California DFEH Reminds Employers: COVID-19 Pandemic Doesn’t Reduce Employers’ Obligations to Avoid Discrimination and Harassment

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting lives and, more importantly, has cost the lives of more than 1,000 Americans. While the pandemic has led to the institution of many extraordinary measures, there are some things that remained unchanged. For example, California employers’ obligations to avoid illegal discrimination and harassment remain in place and are as strong as ever. In fact, given the racial/ethnic component of the virus’s presumed origin, employers should be even more vigilant than ever to avoid improper practices. If, in this era of COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve been harmed at work because of your race, ethnicity or national origin, you may have legal options under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Reach out to a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney to find out more.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing recently released an “Information” document about COVID-19 and employers’ FEHA obligations. The very first topic that the document addressed was the harmful practice of discrimination or harassment “because of race or national origin.” This kind of discrimination or harassment can take many forms. In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the victims of illegal discrimination or harassment may be targeted because of actual or perceived Chinese ancestry.

Note that you don’t actually have to be of Chinese origin or ancestry. Illegal discrimination or harassment can stem from one’s actual national origin or the perpetrator’s perception of your national origin. So if, for example, your facial appearance, your manner of speaking or your name makes your supervisor think you’re of Chinese origin – and your supervisor harasses or discriminates against you because of it – it doesn’t matter if your heritage is Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese or something else entirely. The fact that your supervisor believed you were of Chinese origin and took adverse action against you because of that belief is enough.

Workplace associational discrimination and COVID-19-related misconduct

Another way you can be the victim of race or national origin-based discrimination or harassment in California is something called “associational discrimination.” This means that you have suffered harassment or discrimination at work because of your association with someone. In this context, it might mean suffering adverse action at work because of your association with someone who is (or is perceived to be) Chinese or of Chinese origin.

Certainly, if you suffer harm at work because you married a man who was born in Wuhan, that is associational discrimination. However, associational discrimination in California goes further than that. Say, for example, you have a side business and your business partner is Chinese American. Workplace discrimination or harassment based on that partnership could also entitle you to bring a FEHA lawsuit and win. Even COVID-19-related discrimination or harassment based on your having a social relationship with someone who is (or is perceived to be) Chinese or of Chinese heritage may be enough to trigger a valid claim.

As with any discrimination or harassment case, you need proof that you were harmed at work and that the adverse actions your employer took against you were fueled by discrimination, not legitimate reasons. To make sure you have the powerful evidence and strong arguments you need for a persuasive case, rely on the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Attorney Fuerch is an experienced Oakland employment attorney with many years of helping workers use the legal system to overcome the damaging impacts of illegal discrimination. To learn more, contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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