The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) is responding to questions about how the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA) apply to individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 does not discriminate, DCR will be investigating complaints of discrimination or harassment under the LAD, as well as possible violations of the NJFLA. These are some of the most frequently asked questions about discrimination and harassment related to COVID-19.
How does the LAD apply to the current situation?
The LAD protects against discrimination based on race, national origin, religion and disability. It also prohibits bias-based harassment that can lead to a hostile work environment. In either case, employers must take the necessary steps to stop the harassment. It does not matter if they knew or should have known, nor does it matter if the harasser is a co-worker or supervisor.
It is no different if the conduct at issue stems from concerns related to COVID-19. Employers cannot fire you because they perceive you to have a disability or illness related to COVID-19. Calling it the “Chinese virus” or claiming that Asian people caused the virus are forms of harassment, which must not be tolerated.
Housing providers are held to the same standard. Refusing to make repairs or treating a tenant different because of their race or national origin are also considered harassment. Landlords and building managers are still required to make necessary repairs. They can take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their tenants, but the measures cannot be based on stereotypes of race or national origin.
Schools and medical facilities are places of public accommodation. All forms of harassment are equally prohibited, even if it comes from another patient, customer or student. This is also true of conduct stemming from concerns related to COVID-19.
Some stores are designating certain hours as limited to shoppers over a certain age. This does not violate the LAD because age is not a protected characteristic in places of public accommodation. Stores are also prohibited from retaliating against a person who complained about discrimination or bias-based harassment, or who was otherwise exercising or attempting to exercise their rights under the law.
How does the NJFLA apply to the current situation?
The NJFLA protects anyone who works for a state or local government agency, or for a company or organization with 30 or more employees worldwide. Those employees need to have worked for at least one year. In that year, they must have worked at least 1,000 hours.
Depending on eligibility, employees can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave during any 24-month period. They can take leave in order to care for a child as long as it begins within one year of the child’s birth or placement for adoption. The same applies to taking care of a family member with a serious health condition, such as COVID-19.
Full-time, part-time and temporary employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 can use accrued Earned Sick Leave. Employers of all sizes are required to provide up to 40 hours of earned sick leave to take care of themselves or a loved one – this applies even if you are unable to work because your child’s school or daycare was ordered closed by a public official for a public health reason. The Department of Labor has set up a website for all questions about Earned Sick Leave, Temporary Disability, Worker’s Compensation and Family Leave Insurance.
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