Indirect Discrimination at Work and How to Spot It

Written by Luke Kitchen
Last updated February 13, 2023

There are different forms of workplace discrimination that can take place and it is important that we be aware of these different forms. If we have an oversimplified idea of workplace discrimination, we may miss important instances of it happening.

One of the lesser-spotted forms of discrimination is indirect discrimination. Due to its very nature, it can much more easily slip under the radar at work and go unnoticed. This means that it continues more easily too and the people involved can feel less supported. 

At Aspiring to Include, we think that it is key for everyone to know the signs of discrimination at work. Knowing how discrimination looks and how it takes place makes it easier for everyone to be involved. Involved with rooting it out, tackling it, and preventing it from happening again in the future. That is a cause with which we should all be concerned. 

With that in mind, we have created this blog to help you understand indirect discrimination at work and how to spot it. 


What is Indirect Discrimination? 

Indirect discrimination is noted by the Equality Act of 2010 as one of the ways in which unlawful discrimination can take place in work and employment. This discrimination relates to the protected characteristics also outlined by the Equality Act, which include: 

People cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of any of these characteristics, whether that is in the form of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, or harassment. 

According to the Equality Act, indirect discrimination can be defined with the following criteria.


  •  A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s.


  •  For the purposes of subsection (1), a provision, criterion or practice is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s if—


  •  A applies, or would apply, it to persons with whom B does not share the characteristic,


  • it puts, or would put, persons with whom B shares the characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom B does not share it,


  •  it puts, or would put, B at that disadvantage, and


  •  A cannot show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.


To summarise, this means that if any provision, criterion, or practice is put into place at work and this negatively impacts someone of a specific protected characteristic due to them having that characteristic in the first place, this is indirect discrimination. 

To make it easier to understand, let’s look at some examples. 


Examples of Indirect Discrimination 

  • A company provides the opportunity for promotion in work. The job posting itself is open to all people. However, it is only advertised to certain ranks in the existing workplace, of which all members of staff are male. While not specifically excluding women from applying for the job, the workplace has indirectly done so and so has indirectly discriminated against the protected characteristic of sex. 


  • A workplace makes it mandatory to attend meetings at a certain time on Friday afternoons. This meeting is seen as a performance marker. As many Muslim people pray a specific prayer on Friday afternoons, this rule indirectly discriminates against any Muslim members of staff. 


  • All members of an office are required to comply with a dress code. The dress code stipulates that new jewellery should be worn in the office apart from wedding rings. This rule indirectly discriminates against people who may wear jewellery for religious purposes, such as a Christian crucifix necklace or Hindu facial jewellery. 


The main premise of these examples is that the workplace and employer involved may have never intended to discriminate against any group to the rules or stipulations they have set out, but they have done so. While the intention may have been neutral, these are still important examples where people can be negatively impacted at work. 

All discrimination is harmful and exclusionary. Even when the people involved haven’t set out to be discriminatory. 


How to Spot Indirect Discrimination 

The easiest sign of indirect discrimination to spot is when some people are negatively impacted by something at work and others are not. If a certain group of people at work are made uncomfortable by the introduction of something in the workplace, it is potentially indirect discrimination.

With any new rule, provision, or criteria at work, it is always worth checking in with how everyone at work feels about the introduction. If there is discomfort, it is likely for a real and tangible reason.

If you are in doubt, ask how members of staff are feeling. Particularly if they are in any of the protected characteristic groups we mentioned above. If something doesn’t feel right, it often isn’t right. 


Learn More about Workplace Discrimination 

If you want to learn even more about workplace discrimination, you can do so with our tools and resources at Aspiring to Include

We believe in fighting against discrimination at work, in its many forms. And you can help us do so too.

Whether you are a diverse job seeker or an inclusive employer, you can make use of our varied services on our site. From our inclusive job board to our News section, you can stay at the forefront of everything to do with workplace accessibility and diversity. 

And if there is something you’d like to see on our site, don’t hesitate to let us know. 

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Last Updated: Thursday January 19 2023
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