COVID-19 and National Origin Discrimination

Discrimination against Asian Americans and other people of Asian descent has spiked in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.  The New York Times recently published an article describing such incidents occurring with unprecedented frequency. These incidents have also seeped into our workplaces, as noted by the EEOC.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on national origin, as do state and local anti-discrimination ordinances such as the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the Maryland Fair Employment Act, and the Human Rights Laws in Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Howard Counties in Maryland.  Unlawful discrimination includes treating employees or applicants differently than others because of their ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background, even if they’re not.  Laws against national origin discrimination make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or language, as well as an employee’s marriage or association with people of a national origin group.  State and local laws also protect workers from national origin discrimination.

Employers may not use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for discriminating against employees based on their national origin.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned employers from “mak[ing] determinations of risk based on race or country of origin.”  More generally, the CDC advises everyone, “DO NOT show prejudice to people of Asian descent, because of fear of this new virus. Do not assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have [COVID-19].”

Under existing anti-discrimination laws, employer may not single out employees of Asian descent for reasons related to COVID-19.  For example, an employer may not reduce customer contact with employees of Asian descent, even at a client’s request.  An employer may not inquire into Asian American employees’ health status or take their temperature if the employer does not conduct such inquiries into other employees.  An employer may not order leave or telework for employees of Asian descent while permitting other employees to return to the workplace. 

If you have experienced national origin discrimination or retaliation at work, the lawyers at Correia & Puth can help.  Our team helps clients determine their rights under the applicable laws, obtain relief, and hold employers accountable.  We are passionate advocates for our clients, and we fight zealously against unlawful discrimination and to protect against retaliation or reprisal.  Please contact us to learn more.