Indirect Discrimination

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Health Assured team

25 August 2021

Employers should take a proactive approach to eliminating cases of discrimination in their workplace.

Your provision, criterion, or practice (PCP) should treat everyone equally. But these PCPs can have a disproportionate impact on certain groups of people. This is indirect discrimination.

This can lead to a poor workplace culture, where employees feel uncared for and not respected. Which can cause employees to leave or raise claims of unfair treatment.

Learn what indirect discrimination means in the workplace. And see how you can minimise discrimination from happening to your employee.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination refers to the situations where PCPs treat everyone equally, but they actually hinder a whole group.

Indirect discrimination at work can take place in both a formal and informal settings – and through work conditions, qualifications, or provisions.

What are the different types of discrimination?

There are four main types of discrimination under The Equality Act (2010):

  1. Direct discrimination.
  2. Indirect discrimination.
  3. Victimisation.
  4. Harassment.

There is a slight difference between direct and indirect discrimination; but both should be dealt with when concerns are raised or seen.

Direct discrimination happens when someone is treated unfavourably in the workplace because of a protected characteristic. Whereas, indirect discrimination happens when policies and procedures – which apply to everyone – exclude a certain group of people.

Sometimes, the ill-treatment can happen once or multiple times – which is known as harassment. And sometimes the employee is treated badly after making a complaint about discrimination – which is known as victimisation.

Types of indirect discrimination

To be considered as indirect discrimination, the Equality Act states the ill-treatment must go against one of the nine protected characteristics. The act protects employees from being treated unequally, based on their:

  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Gender reassignment.
  • Marriage or civil partnership.
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  • Race.
  • Religion or belief.
  • Sex.
  • Sexual orientation.

Indirect discrimination can happen in many different ways. Here are some indirect discrimination examples:

  • A company has a dress-code policy where women can’t wear headgear, like headscarves. This could be indirect discrimination against women who wear them for religious or cultural reasons.
  • A company might prohibit certain types of hairstyles at work, like dreadlocks or braids. This could be indirect discrimination against a certain race of people where such hairstyles are part of their culture or ethnicity.
  • A company could host a dinner, but only provide meat courses and no vegetarian or vegan options. This could be indirect discrimination against those who cannot eat certain meats or animal-based products for religious or personal reasons.

How to prevent direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace

It’s your responsibility to prevent all forms of discrimination affecting your workers.

Taking a proactive role in spotting and reducing it will help your employees feel supported and cared for. Which can boost performance and loyalty towards your business.

Here are some ways you can prevent discrimination of all kinds in the workplace:

  • Display a clear definition for what discrimination is in your policies and handbooks.
  • Have zero-tolerance for all discriminatory behaviour.
  • Make your reporting known to all staff members.
  • Provide awareness training on equality in the workplace.
  • Ensure that all employees are confident with raising discrimination concerns.
  • Have clear procedures in place for investigating claims.

When is indirect discrimination justified?

There might be some situations where acts of indirect discrimination may be lawful. Under the Equality Act, indirect discrimination can be considered acceptable if you show reasonableness.

This is when you think you’ve demonstrated your reasons to show ‘objective justification’. This term gives validity for creating a policy or rule that would’ve otherwise be deemed discriminatory.

Remember that employees could still contest your decision if they think it’s unfair. Which might lead to them raising a claim of unfair treatment to employment tribunals.

An example of this might be banning necklaces in a workplace with heavy machinery. This might indirectly discriminate against workers who wear necklaces to show their faith. But there’s a good health and safety reason for the rule. So, a court might see your decision as reasonable.

Get help from Health Assured with preventing indirect discrimination

Employers have a responsibility to protect their staff members from all forms of harm – including bullying, harassment, and all forms of discrimination.

By building a healthy and comfortable working space, employees will feel safe and confident whilst working for you. Which elongates employee retention as well as business productivity.

Without it though, discrimination cases can equate to meeting possible tribunal hearings and financial penalties.

Health Assured offers expert advice on dealing with discrimination issues in the workplace. Our confidential whistleblowing support allows your employees to confidently raise claims and feel support throughout their case.

Our Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.
Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants.

For help on promoting equality in the workplace, call 0844 891 0352.

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