What is the difference between direct and indirect discrimination?

What is direct discrimination?

Under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010), direct discrimination occurs where an employer or organisation treats someone less favourably because of their age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, or sex. These attributes are known as protected characteristics.

You do not have to have a protected characteristic to be directly discriminated against. It can also occur if someone treats you unfairly because they think you have a protected characteristic (direct discrimination by perception), or if you are treated less favourably because a colleague, associate, family member or friend has a protected characteristic (direct discrimination by association).

An obvious form of direct discrimination is where a female employee, who has the best qualifications and the most experience, is denied a promotion and the job is given to a less qualified male candidate. Other examples include sacking someone because of a protected characteristic, refusing to interview or train them, or giving them worse employment terms and conditions.

Is there any defence to direct discrimination?

When dealing with direct discrimination the law simply looks at the end effect of the actions. Therefore, there is no argument from an employer or another individual that it was not their intention to discriminate. On the basis of age, however, employers may have an objective justification defence if, for example, they give older workers a better redundancy deal, as this would reflect the extra difficulties older workers face when losing their jobs.

What is meant by indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs where a policy of an employer or organisation applies to everybody but results in people with certain protected characteristics (eg, race or gender) being put at a disadvantage.

Examples of indirect discrimination

The following are possible examples of indirect discrimination:

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  • Is there any justification for indirect discrimination?
  • Proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim