TRENTON, NJ — Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights issued new guidance on March 19 that addresses questions related to COVID-19 and the rights of New Jersey residents under New Jersey’s Law Against Discriminationand Family Leave Act.
“COVID-19 is no excuse for racism, xenophobia or hate,” Grewal said. “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.”
“We must not let ignorance or fear around COVID-19 lead to stereotyping and prejudice,” DCR Director Rachel Wainer Apter said. “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 guidance addresses frequently asked questions about discrimination and harassment related to COVID-19 in employment, housing and places of public accommodation. It also offers information on job-protected leave for individuals caring for family members affected by COVID-19.
Among the guidance’s keynotes are that employers may be in violation of the LAD’s prohibition on disability discrimination if they fire an employee for exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms. The guidance also states that employers must take reasonable action to stop harassment of one employee by another employee if the employer knows or should have known about it: for example, if one employee has east-Asian heritage and a coworker repeatedly harasses her by claiming that Asian people caused COVID-19 or calling this “the Chinese virus.”
In the housing context, the guidance explains that a landlord or building manager cannot refuse to rent a property to someone or make necessary repairs to a tenant’s apartment because the landlord or building manager fears they will contract COVID-19 due to the individual’s race or national origin. At the same time, the LAD does not prohibit a landlord from taking reasonable steps to protect the landlord or other tenants from COVID-19, but such reasonable steps would not include actions premised on stereotypes based on race or national origin.
DCR is also offering guidance on COVID-19–related discrimination in places of public accommodation. The guidance explains that a school, for example, may be liable under the LAD for failing to investigate or take action in the face of reports that a student was being harassed based on race or national origin over COVID-19. Likewise, a public bus driver or bus company, for example, may be required to take reasonable action to stop harassment of one passenger by another.
Medical facilities also have a duty not to engage in disparate treatment of patients on the basis of race, national origin or disability, according to the guidance.
The guidance also identifies practices related to COVID-19 that would not violate the LAD. Specifically, DCR notes that it is permissible for stores to set aside certain hours for shoppers over a specific age. Some stores have designated the first hour or two of their business day for customers who are senior citizens, so they can shop when the store is less crowded.
Finally, the guidance addresses COVID-19 issues arising under the FLA. Among other things, the guidance notes that employees who need to stay out of work to care for a family member who has COVID-19 can take job-protected leave under the FLA.