The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people work, socialize with each other, and entertain themselves. While life has undergone drastic changes, the pandemic has not changed the federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Multiple laws protect members of protected classes from workplace discrimination, and these protections remain despite the pandemic. During the current environment, discrimination can arise from issues surrounding paid time off, worker protections, reasonable accommodations, harassment, and more.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against at your job during the COVID-19 pandemic, the attorneys at Swartz Swidler can explain your rights to you and help you to protect them. We have represented multiple people during the pandemic, including people who have suffered disabling conditions, people who are at high risk if they contract the disease, and employees who have been forced to stay home from work to care for their loved ones or children. Here is some information about anti-discrimination laws and how they might apply during the pandemic.
Reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act
People who have disabilities and have a higher risk of complications if they contract COVID-19 can request reasonable accommodations from their employers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Several types of pre-existing conditions, including asthma or diabetes, might require people to request reasonable accommodations at their jobs to reduce their risks of becoming infected.
As long as the accommodations you request will not cause undue financial hardship, your employer must provide you with reasonable accommodations. The ADA also protects you against discrimination or harassment based on your disability and wrongful termination or other types of retaliation. If you believe your employer has engaged in any prohibited conduct based on your disability during the pandemic, you should save all text messages, emails, and documentation of phone calls or statements made by your co-workers or employer that can help to support your claim.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and COVID-19
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination protects employees in New Jersey against discrimination. Employers in the state are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their race, age, color, national origin, gender, and other protected characteristics. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also released guidance about discrimination and harassment against employees who are members of protected groups during the pandemic. Under this guidance, employers specifically cannot discriminate against or harass employees based on their race or national origin because of a biased belief that they might have a higher risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Employers must also take action to stop any harassment or discrimination between co-workers based on the victims’ protected characteristics. Some examples of discrimination or harassment that might occur in the workplace during the pandemic include the following:
- An employer only demands COVID-19 tests from Asian applicants or employees.
- An employee is excluded from client or work interactions because of his or her national origin or race.
- An employer refuses to let an employee work when there is no evidence that he or she is ill based on the employee’s protected characteristics.
- An employer harasses or discriminates against an employee based on a perceived disability when he or she exhibits symptoms of COVID-19.
COVID-19 and female employees
Women are protected against discrimination and harassment based on their gender. Pregnant women are also protected against discrimination and harassment at work based on pregnancy. Some employers might think that excluding a pregnant woman from the workplace to try to protect her and her fetus from the coronavirus is the right thing to do. However, telling a pregnant woman that she is not allowed to work during the pandemic is a violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Women who have faced gender or pregnancy discrimination at work during the pandemic should talk to an experienced employment law attorney to learn about their rights and how they might handle the situation.
COVID-19 and protection for Asian-American employees
Asian-Americans have faced widespread discrimination and violent attacks since the pandemic first arose. They have also been targeted in the workplace by supervisors and co-workers based on their race or national origin. Employers are prohibited from targeting employees because of their protected characteristics, including their race or national origin. An employer is prohibited from engaging in or permitting any type of discriminatory conduct directed towards Asian-American employees, including racist jokes or comments, demotions, wrongful terminations, and others. Employers also cannot exclude Asian-American employees from the workplace simply because of their race or national origin.
COVID-19 and privacy
Employers cannot discriminate against employees or applicants based on a perceived disability because they contract COVID-19 or have demonstrated symptoms. Employers are also required to ensure their employees’ confidentiality in their medical information and details about why they might take leave from work. An employer is allowed to ask an employee if he or she is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, but the employer must maintain the confidentiality of this information.
If an employee contracts COVID-19 and is forced to take leave, the employer cannot divulge the employee’s diagnosis to others in the workplace. Employers are also prohibited from asking employees about the health statuses of their family members. Even if an employee voluntarily discloses this type of information, the employer must maintain confidentiality and not tell others at work.
Employers are allowed to check the temperatures of all employees as they arrive for work. They can also keep logs of this data, but the logs must be kept confidential.
Talk to an experienced employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler
If your employer has discriminated against or harassed you based on your protected characteristics during the pandemic, you have legal rights and are entitled to pursue damages. An experienced discrimination attorney can help you gather evidence to support your claim and file a discrimination charge with the EEOC or the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights. To learn more about your potential case, contact the employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler by calling (856) 685-7420.