Tracking COVID-19 and Avoiding Discrimination

As the country relaxes stay-at-home orders, and employees begin to return to work, attention has turned to tracking COVID-19 cases and outbreaks. One option being discussed is tracking locations via our digital devices. In an April 8 report, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said, “Location data contains an enormously invasive and personal set of information about each of us, with the potential to reveal such things as people’s social, sexual, religious and political associations,” the ACLU report states. “The potential for invasions of privacy, abuse, and stigmatization is enormous.” At the same time, it can be critical for saving lives, setting up a conflict between public health and civil liberties.

While this is an issue inside and outside of workplaces, employers are also required to follow anti-discrimination laws. This requirement raises the bar for not only protecting against discrimination from leaders and managers having access to such information but also protecting co-workers who also may have access to that information. We are already seeing an increase in harassment against those of Asian descent due to misunderstandings about the virus and how it spreads.

What is an employer to do in this scenario?  Following best practices already in place is a great start:

  • Make sure employees understand your anti-harassment policies and how they protect against any illegal harassment.
  • Provide effective training that showcases circumstances and situations and how to handle those. Look to Employers Council for this assistance.
  • Help employees with clear instructions on how to report harassment and to whom.
  • Investigate complaints quickly and effectively. Remember, Employers Council has trained investigators whom you can talk to about how to do this, and our investigators can do it for you if that is a better solution.

We are entering the fourth industrial revolution in a way that is now different than we expected.  Following guidelines already in place but with a new emphasis will help us contend with these challenging times.