Direct vs indirect discrimination: do you know the difference?

Seasonal hiring has begun and if you are one of the 1 million odd recruiters making plans to hire this summer make sure your well-meant job advertisement doesn’t land you in hot water.

The rules are well-known, but some of the specifics are unclear for many

In the eyes of the law, it is forbidden for employers to engage in the following:

  • direct or indirect discrimination;
  • discrimination arising from disability;
  • failing to make reasonable adjustments in relation to your disability; and
  • harassment and victimisation

While some of these are obvious, would you know what the difference was between direct and indirect discrimination?

Independent public body ACAS says direct discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably due to a characteristic, like age, gender, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. However, indirect discrimination could be a little harder to spot.

ACAS gives an example of indirect age discrimination, when an advert for a sales person insists they must have 10 or more years’ experience working in a related field. This is discriminating indirectly by age as it excludes younger people who might have skills and qualifications needed to complete the job.

Another example given is that of a business recruiting internally for a head of sales. But, if the only people able to apply from the internal team are male, that could be indirect discrimination based on sex.

There are justifications – but it’s best to get advice

For example, if a business makes lots of redundancies but keeps a vital French-language speaker to help deal with important contracts, that doesn’t discriminate against non-French speakers as it is perceived as a genuine business need that cannot be resolved in another manner. It is also not reasonable to ask someone to learn to speak French, if they do not already, as that could take years – therefore it would not be seen as discrimination.

Harassment or bullying is never acceptable and your place of work should have a clear policy on processes relating to unacceptable behaviour.

If you are facing similar situations like these, or you are about to start your summer recruitment drive, seek advice from the employment team at Downs Solicitors so that we can help set you on the right path.


Heather Love

Heather Love


Tel: +44 (0) 1483 411516

Office: Godalming Office

Email: [email protected]