In the Wake of a Coronavirus Outbreak, Employers Must Be Mindful of Race Discrimination and National Origin Discrimination Taking Over Employment Decisions.
The fear of a coronavirus outbreak overtaking the US is now a reality. The CDC and FEMA are confirming more and more cases of Coronavirus within the United States. However, race discrimination and national origin discrimination in the workplace and beyond are spreading much faster than confirmed Covid-19 cases are popping up.
In the wake of this outbreak, employers must be diligent to avoid discriminating against people who are Asian or of Chinese descent. Fear of an illness taking over your workplace is no excuse to violate employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
What Is the Coronavirus?
The Coronavirus is also known as Covid-19. The first reported cases were in Wuhan, China. This disease spreads through common contact and can also be airborne. It takes about 14 days to see symptoms of the Coronavirus (known as the incubation period).
- Shortness of breath
Coronavirus is responsible for over 3,000 deaths worldwide. In the US alone, there have been 91 confirmed Covid-19 cases, two of which resulted in death. As of the end of February, the CDC confirmed that the US cannot avoid a coronavirus outbreak. A US outbreak will result in more confirmed cases of Covid-19 and deaths.
Coronavirus and Workplace Discrimination
Coronavirus started in China. As a result, the first step to preventing the outbreak was to quarantine anyone that visited China. The quarantine lasts about 14 days (the incubation period).
Unfortunately, fear took over. As a result, many people began to assume that all Asians, especially those of Chinese descent were carriers of the Coronavirus.
In the workplace, this can become an HR nightmare. Companies may begin to use national origin or race as a reason to terminate an employee or refuse to hire a candidate. The reason is pure fear. Employers and their staff may be fearful that an Asian person is infected with the Coronavirus and may infect others.
This anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits an employer from making adverse employment decisions against an employee or job applicant because of race or national origin.
In these cases, race is considered anyone of Asian descent. National origin specifically targets anyone from China.
A fear of a medical epidemic does not allow an employer to participate in any race or national origin discrimination under any circumstance. Some examples of these types of discrimination may include:
- Firing employees of Chinese descent
- Refusing to hire an Asian applicant
- Singling out any Asian employees to get tested for Coronavirus
- Requiring all Asian employees take a medical leave of absence for at least 14 days
- Separating Asian employees from the general population
The measures are born out of fear, as most discriminatory actions are. However, unfounded fears and violations of the law are not going to protect your employees or clients from the spread of Coronavirus. Instead, these measures bread a culture of anti-Asian and anti-Chinese sentiment and hate.
This fear can also be present in schools and throughout the community. Children and teachers may shun Asian students. The students may become victims of bullying in school. Children and others may avoid anyone who is Asian or looks Asian, assuming these individuals are infected with the Coronavirus.
Even out in public, people may shun anyone who looks Asian. They will sit far away, avoid any physical contact, and even avoid shopping in their stores or eating in their restaurants. Anti-Asian sentiment will continue to grow because Americans are afraid of the Coronavirus.
While no law says you have to be friendly, there are federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination and bullying in schools and hate crimes in public.
Can Other Workplace Issues Be Linked to the Coronavirus?
There is a fine line between protecting your workforce from an epidemic and discriminating against employees infected by the disease. An employer cannot fire someone infected with the Coronavirus. An employer must make reasonable accommodations for anyone quarantined while treating the disease.
First, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees who are unable to perform normal life activities. Breathing is one of these activities. Those infected with the coronavirus experience shortness of breath. That symptom, alone, causes a person to be incapacitated for several weeks as they heal.
However, those with the Coronavirus must be quarantined as well. This measure is to help prevent the spread of the virus, which is highly contagious. The ADA can be used to protect employees quarantined due to the illness.
As a quarantined person, you are medically unable to perform routine daily activities. Therefore, any negative repercussions during this time could be a form of disability discrimination.
Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees unpaid time off to deal with medical issues. If you need to be quarantined because you are infected with the Coronavirus, you may be eligible for FMLA leave. Eligible employees cannot be fired, demoted, or have their employment negatively impacted due to the illness and need for leave.
How Do You Protect Yourself and Others from the Spread of the Coronavirus?
There are many ways to protect your business and others from a Coronavirus outbreak. None of these measures include race or national origin discrimination.
Some of the best ways to protect yourself and others from this disease include:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Carry hand sanitizer and use it frequently
- Do not shake hands with anyone. If you do, wash or sanitize your hands immediately
- Do not share food or drink
- Wear a facemask at the doctor’s office or in public places
- Get checked out at the first sign of illness
The United States is not immune from a Coronavirus outbreak. However, this does not create a gateway for race discrimination and national origin discrimination in the workplace and the community. Any victims of such discrimination have the right to seek compensation and justice from their employers.
If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace as a result of the Coronavirus, the race and national origin discrimination attorneys at the Derek Smith Law Group are here to help. Contact us today at (800) 807-2209 for a free consultation. There is no fee unless we win your case.
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