Indirect Discrimination in the Workplace

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What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination applies a provision, criteria or practice across the board but it has the effect of putting those who share a particular protected characteristic at a disadvantage.

So basically, it differs from direct discrimination because it puts focus on the effect or outcome of a policy or provision, instead of the policy or provision itself. This can make it much harder to safely avoid indirect discrimination as you really have to analyse all possible outcomes of a policy you wish to put in place.

Direct Discrimination: Negative treatment of employees
Indirect Discrimination: Negative outcome of policy on employees

When implementing a policy or practice

Law at Work suggested asking yourself the following three questions before implementing a policy:

1. Are there any groups that could be disadvantaged by the policy?

2. What is the legitimate aim of the policy?

3. Is the policy proportionate?

Avoiding indirect discrimination

Law at Work suggested implementing the following measures to ensure your company avoids indirect discrimination.

  • Do an equality impact assessment before introducing new policies and practices.
  • If a potential disadvantage is identified consider less discriminatory alternatives
  • Be clear on your legitimate aim
  • Retain paperwork to demonstrate your thought process
  • Do not automatically discount individual requests to depart from the policy
  • Ensure effective communication surrounding new policy

Examples of indirect discrimination

  • Employer requires candidates for management jobs to achieve 80% in numeracy and literacy tests.

Why is this indirect discrimination? It discriminates against candidates who are dyslexic, therefore discouraging them from applying for the role.

  • Employer has a no headwear policy.

Why is this indirect discrimination? It discriminates religious groups who practice wearing headwear as part of their faith.

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