Indirect Discrimination Advice Guide

16 April 2019

If you discriminate against employees, you'll face the possibility of a legal claim from the aggrieved employee.

Employment equality laws prohibit employers from treating one group of people differently from another. Protected characteristics include age, race, and gender.

There are even occasions when your workplace policies may accidentally discriminate against a group. Remember that direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace are different things, which we explain further below.

In this guide, we take a look at the consequences of discrimination and how your business can avoid it.

If you have any immediate requirements with this issue, then you can use our 24/7 employment law services to establish policies promoting equality.

What is indirect discrimination in the workplace?

It’s where you have a practice or policy that, although it doesn’t appear to be less favourable towards an individual, it does have a discriminatory effect.

In Ireland, employees receive protection against discrimination by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (‘the Acts’).

If an employee, or job candidate, feels they’ve received unfavourable treatment then they may be able to raise a workplace grievance and take that through to legal action.

Direct discrimination meaning transparent unfair treatment of a protected employee or job candidate is easier to identify and prevent.

As an employer, preventing indirect discrimination can be a more difficult situation to judge. You may mean well with your policies and have a policy of zero-tolerance against discrimination yet you can fall foul of discrimination by applying a seemingly neutral policy which is in fact indirectly discriminatory.

You should understand difference between direct and indirect discrimination.

Direct discrimination is where an individual receives unfair treatment due to who they are.

Indirect discrimination happens when a worker or group of workers face less favourable treatment as they find it more difficult to comply with a seemingly neutral workplace policy.

Indirect discrimination examples

As this is a varied and distinct form of prejudice, it can be difficult to determine. Below are examples of indirect discrimination in the workplace to gain a better understanding:

  • Banning a certain type of hairstyle in your workplace, such as cornrows or dreadlocks.
  • Hiring for a new role but including a minimum height for it, consequently blocking many women from applying.
  • Expecting employees to work full-time, even if this puts female employees with children at a disadvantage.
  • Stating on a job spec that you’re only looking for a certain age range to apply for your role.

Of course, this is a varied situation and there are many other possibilities that could develop. As such, it’s important to have an antidiscrimination policy in place to ensure you don’t encounter—or create—such issues.

You should be aware of supporting equality and diversity across the range of protected characteristics set out under the Acts which are gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, race (including nationality), religious beliefs, disability, membership of the Traveller community and age.

Strong employment policies and training ensure your employees don't make any discriminatory decisions in relation to their colleagues.

If an employee makes a claim against you under the Acts, your business faces a negative decision in the Workplace Relations Commission, including:

  • An order for compensation (compensation has no limit for gender-based claims).
  • An order for equal pay or equal treatment.
  • An order that your business takes a specified action.

Need help?

If you want to avoid all forms of discrimination at your organisation, get in touch and we’ll help you to manage policies that ensure business-wide equality: 0818 923 923.

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