Direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace

What is harassment?

Cases of workplace discrimination are continuing to grow in numbers every year. According to the Independent, research issued by Sky uncovered that prejudice was still a recurring issue in UK businesses. It was also revealed that staff were primarily being targeted based on their age, gender and race.

Unfortunately, cases of discrimination are all too common in the workplace. Abuse can happy to all members of society so you should be wary of ongoing bullying and harassment at work.

It’s the responsibility of employers to ensure that their staff are protected from being treated unfairly. Identifying discrimination and dealing with it can be a delicate procedure so you need to be able to understand what qualifies as discrimination and how to prevent it.

What is considered discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination is when you treat an individual unfairly due to their characteristics. To clarify what technically counts as discrimination, the Equality Act 2010 named nine protected characteristics.

The types of discrimination include;

Discriminating against an employee on the basis of any of these nine characteristics is against the law.

What constitutes bullying

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination could be abuse, harassment or unfair treatment because of someone’s characteristics.

Punishing a female employee for being late but not punishing a male employee who is also late regularly is an example of direct discrimination.

Another example of direct discrimination could be if you turn an employee down for a promotion purely because they’re pregnant.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination comes in the form of your company rules, policies or practices that may discriminate against a particular group.

Examples of indirect discrimination could include:

Example 1: Putting out a job advert that specifies candidates must have a UK education.

Example 2: Specifying that English must be a candidate’s first language to apply for a job/promotion.

Example 3: For cost-saving purposes, requiring all employees to work a full day on Sundays to split the shifts equally.

This would be indirect discrimination to your catholic employees as this is their day of Sabbath. If you’re only enforcing this policy to save costs, you can’t argue that to discriminate is cheaper than avoiding discrimination.

What causes discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination can start during the recruitment process if candidates are being chosen based on their personal characteristics. Judging someone by their financial status can also be discrimination if you use it to determine their job.

Even positive workplace discrimination can be problematic and get employers into legal difficulties. This includes awarding employees with favourable treatment through incentives and pay rises based on their gender for example. This could then lead to discrimination claims from the rest of your workforce who are treated less favourably.

How to prevent discrimination in the workplace

There are many steps you can take to prevent discrimination in your workplace. Simple but effective changes include:

  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of your responsibilities in this area as an employer. This understanding should inform your treatment of all workers and prospective workers.
  • Promote the same standards on your employees – it’s also vital to make sure that your employees are made aware of their rights and responsibilities on this topic. As part of this, you may wish to run equality training sessions.
  • Ensure your workers know how to raise any concerns about discrimination
  • Have procedures in place to address these problems effectively and efficiently.
  • Regularly update company handbook to match current regulations to prevent any chance of discrimination.

Got a question? 

Discrimination is a very sensitive topic and can be tough to go through the procedure without expert support. If you need help with handling difficult conversations, carrying out investigations and following fair procedures, our experts are here for you.

You can call our team on 0345 844 1111 or email for more help and advice.

And if you’re a Citation client, remember, we’re available 24/7 with our advice line.

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