Employment News

COVID-19 and Discrimination in the Workplace


Apr 01, 2020

The way we work, socialize, and entertain ourselves has drastically changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these changes, it is important to remember that the anti-discrimination laws have not. There are numerous state and federal legal protections that protect vulnerable classes from discrimination, and these protections are still in place even given this historic period of the coronavirus. Discrimination in the current climate could arise in relation to worker protections, paid time off, job protections, reasonable accommodations, or harassment.

If you feel that you have suffered discrimination resulting from a COVID-19 employment situation, our attorneys can protect your rights. We are experienced with cases arising from the coronavirus outbreak and disability, coronavirus and high risk, as well as protections for women who have to leave work to care for their children or loved ones.

American Disabilities Act (ADA) and COVID-19

If you have a disability and are at risk to contracting COVID-19, you have the right to “reasonable accommodations” from an employer subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are a number of pre-existing conditions or disabilities, including diabetes or asthma, who can request reasonable accommodation to reduce the chances of an infection during this pandemic.

The ADA protects workers who have suffered discrimination in the workplace related to COVID-19 including wrongful termination, retaliation, harassment or hostile work environment. Please remember to save emails and document calls, texts or other valuable exchanges with an employer or co-workers that will demonstrate your claim.

COVID-19 and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA)

The MHRA protects employees against discrimination. Employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of disability, race, national origin, age, or other protected classes. Several state and federal agencies have advised that no determinations can be made about the risk of COVID-19 based on country of origin or race. This guidance underscores the importance of vigilance in maintaining the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Minnesota Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity policies. Examples of discrimination may include the following:

  • An employer excludes a person from work or client interactions based on race or national origin
  • An employer excludes an employee from work without objective evidence of illness
  • An employer excludes an employee from because of pregnancy, race, nation of origin, or disability
  • An employer discriminates or harasses an individual who exhibits coronavirus and have a perceived disability because of the virus

Protections for Women-Employees and COVID-19

Women are a protected class and could be more vulnerable to discrimination, especially if they are pregnant. While excluding a pregnant employee from workplace responsibilities might seem noble, it is also a violation of anti-discrimination laws. If you are pregnant or a woman facing discrimination in the critical sector including health care, grocery store or supply store, home care, or other essential job, you should consult with an experienced attorney regarding your case. Our lawyers have a long-history of protecting the rights of women in the workplace and are experienced with claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, pregnancy discrimination, and discriminatory hiring practices.

Mistreatment of Asian Americans After COVID-19 Outbreak

Unfortunately, Asian-Americans have been the target of racist comments, assaults, and workplace discrimination arising from the COVID-19 outbreak. Throughout the U.S. Asian-Americans have experienced hateful language, bigotry, and even brutal attacks because of the relationship to the outbreak source in Wuhan, China. If you have suffered any form of discrimination or harassment in the workplace because of your nation of origin or race, you may be entitled to significant compensation. These cases may also arise if you were excluded from work or sent home because of your ethnic identity.

Privacy Invasion, COVID-19 and Discrimination

Employers may not discriminate or harass individuals who are perceived as disabled because of contracting COVID-19 or if they are exhibiting symptoms. Employers are also responsible for ensuring the confidentiality of all medical information and work leave details. Employers may ask if an employee is experiencing symptoms, but this information must be maintained in compliance with state and federal privacy laws. Even voluntarily disclosed information must be held confidential or employers could be in violation of privacy laws. 

Responding to Discrimination or Harassment

Every employer must respond promptly to any cases of bullying or harassment in the workplace. If you have suffered from discrimination as a result of COVID-19, disability or because of racial identity and your employer failed to take action, please contact our experienced employment law attorneys about your case. Our Minnesota state employment law attorneys are responding quickly to address COVID-19 cases and the impact on employees throughout the state.

Contact Our Minnesota Employee Rights Attorneys

For more information about coronavirus, harassment, and discrimination cases, please contact our employment attorneys at Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP.


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