What Is Positive Discrimination?

Positive discrimination guarantees fair workforce representation to those who may have been discriminated against in the past.
Discrimination is sometimes age-based.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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Laws and policies giving employment preference to disadvantaged groups of people who may have experienced discrimination in the past define positive discrimination. These practices historically applied to women and ethic groups to create equality in the workplace. Often called affirmative action or reverse discrimination, positive discrimination has been practiced by some countries as a matter of principle.

Positive discrimination addresses employment discrimination because of race, sex, age, religion, or disability. It guarantees fair representation in the workforce to classes of people who might have been underrepresented in the past. In some areas, quota systems require employers to hire a predetermined percentage of minority or female workers.

Polices governing positive discrimination differ from laws that make it illegal to discriminate against certain classes of people. Anti-discrimination laws protect older workers from unfair treatment at work. They also discourage unfair practices aimed at women, and biases against a particular ethnic or religious group. Some areas also apply these protections to the disabled and homosexuals. Anti-discrimination policies cover hiring practices, promotion opportunities, and termination of employees based on age, race, religion, sex, or sexual preference.

Positive discrimination laws vary widely by region. In India, for example, laws imposed quotas for citizens in lower castes and for some religious groups defined as minorities. These laws aimed to correct years of possible injustice based on social or economic status. The law in India did not extend positive discrimination to women, but forbade acts of discrimination against them.


An equality act passed in the United Kingdom in 2011 refers to positive action, since positive discrimination is illegal there. U.K. employers may not hire women simply to balance the number of male and female workers, but they may hire a woman over a man if she is equally qualified and females are not well represented in the company. The same formula applies to ethnic minorities if both job applicants possess equal qualifications.

Canada enforces an affirmative action program under its human rights laws. It applies to women, aboriginal people, the disabled, and minorities. Employers regulated by government, and companies receiving federal contracts exceeding a certain amount, must meet hiring quotas under the law, which does not apply to most private employers. Canadian officials hope to reduce or eliminate any potential disadvantage for particular groups of citizens, the law states.


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