Types of discrimination

This page describes different types of discrimination - direct, indirect and systemic discrimination.

Direct discrimination

This is when an employer takes ‘adverse action’ against an employee because of such things as their race, colour, sex or age (see Discrimination for the definition of ‘adverse action’ and a full list of characteristics).


  • Jennifer tells her boss she is pregnant and will soon be taking the parental leave she is entitled to. Her employer fires her because she is pregnant
  • Vivek is not hired because he is Muslim
  • Darren asks a law firm about a receptionist job they have advertised. They tell him not to bother applying because he is a man and they are looking for a female receptionist
  • Marietta has young children. Her manager says she will not get a promotion because her family responsibilities may make her unreliable or unable to do a demanding job.

Indirect discrimination

This is less obvious than direct discrimination. It is when a work requirement, condition or practice seems the same for all staff, but actually disadvantages certain people because of such things as a disability, their race, colour, sex or age (see Discrimination for the full list of characteristics). To be discrimination, the work requirement must also be unreasonable.


  • To pass probation for an office job, all new employees must pass an eye test, even though first-rate vision is not needed for the role. Bob has a vision impairment and fails his probation because he can’t pass this test
  • The ad for a retail job in a clothing store says that only people who have a driver’s licence should apply, even though driving is not part of the job. Sandra has good retail experience but can’t get the job because she has a disability and can’t get a driver’s licence
  • An employer says they will only renew the employment contracts of staff who are on a 1 year fixed term contract, if they haven’t made a workers’ compensation claim. Joe’s contract isn’t renewed because he made a workers’ compensation claim after being injured at work.

Systemic discrimination

Systemic discrimination is widespread and long-term. It happens to a group of people because of a shared characteristic such as disability, race, colour or sex (see Discrimination for the full list of characteristics). It is often part of a workplace policy, practice or culture.


  • A large company with a stairway entrance doesn’t provide another way of getting into the building for employees with physical disabilities. This means they can’t get into the building without help
  • A business pays all its male employees more than the female employees, even though the men and women do the same sorts of work, to the same standard
  • A company says that anyone who wants to be promoted must attend training sessions on the weekends and in the evenings. This is likely to disadvantage people with family or carer’s responsibilities.

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Page last updated: 13 Mar 2013