The COVID-19 pandemic has had major impacts on the economy and public health. While companies and employees have experienced struggles because of the pandemic, employers are still required to comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Employers must not discriminate against or harass employees based on their protected characteristics, including race, color, gender, national origin, religion, genetic information, disability, pregnancy, and others. Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment in the workplace have continued to be a problem during the pandemic. If you have been harassed or discriminated against based on your protected characteristics during the pandemic, you should talk to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Workplace discrimination and harassment during the pandemic
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released anti-discrimination guidance for employers to prevent discrimination and stigma at work. The CDC has provided guidelines to employers about how they might reduce transmission of COVID-19 by separating employees who appear to have symptoms from other employees, encouraging employees who are sick to remain at home, and taking steps to identify how and where COVID-19 might spread within the workplace. Employers have also been encouraged to offer flexible paid sick leave to employees who contract COVID-19 and enact other policies to protect the health of their employees. The CDC encouraged businesses to improve ventilation and to engage in safe practices to protect employees.
Despite this guidance and similar guidance from the state, some workers have reported that their employers do not implement any COVID-19 safety measures, do not offer paid sick leave, and engage in other types of problematic practices. OSHA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report safety and health issues. Employees who face workplace retaliation for reporting safety issues have a right to file retaliation lawsuits.
Some of the types of retaliation employers have engaged in during the pandemic include the following:
- Terminating employees for reporting safety violations
- Withholding benefits to retaliate against employees who report safety violations
- Demoting employees for reporting safety violations
- Cutting the hours of employees for reporting safety violations
In addition to these types of misconduct by employers, issues of illegal workplace discrimination and harassment based on employees’ protected characteristics have also continued to arise.
Workplace discrimination and harassment during the pandemic
Employers are prohibited from engaging in discriminatory actions or harassing employees based on their protected characteristics. Discrimination and harassment are illegal when they are based on an employee’s race, religion, color, national origin, disability, gender, genetic information, and other protected statuses. Discrimination is illegal when it is based on an applicant’s or employee’s protected characteristics and is prohibited during all employment phases from hiring through termination. Harassment is considered a type of prohibited discrimination when it is based on the victim’s protected characteristics.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain types of discrimination and harassment have increased in frequency, including discrimination and harassment based on race, age, disability, familial status, and pregnancy.
Discrimination and harassment based on age during the pandemic
Older adults have a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering serious illnesses. While employers and older employees both must recognize this risk, employers cannot discriminate against older workers based on their age. If they discriminate against older workers or harassment them because of their age, employers might violate the anti-discrimination laws.
Some employers have asked older workers more frequently about coronavirus symptoms, have cut their hours, and have singled them out for terminations and layoffs. Others have harassed older workers based on their age, creating hostile work environments.
Discrimination and harassment based on race during the pandemic
Race discrimination and harassment have been serious problems during the pandemic. Certain groups have reported increases in race discrimination and harassment since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Asian American employees have reported xenophobia in the workplace and discrimination. Many people have blamed Asian Americans for the pandemic simply because the disease originated in China. Some Asian Americans have reported differential treatment and racial profiling in the workplace based on their race. They have reported being questioned more frequently than their coworkers about coronavirus symptoms, having their hours cut, and experiencing more harassment from both co-workers and customers based on their race.
Black and Latino workers have also reported increased rates of discrimination and harassment during the pandemic. Some employees have reported being mistreated by their employers because of their employers’ perceptions that they are likelier to be infected with the coronavirus than their white peers. Employers have also allowed others within the workplace to harass Black and Latino workers, allowing the creation of hostile work environments that interfere with their ability to perform the tasks of their jobs.
Discrimination and harassment based on disability during the pandemic
Employers are prohibited from discriminating against or harassing workers because of their disabilities or perceived disabilities. They also must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue financial hardship. Disability discrimination and harassment have been problematic during the pandemic. Some examples of this type of conduct include the following:
- Failing to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities
- Treating employees with disabilities differently because of a misperception that they have a higher risk of spreading COVID-19
- Harassing people with disabilities based on biased beliefs about their susceptibility to COVID-19
Online harassment during remote work
Many companies have allowed employees to work remotely during the pandemic. Working remotely while participating in Zoom meetings and sending and receiving text messages and emails can blur the lines between employees’ professional and personal lives. This can result in workplace sexual harassment while employees are working remotely when companies do not have strong policies in place about what is considered inappropriate during online work.
Talk to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler
Even though the pandemic has changed how many people work, it has not changed the laws against unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If you have experienced discrimination or harassment based on your protected characteristics, call Swartz Swidler today at (856) 685-7420.