NJ calls out discrimination related to the coronavirus
In COVID-19's short life so far here in New Jersey, officials are already picking up on instances of harassment and discrimination related to the respiratory disease.
So much so, the state has issued new guidance for those who may need it, touching on employment, housing and places of public accommodation.
"In New Jersey, we have clear ground rules that, whether someone is COVID-19 positive, or whether they're of east-Asian heritage and someone might perceive them to be more likely, incorrectly so, a carrier of COVID-19, that is not a basis to engage in any type of discrimination," Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told New Jersey 101.5.
The memo addresses frequently asked questions related to the public health crisis.
The guidance advises employers they may be in violation of New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination if they fire an employee for exhibiting possible symptoms of COVID-19. Employers must take reasonable action, the guidance adds, when they're knowledgeable of related harassment in the workplace — "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.'"
The guidance also addresses landlords and building managers — they can't refuse to rent a property to someone, or make repairs to a tenant's apartment, just because they fear the individual's race or national origin will make them more likely to contract the disease, the guidance says.
While schools in New Jersey remain out of session, the guidance — issued by both Grewal's office and the Division on Civil Rights — explains that a school may be liable for failing to respond to reports that a student was being harassed based on race or national origin over COVID-19. Medical facilities are also being warned not to engage in disparate treatment of patients based on their background.
"We must not let ignorance or fear around COVID-19 lead to stereotyping and prejudice," DCR Director Rachel Wainer Apter said.
The guidance notes certain practices related to coronavirus would not violate state law. For example, it is permissible for stores to set aside certain hours for shoppers of an older age.