Indirect discrimination occurs when your employer has a particular policy or way of working that applies to all employees in the same way but which puts you at a particular disadvantage because of your protected characteristic.
Your employer decides to change shift patterns for all their staff so that they finish at 5pm instead of 3pm. If you are a mother with caring responsibilities for your child, you could be put at a disadvantage if the new shift pattern means you cannot collect your children from school.
Indirect sex discrimination can be permitted if the organisation or employer is able to show that there is a good reason for the policy. This is known as objective justification.
You be surprised by this provision as it means treating all staff the same way can disadvantage people because of who they are, too.
Some examples of indirect discrimination in the workplace as they might apply to different protected characteristics:
Indirect Racial Discrimination
Satish has recently moved to the UK from India. He’s looking for a job and sees one that he wants to apply for. But the job advert specifies that all candidates must have UK qualifications. Satish doesn’t have these so doesn’t apply for the job.
This could be an example of indirect racial discrimination because anyone educated outside the UK can’t apply for this position. This puts certain races at a disadvantage.
However, it might not be indirect discrimination if the employer can prove that there’s a reason why they need applicants with UK qualifications.
Indirect Religious Discrimination
Rachel is a Jewish woman working in a department store. Her manager tells her that she’s changing her rota to include one Saturday shift per month.
She explains that she is unable to work Saturdays because it is a religious day. Her manager says it would be unfair to the other employees if she took her off the shift.
Rachel could complain about indirect religious discrimination in this situation. This is because this new policy, where all staff must work a Saturday shift, means that she can’t practice her religion. It also puts people who share her religion at a disadvantage in comparison to other faiths.
Indirect Sex Discrimination
Sarah, who has been on maternity leave, puts in a flexible working request to her employer. She wants to reduce her hours so she can look after her child instead of using childcare. Her manager refuses her request and says everyone that does her job must work full-time.
Sarah could have a case for indirect sex discrimination. This is because having a policy that requires all staff to work full-time will probably have a worse effect on women than men, since they’re more likely to care for their children.
The employer also put Sarah at a personal disadvantage because she doesn’t want to put her child in nursery full-time.