Home Types of Discrimination Direct Discrimination vs. Indirect Discrimination

Direct Discrimination vs. Indirect Discrimination

Direct Discrimination vs. Indirect Discrimination

Direct Discrimination vs. Indirect Discrimination

Discrimination can manifest in various forms, ranging from overt actions to subtle practices that result in unfair treatment. Direct and indirect discrimination are two types of discrimination recognized by the law. Understanding their differences is crucial in addressing discrimination, promoting equality, and preventing all forms of bias in society.


Discrimination is the act of treating individuals unfairly and differently due to their personal characteristics or affiliations. The concept of discrimination has broader implications that can affect people’s access to services, job opportunities, and their right to participate in the different aspects of society. Two types of discrimination recognized by the law are direct and indirect discrimination.

Defining Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination refers to treating individuals unfavorably because of their personal characteristics or affiliations. For instance, a company that refuses to hire someone because of their race or religion would be an example of direct discrimination. Direct discrimination can be intentional or unintentional, stemming from preconceived notions or bias that color perceptions or treatment of individual groups.

Defining Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination occurs when a practice or criterion is applied to everyone, but it disproportionately impacts individuals with a particular characteristic or affiliation. While there is no intention to discriminate, the impact is discriminatory. For example, an employer that insists employees must wear compulsory headgear might indirectly discriminate against those who wear specific religious head coverings.

Key Differences

Direct discrimination is where people are treated unfavorably as a direct consequence of their personal characteristics or affiliations, while indirect discrimination occurs when a practice is instituted that treats everyone the same, but which disproportionately impacts certain groups.

Another difference is that direct discrimination is always intentional, while indirect discrimination may not be. An individual or organization may inadvertently put in place conditions that lead to indirect discriminatory outcomes.

Legal Implications

In many countries, direct and indirect discrimination are illegal and considered a civil rights violation. It’s essential for employers, institutions, and individuals to be aware of the potential for discriminatory practices, whether direct or indirect, to avoid violating the law.

Preventing Discrimination

Preventing direct and indirect discrimination requires identifying and rooting out bias in all its forms. This means instituting transparent policies that explicitly prevent discrimination, educating employees on what is and isn’t discriminatory, and actively seeking out instances of discriminatory practices. Employers and individuals charged with leadership roles have a responsibility to create inclusive, supportive environments that encourage diversity and achieve equality.


Direct and indirect discrimination are forms of discrimination recognized by the law. It’s essential to understand what each of these terms refers to so that we can identify, acknowledge, and address acts of discrimination as they arise. By recognizing the differences between direct and indirect discrimination, individuals and organizations can work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

The concept of discrimination as an offense and a meaningful ground for legal action and remedy is understood in the legal system of the United Kingdom as being split into two specific subjects: direct discrimination and indirect discrimination. Either of these categories for discrimination can refer to a diverse array of factors comprising of an individual’s identity, as defined by either that person or others, and can thus be used to mount a legal action and bring compensation to the plaintiff.

Direct discrimination refers to an action which explicitly specifies the trait for which a person is being excluded or discriminated against in some way, while indirect discrimination can be determined to have occurred when some other trait which is named as being discriminated against can be reliably linked to a group vulnerable to discrimination. In enacting the latter principle of indirect discrimination, British legal theorists are believed to have drawn on the precedent of the 1964 American Civil Rights Act, as well as on decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In terms of the prevention of both direct discrimination and indirect discrimination, one of the most pertinent pieces of legislation is the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975. According to this legislation’s language on indirect discrimination, the requirement of a trait which is generally not found in women would thus constitute indirect discrimination against women. Indirect discrimination is generally held to be more applicable on a society-wide basis, while direct discrimination tends to arise instead from individually brought cases.