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Coronavirus Discrimination Concerns in The Workplace

Posted by Kira Fonteneau | Apr 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only disrupted businesses, caused millions of job losses, and forced many employees to work from home, but it has also created unique workplace concerns related to employee discrimination. Coronavirus discrimination concerns in the workplace. Many employees are wondering whether their employer is discriminating by asking them to take a reduced pay or laying them off.

Other concerns may relate to their changed work responsibilities and job profile if the employees are now working from home. Some workers may even want to know whether their employer has the right to take their temperature before they step into the workplace or send them back home if any apparent signs of fever or respiratory illness are present.

Guidance for Workers

Whether in normal times or in the present situation of the coronavirus pandemic, your employer usually has the right to send you back home if you present any obvious signs of sickness (not just Covid-19). But in the present situation, your supervisors must exercise restraint and show compassion while following all the necessary CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

If your employer overreacts on finding that you have symptoms of illness, acts in a way that makes you feel humiliated, or singles you out for taking temperature or other preventative steps, they could be committing discriminatory behavior against you.

Employment decisions as well as workplace safety policies and practices must be uniform for all workers, and your employer cannot rely on some generalities to presume that you are at a higher risk of infection than other employees.

The Law Protects Your Rights

Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), certain restrictions have been imposed on employers regarding what questions they can ask with regard to your medical status as an employee. Secondly, under the ADA provisions, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) considers taking a worker's body temperature to be a “medical exam”.

Your employer is prohibited from requiring you to take a medical exam or asking disability-related questions unless:

  1. The employer can show that the medical exam or inquiry is job-related and consistent with the needs of the business
  2. The employer has a valid reason to believe that the worker poses a “direct threat” to the safety or health of himself or others, which cannot otherwise be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation

Your employer should apply discretion and analyze each case on its individual merit and make a non-discriminatory decision based on the available information. Even during the national emergency situation of Covid-19, your employer is still subject to all state and federal laws related to workplace discrimination and retaliation against workers.

Your employer may be in violation of these laws, if you believe that they are apply these rules and regulations differently to different classes of workers based on your national origin, race, or other protected classes.

In these situations, it is best to have an experienced workers' rights lawyer by your side in Alabama. They can provide you the right legal advice and make sure that your rights are fully protected in the current challenging circumstances of coronavirus.

Discrimination against Ethnic Workers during Covid-19

The history of epidemics shows that there could be unwarranted attacks against people belonging to a certain nationality or ethnic origin. This has already happened in recent years in the case of Ebola and Swine Flu (H1N1) pandemics.

If you are an ethnic worker, you need to be vigilant in protecting yourself against any potential workplace harassment, discrimination or retaliation stemming from your employer, supervisor or co-workers. Workers of Asian descent (especially of Chinese origin) are at a particularly high risk to be made scapegoats as if they are individually responsible for causing Covid-19.

Coronavirus Discrimination Concerns in The Workplace

There are already calls on social media and elsewhere for boycotting everything Chinese, and discriminatory behavior could also occur at your workplace in Alabama. Your employer has a legal obligation to take the necessary steps to prevent such discriminatory actions at your workplace and take your complaints in this regard with utmost seriousness.

The CDC has already urged people to not show prejudice against individuals of Asian descent in the current fearful environment caused by the novel coronavirus. The CDC says that no one should presume that if someone is of Asian descent, they have a higher likelihood of being a carrier of Covid-19.

Recommendation for Employers

Employers in the current environment should focus on two things to avoid discriminatory actions against their workers: (a) Make sure that you are treating all your workers in the same manner during Covid-19, irrespective of their nationality or ethnic origin; and (b) Make sure that your employees are not indulging in direct or indirect harassment or discrimination against co-workers of Asian descent.

Employers need to make sure that they do not base a decision to remove or bar an employee from the workplace on their ethnicity or nationality. If as an employee, if you find that your employer only quarantining workers of Asian descent or knowingly ignoring hostile workplace conditions against ethnic employees, you should consult with a seasoned workers' rights attorney in Alabama.

Speak to a Dedicated Workplace Discrimination Lawyer in Alabama

Attorney Kira Fonteneau has successfully represented countless workers in state and federal courts across Alabama. Kira is committed to helping you in your fight against the potential illegal actions of your employer or government misconduct. To schedule a free consultation, call us at (404) 383-5720 today.    

About the Author

Kira Fonteneau

Partner and Managing Attorney of the Alabama Trial Practice Group at Barrett & Farahany Kira Fonteneau is a partner and the managing attorney of the Alabama trial group of Barrett & Farahany. Kira chose to specialize in employment law because she wanted to help employees take back power. ...

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