You might think that discrimination in the workplace is easy enough to spot. If a co-worker outwardly displays contempt against another for their beliefs, culture, religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or even age, it can only mean discrimination.
But workplace discrimination can take on a more subtle form that’s just as oppressive as the overt kind. As an employee (or a prospective one), it’s essential to distinguish which employer actions or policies could count as indirect discrimination.
What is indirect discrimination?
Indirect discrimination is a type of workplace discrimination wherein a business’ seemingly neutral policy or practice subtly excludes or disadvantages a particular group of people.
For instance, a company might introduce a new dress code stipulating that employees can’t have certain hairstyles like dreadlocks or cornrows. On paper, this might look harmless. But these hairstyles are heavily associated with racial and cultural groups and could disadvantage those affected employees.
Other examples of indirect discrimination include:
- Requiring employees to work on Sundays could disadvantage those whose religions prohibit them from working that day.
- Holding a company dinner without vegetarian options, hampering employees with dietary restrictions.
- Banning headscarves or turbans is another policy that discriminates against employees who follow a particular religion.
Indirect discrimination is against federal law
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the laws it enforces forbid employers from using “neutral” employment policies and/or practices that have a “disproportionately negative effect” on both applicants and employees of a particular class, race, color, nationality, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The laws also prohibit employers from using policies to severely impact those with disabilities and those aged 40 or older.
With the knowledge that even federal law forbids indirect discrimination, you now know that companies can be held responsible for policies that ostracize and obstruct a particular group of employees. If you suspect a specific business practice indirectly discriminates against you or another employee, consider reporting it to your company’s human resources department.