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What is the Difference Between Direct and Indirect Discrimination?

Sep 24

Discrimination in the workplace can often be harder to understand than people might expect. Some might think that if discrimination was occurring in the workplace or they were the target of employment discrimination, they would be aware of it. When we think about discrimination and what it looks like, we might often think about direct discrimination. However, this isn’t the way it always occurs, both in the workplace and outside of work.

Indirect discrimination can also affect many employees, but how is this different from direct discrimination? While indirect discrimination can be less obvious, it still negatively impacts employees and can make it difficult for them to perform their jobs.

Direct Discrimination

When direct discrimination occurs, a person is treating someone differently because of their association to a protected class. This could be because the employee is of a certain age, race, gender, has a particular sexual orientation, and more. Other employees who don’t belong to this protected class don’t receive this negative treatment, while employees who share these characteristics alone are targeted.

However, direct discrimination doesn’t mean that the discrimination occurring is always obvious. Direct discrimination can still be subtle and difficult to prove. Discrimination at work, even when it’s directed at a person or group, doesn’t have to be blatant, such as using slurs. Even when an employee experienced direct discrimination, they can still question whether they’re actually being discriminated against. 

Indirect Discrimination

While direct discrimination targets individual employees with certain characteristics, indirect discrimination occurs when employees are all treated the same, but certain employees are put at a disadvantage because of this. In any workplace, there are policies that all employees are expected to follow, but not all employees are exactly alike, so this can end up being harmful to some. 

For example, there may be policies in place that require employees to wear their hair in a certain way or avoid certain hairstyles. While all employees are expected to follow this, it can negatively affect people of different races who have hair textures that don’t allow for this. 

Another example would be requiring all employees to work on a day with significant importance for certain religious groups. All employees are required to do this, but it prevents certain employees from practicing a sincerely held religion. 

Employers may also not be aware that indirect discrimination is occurring if they didn’t consider the ways different workplace policies would affect employees in protected classes different from theirs. Indirect discrimination may not always be intentionally done, but it still harms certain employees. Just because a policy wasn’t intended to negatively affect certain people, doesn’t mean that it isn’t discriminatory or shouldn’t be remedied. 

Contact an Employment Discrimination Lawyer for Help

When you’re facing direct or indirect discrimination, you need to ensure that your employer is aware. Ideally, your employer would take the proper next steps to stop these behaviors and actions from occurring, but this doesn’t always happen. If you’re suffering from employment discrimination due to your association with a protected class, it could be time to consult with an experienced lawyer who understands how to handle these complex matters. At Brown Kwon & Lam, we know how difficult it can be for employees to face discrimination at work, which is why we work hard to provide the legal services that can help them.

If you believe you’re being discriminated against at work, contact our New York employment discrimination lawyers to discuss your situation.

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