While things seem to be slowing down for most of us, discrimination is not. Reports are increasing regarding race and disability discrimination. Because COVID-19 originally came from China, employees of Asian descent are sometimes being targeted by both co-workers and managers. Employers should train managers and employees on proper protocols and quickly respond to any allegations of discrimination. Employers Council has investigators on staff who have been working steadily during the stay-in-place orders and can help you with any investigation you may require.
The other area of broader discrimination issues is the American with Disabilities Act. In an earlier article, we discussed how specific actions are allowable during a pandemic to maintain safety in the workplace. That does not mean that protections for employees have been uniformly eased. For example, if an employee is ill, the name of that employee cannot be released. If an employee says they cannot return to the workplace due to an underlying health condition and the risk of contracting the virus, you will need to gather information to understand what does and does not put the employee at risk. We expect some employees to have concerns about personal protective equipment, and this may evolve into a circumstance where an accommodation is in order. For example, an employee may not be able to wear certain types of masks due to a physical or mental health condition. Our attorneys assist members who need to walk through an accommodation process and can help with any novel issues that may arise.
The EEOC has guidance on race discrimination for your review. They also have guidance for managing accommodations. Reviewing this guidance will allow you to avoid these two common issues during this time.