In the Face of COVID-19, New Jersey’s Attorney General Emphasizes Protections Against Discrimination in the Workplace

As the global pandemic continues to devastate the nation and the world, it is essential that we act with unity and recognize that “we’re all in this together.” That was the message delivered by New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal as he and representatives from the Division on Civil Rights introduced updated information regarding the legal protections against discrimination provided to New Jersey workers, and how those laws apply to COVID-19.

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and its Family Leave Act (FLA) are two of the most progressive in the country, and their protections are particularly important in the midst of the current crisis. Attorney General Gerwal said, “COVID-19 is no excuse for racism, xenophobia, or hate. Discrimination and harassment in violation of New Jersey law remains illegal even if it occurs against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Now, more than ever, we should recognize that we’re all in this together. Words and actions that divide us won’t make any of us safer or stronger.” His press release can be found here.

The issue has become particularly important in recent days, as episodes of discrimination and hate related to the virus based on stereotyping and prejudice have increased. According to DCR Director Rachel Wainer Apter, “COVID-19 does not discriminate based on race, national origin, religion, or disability. Yet there have been disturbing reports of discrimination and harassment targeting Asian people and people with actual or perceived disabilities, as well as other racial and religious discrimination arising from COVID-19. Today’s guidance addresses this kind of discrimination and harassment, and also explains when employees may be eligible to take job-protected leave in connection with the virus.”

The instances that she referred to included employees referring to COVID-19 as “the China virus” in the presence of co-workers of Asian descent. The statements made by the Attorney General provide much-needed guidance regarding discriminatory actions that are not permitted under the state’s laws. Most pointedly, the guidance makes clear that employers that either are aware of or should be aware of harassment of one employee by another are required to take steps to stop it from continuing, as well as that firing an employee over suspicion that they may have COVID-19 is a violation of the LAD’s prohibition on disability discrimination.

In addition to commenting on the prohibitions against COVID-19 related discrimination in the workplace, the guidance also made clear that the NJ Family Leave Act provides job-protected leave for employees who need to stay out of work in order to provide care for a family member who has contracted the virus. The DCR’s guidance on COVID-19 is readily available in .pdf form right here.

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