While these terms may seem neutral, they are often used to exclude marginalized groups such as people of color, women, and disabled people. This is because these criteria are often based on harmful stereotypes about groups that are not white, male, and middle-class. This can be frustrating for employees who are passed over for a promotion and send a negative message to others with the same protected characteristic. As a result, indirect discrimination can have a significant impact on employee morale and retention. Additionally, it can lead to legal action under the Equality Act.
Direct discrimination in the workplace is when a colleague or boss treats an employee or job applicant less favorably because of a protected characteristic. For example, if an employer refuses to interview someone because they are from a particular racial group.
Indirect discrimination is where an employer imposes conditions or requirements that employees of a particular protected characteristic are less likely to be able to comply with. For example, if an employer only recruits people who have experience in a certain software program and the only way to gain this experience is through paid work, then indirect discrimination may have occurred.
Indirect discrimination is often difficult to justify and employers should take care to avoid it where possible. Below are some steps that employers can take to prevent this type of discrimination at work:
Indirect discrimination due to protected characteristics can slip under the radar unless it is actively reported and evidenced. However, there are many avenues a person can go down to get justice if they feel this has occurred.
To summarise, indirect discrimination means any procedure or policy that has an adverse effect on those with protected characteristics.
To make successful discrimination claims, employees can call upon common knowledge to show how disproportionately certain policies affect them. For example, Jewish people would be disadvantaged in cases where employees are required to work on the sabbath. It can also help to build a claim if the employee has proof that they have already attempted to resolve the issue with a line manager or other member of staff in a higher position, as this evidences that the company is unwilling to take steps to prevent discrimination.