Recently issued guidance from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office tackles questions about discrimination and harassment related to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. It looks at discrimination and harassment as it pertains to employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. Moreover, the guidance offers information on protected leave for employees who need to care for family members affected by COVID-19.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) is a New Jersey law that prohibits discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other protected classes. The law applies in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation.
Highlight #1: NJLAD’s Employment Protections As Applied to COVID-19
One important point the guidance discusses is that employers may be in violation of NJLAD and its bar on disability discrimination if they fire an employee for showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Employers cannot deny opportunities, fire, or mistreat employees on the basis of the above criteria. Additionally, employers must further protect their employees from discrimination or harassment by other supervisors, managers, co-workers, and even patrons.
Moreover, in accordance with NJLAD, the guidance also advises that employers must take reasonable action to stop harassment of one employee by another employee if the employer knew or should have known about it. In the current climate this might include, for example, derogatory comments aimed toward individuals of east-Asian heritage.
Highlight #2: NJLAD’s Housing Protections As Applied to COVID-19
As it pertains to housing, the guidance makes clear that landlords cannot refuse to rent a property to an individual or refuse to make necessary repairs to a tenant’s apartment because they fear contracting COVID-19 due to the individual’s race or national origin. The landlord may take reasonable steps to protect himself and other tenants from COVID-19, however, these steps cannot consist of actions based on race or national origin stereotypes.
Highlight #3: NJLAD’s Public Accommodation Protections As Applied to COVID-19
Another important topic that the guidance focuses on is COVID-19 related discrimination in places of public accommodation. A place of public accommodation is a business that is generally open to the public, such as retail stores, schools, libraries, medical facilities, and recreational facilities. The guidance explains that a medical facility, for example, has a duty to not engage in disparate treatment of patients on the basis of race, national origin, or disability.
A Final Thought
“COVID-19 is no excuse for racism, xenophobia, or hate,” said New Jersey Attorney General Grewal. “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.”
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At McOmber McOmber & Luber, we take a proactive approach to each and every legal issue our clients face, helping both employers and employees with legal areas including employment contracts, discrimination, law, litigation, whistleblowing, and retaliation issues. Please call our Red Bank office at 732-842-6500, our Marlton office at 856-985-9800, OR contact us at 888-396-0736 or online for a free consultation. We represent clients throughout New Jersey.