COVID-19, Discrimination, and The Workplace

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2023 | Employment Law

Quarantine. Social distancing. Lockdowns. Shelter-in-place orders. Stay-at-home orders. Before this year, how many times had you heard any of those terms discussed on a consistent basis? With the global proliferation of the unforgettable coronavirus(COVID-19), 2020 has set the scene for notable compliance changes and challenges for workplaces.

Navigating uncertainty and adapting to a new normal is something we continue to experience as employers and employees continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. What long-term impact will the coronavirus pandemic have on the workplace? The pandemic and its current impact are greatly affecting people of color and low-wage earners.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented employers with opportunities to make adjustments during the pandemic and make changes that will address the well-established social justice challenges. Employers and key stakeholders should use this time to develop improved decision-making strategies and ways for employers to feel heard.

Many workplaces have a significant amount of hurdles to climb during their rebuilding phase. Unfortunately, the rebuilding efforts will not be able to take place until an effective strategy to eliminate the virus is put in place.

COVID-19, Discrimination, and the Workplace

Due to the pandemic, employers, stakeholders, and other leaders will have additional issues to face. This year, the pandemic exposed many holes and flaws in their strategies. Employees in numerous industries have reported significant cuts in job openings and work hours. Many employees were sent to work from home and others were restricted from working. Unfortunately,  many employees do not have a clear picture on whether they will be able to return once there is a handle on the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic has to lead to additional concern over discrimination. During such an unprecedented time, employers and employees should remember that current employment laws still exist and apply. Employees will still be protected against the following:

  • Any type of discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Misconduct in the workplace

Employee Protection

Federal laws, state laws, and local laws are in place to protect employees in various situations. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is in place to prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion, color, etc. There are also other laws in place that will protect employees, such as the ADEA(Age Discrimination in Employment Act) and the ADA(Americans with Disabilities Act).

State laws and local laws will provide a wider range of protections than federal laws can provide. State laws and local laws can also apply to workplaces that federal laws may not apply to, especially smaller workplaces. During the COVID-19 outbreak, certain types of discrimination and harassment began to increase. Some people believed that Asian countries were behind the virus.

As a result, many Asians and Asian-Americans experienced an increased amount of discrimination and harassment. This also resulted in unfavorable actions in some workplaces. It is important for employers to be aware that they could be held responsible and liable for any type of discrimination and harassment that their employees experienced.

African-Americans, Latino workers, and Asian-Americans have been targets of at least one form of discrimination due to the views many people have on COVID-19. The perceptions that many people have on others this year has lead to increased discrimination and harassment actions.

At-Will Employment

Minnesota is an employment ”at-will” state. What does this mean? This means that an employee can be fired or an employee can leave a job for any reason unless there is a contract in place that prevents this from occurring. Though employers in Minnesota can ultimately terminate a worker for seemingly any reason under the concept of at-will employment, there are termination exceptions that will violate a law, such as terminating an employee for discrimination reasons.

An employer can lay off an employee or fire an employee due to financial strains, but an employee will not be able to receive compensation for wrongful termination. On the other hand, an employee will be able to sue for discrimination and seek compensation for any form of discrimination that occurred, apart from the context of the termination. Even if an employer believed the termination was legal, this does not discredit the poor misconduct that took place in the form of discrimination or harassment.

Wrongful Termination

As mentioned previously, a significant number of employees were laid off or fired during the pandemic due to the serious financial strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If an employee failed to return to work after being asked to report back to the workplace, that employee can be fired. However, an employee should not lose his/her job during the pandemic out of an act of retaliation or discrimination. Also, an employee cannot be fired for failing to return to work if there was a state, federal, or local order to keep the doors of the business closed.

Despite federal, state, and local recommendations, workers are still reporting concerns regarding COVID-19 safety protocols, or the lack thereof. For many employees, this inclues the lack of safety measures, the lack of additional benefits, little to no sick leave benefits, and a lack of adequate COVID-19 testing. Employees who believe they were retaliated against for filing a report or making a complaint against the workplace can file a complaint with OSHA.

An example of employer retaliation include the following:

  • firing an employee for raising concerns
  • failing to approve benefits
  • failing to promote
  • decreasing work hours

Unfortunately, this year has resulted in an increase in misconduct in the workplace. Some of this misconduct has attracted a significant amount of attention, in spite of the heavy attention being palced on the coronavirus pandemic and the growing concerns as the number of positive cases continues to increase.

Anyone who has been subjected to discrimination or retaliatory actions should report those actions. Discrimination, regardless of its form, does not have to be accepted or tolerated. Contact Villaume & Schiek today if you have experienced misconduct in the workplace that you believe was a form of discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, etc.

Call us today at 952-641-7734. We will be your advocated in court and at work.

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