Police Scotland has accepted that it needs to reverse its ban on recruiting colour-blind trainees. This is in the face of Employment Tribunal proceedings alleging that this disadvantaged more men when compared to women; the reason being that more men are affected by colour blindness.


A recruit, whose application to become a police officer was rejected by Police Scotland because he was moderately colour-blind, brought proceedings for indirect sex discrimination.

Whilst the Force was concerned with the ability of its police officers to identify what suspects are wearing or identify a vehicle sought by police (in other words potentially legitimate aims to safeguard the public) it effectively accepted the moderately colour-blind recruit’s argument that their blanket ban on recruitment was not a proportionate means of achieving those aims. The recruit argued that a proportionate means could include pairing a colour-blind officer with a full vision officer thus allowing him to be eligible to become a police officer.

Police Scotland has now amended its policy in line with Scottish Government guidance published in 2003 that full colour perception is not a requirement to become an operational police officer. In future, the force will consider individual recruits on a case-by-case basis.

Read the Herald Scotland’s report here

Implications for employers

This case demonstrates how indirect discrimination can arise from an apparently neutral requirement and how the defence available to employers, namely that the requirement is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’, works in practice.

To help spot potentially indirectly discriminatory provisions, criteria or practices operating in your business:

1. Consider whether any requirement applied to your employees disadvantages a group who share a protected characteristic in some way.

2. If so, consider: is there an alternative to a blanket requirement? Is that requirement really necessary for your business?

Examples of practices giving rise to potential indirect discrimination include:

  • The requirement to work full-time (indirect sex discrimination against women).
  • A blanket ban on wearing jewellery can disadvantage employees who wear jewellery for religious reasons (indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief). An example of a defence could be if the requirement was for health and safety reasons.
  • The requirement to speak English (potentially indirect discrimination on the grounds of race/nationally).

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Updates: For employers: Discrimination | Grievances | For employees: Discrimination | Grievances and raising your complaint |

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