Crises often bring out the best in people. Many recent COVID-19 (a/k/a novel coronavirus)-related stories have highlighted countless acts of selflessness to help people working in the healthcare industry, families with food insecurity, seniors and others. Crises also bring out the worst in people, including fear, anger, hate and discrimination. Just as the September 11th attacks brought about a wave of discrimination against people of the Islamic faith and people of Middle Eastern or Arabic heritage, COVID-19 also represents a regrettable opening for discrimination against people with health issues and people of East Asian ancestry. If you have been harmed by COVID-19-related discrimination or harassment at your job, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney for help.
To help minimize incidents of coronavirus-related discrimination, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights recently published a guidance document entitled “Civil Rights and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions.” That document, as it related to employment discrimination, focused primarily on two areas of potential harassment and/or discrimination: disability and race/ethnicity (or national origin.)
When it comes to discrimination or harassment based on disability or perceived disability, improper action related to COVID-19 might look different than other disability discrimination actions in the past, but the underlying concepts are the same. Just as your employer generally cannot fire you simply because your supervisor saw you take a hypertension drug and believes (without any supporting factual evidence) that the stress of the job is “too much” for you, your employer similarly cannot terminate your employment simply because, as the FAQ cited, “you coughed at work and they perceived you to have a disability related to COVID-19.”