What Is Direct & Indirect Discrimination?

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Laws in the U.S. and many other countries prohibit discrimination in the workplace. However, discrimination still exists, although it is often less obvious now than it has been in the past.


Discrimination occurs when an employer or other institution makes decisions about people based on sex, national origin, race, color, ethnicity, age, disability or religion. This is illegal in the U.S. under the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination is usually obvious and easy to spot. It happens when a company or organization makes decisions not based on merit or ability but on factors such as sex, race, religion or age. This is a clearly unfair occurrence, and companies usually do not have much ability to refute their wrongdoing.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination is less obvious. It occurs when there are polices or regulations that on the surface appear not to favor one group or another but in practice discriminate because certain people are less able to comply or meet requirements. For example, a policy stating that all workers must keep a full-time schedule in practice discriminates against working parents, those caring for disabled family members or those with medical conditions who cannot work a full day.