COVID-19 FAQs

Civil Rights and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about your rights and protections against discrimination and bias-based harassment related to the COVID-19 pandemic. To find out more about how to file a complaint, click here.

Employment

What protections does the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) offer?

The LAD prohibits discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, and other protected characteristics. The law applies in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation (generally, places open to the public, including businesses, restaurants, schools, summer camps, medical providers, etc.). Under the LAD, an employer, housing provider, or place of public accommodation must not discriminate and must take action to stop such harassment if it knows or should have known about it.

What are the LAD’s protections related to COVID-19 in employment?

An employer cannot discriminate against you because of your actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, disability, or other LAD-protected characteristic. The LAD also prohibits bias-based harassment that creates a hostile work environment. Your employer must take reasonable steps to stop harassment if they knew or should have known about it, regardless of whether the harasser is a coworker or supervisor and regardless of whether the harassing conduct takes place in the office or electronically. These protections apply even if the conduct at issue stems from concerns related to COVID-19.

My coworker repeatedly harasses me by claiming that Asian people "caused" COVID-19 and calling it "the Chinese virus." Does my employer need to do something?

Yes. The LAD prohibits harassment based on actual or perceived race or national origin that creates a hostile work environment. Your employer must take reasonable steps to stop harassment if they knew or should have known about it, regardless of whether the harasser is a coworker or supervisor and regardless of whether the harassing conduct takes place in the office or electronically.

My employer is allowing mothers to telework if their children are in virtual school, but not fathers. Could this violate the LAD?

Yes. The LAD applies to COVID-19-related job benefits, like telework or modified schedules. So if an employer provides telework, modified schedules, or other benefits to employees with school-age children due to school closures or virtual learning during the pandemic, they cannot give female employees more favorable benefits than male employees because of a gender-based assumption about who may be responsible for caring for children.

Can my employer send me home from work if I have symptoms of COVID-19?

Yes. Based on public health guidance, it may be appropriate for employers to determine whether an employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and a cough, and to send employees home if they are symptomatic. But under the LAD, when an employee is sent home because they have or are perceived to have a disability related to COVID-19, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to the employee (such as allowing them to telework or providing them with time off from work) unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s operations.

Is COVID-19 a disability under the LAD?

The LAD defines disability as, among other things, any “physical … infirmity … which is caused by … illness …” COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, and would constitute an illness. Thus, if you have any physical infirmity caused by COVID-19, that would qualify as a disability under the LAD.

I have COVID-19. What reasonable accommodations can I ask for from my employer under the LAD?

If you have any physical infirmity caused by COVID-19, your employer must provide you with reasonable accommodations to enable you to do your job, unless doing so would impose an undue burden on their operations. Safety—your safety as well as the safety of your coworkers, clients, and customers—is a factor in evaluating whether a potential accommodation would be reasonable. However, an employer must base its decisions regarding any potential safety hazard on objective, scientific evidence, including evidence reflected in policies and guidance from federal, state, and local authorities, and not on unfounded assumptions or stereotypes.

Thus, if you have any physical infirmity caused by COVID-19 or are recovering from COVID-19, your employer must provide reasonable accommodations to you unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on their operations. Providing time off so that you can get treatment for COVID-19 would be a reasonable accommodation as long as it would not impose an undue burden on your employer’s operations.

I have an underlying health condition that puts me at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. What reasonable accommodations can I ask for from my employer under the LAD?

Some employees may have underlying health conditions that constitute a disability under the LAD and that put them at higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 (such as people who have asthma, serious heart conditions, or diabetes). An employer must provide reasonable accommodations to such an employee unless doing so would be an undue burden on their operations. Depending on the circumstances, reasonable accommodations may include, among other things, allowing employees to telework, changing employees’ schedules, or providing them with personal protective equipment.

I am teleworking and have a disability that is not related to COVID-19. Am I still entitled to a reasonable accommodation?

Yes. Based on changes to the work environment, employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities that are not related to COVID-19, even if no accommodation or a different accommodation was necessary before the pandemic. With the expansion of telework, for example, an employee with a disability may require the same accommodations as before or could require different accommodations.

I have been placed in isolation or quarantine. Can I be fired?

If you have been placed in isolation or quarantine pursuant to an order of the DOH Commissioner and you were employed (other than in a temporary position) at the time you were placed in isolation or quarantine, New Jersey law requires that your employer reinstate you to your position or a position of like seniority, status and pay, unless your employer’s circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so. To be reinstated pursuant to that law, you must: (1) still be qualified to perform the duties of your position; (2) receive a certificate of completion of isolation or quarantine from either NJ DOH or your authorized local health department; and (3) apply to your employer for reemployment within 90 days of being released from isolation or quarantine.

Can I be required to wear personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, at work?

Yes. However, if you cannot wear a particular form of PPE because of a disability, and the risk of COVID-19 transmission can be mitigated by your employer granting you a reasonable accommodation, your employer must do so unless it would be an undue burden on its operations. For example, if an employee cannot wear a mask because they have a breathing related disability, the employer must grant a reasonable accommodation if doing so would not be an undue burden on its operations. Depending on the circumstances, reasonable accommodations may include, among other things, allowing employees to telework, changing employees’ schedules, or allowing them to work in an office separated from other co-workers.

My employer is not providing me with personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, but I think I need them to protect myself from contracting COVID-19 at work. What should I do?

Governor Murphy has issued Executive Orders that require essential retail businesses, manufacturing businesses, warehousing businesses, and businesses engaged in essential construction projects to provide masks for their employees at the business’s own expense. Click HERE to report a violation of those Executive Orders.

I believe that my job duties can be performed via telework, but my employer is requiring me to report to work instead of allowing me to work remotely. What should I do?

Per Executive Order, employers are generally expected to accommodate telework wherever practicable. You should talk to your employer to see if a telework arrangement can be implemented If you believe that your employer is violating the requirements of the Governor’s Executive Order regarding teleworking, please click HERE to report a violation.

My employer is requiring me to get a vaccine before returning to work, but I have a disability that does not allow me to get vaccinated. Does the LAD offer me any protection?

If you have a disability that precludes you from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, your employer must provide you with a reasonable accommodation from their mandatory vaccine policy unless doing so would impose an undue burden on their operations. Safety—your safety as well as the safety of your coworkers, clients, and customers—is a factor in evaluating whether a potential accommodation would be reasonable. An employer must base its decisions regarding any potential safety hazard on objective, scientific evidence, including evidence reflected in policies and guidance from federal, state, and local authorities (including the CDC), and not on unfounded assumptions or stereotypes.

Employers generally may request medical documentation to confirm a disability when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation. Employers must ensure that all information about an employee’s disability is kept confidential and must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record.

If you cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine because of a disability, and the risk of COVID-19 transmission can be mitigated by your employer granting you a reasonable accommodation, your employer must do so unless it would be an undue burden on its operations. A reasonable accommodation may include allowing you to continue to work remotely, or otherwise to work in a manner that would reduce or eliminate the risk of harm to other employees or to the public. A reasonable accommodation may also include providing you with personal protective equipment that sufficiently mitigates your risk of COVID-19 transmission and exposure. Your employer should engage in a flexible, interactive process with you to determine if an appropriate accommodation exists and must conduct an individualized assessment based on your specific job duties and limitations in assessing whether to provide a particular accommodation.

Under the LAD, if there is no reasonable accommodation that your employer can provide that would mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission to its employees and customers, then your employer can enforce its policy of excluding unvaccinated employees from the physical workplace, even if you are unvaccinated because of a disability. However, that does not mean that your employer can automatically terminate you if you cannot get vaccinated, as the employer may be precluded from doing so by other laws, regulations, or policies.

My employer is requiring me to get a vaccine before returning to work, but my doctor says I shouldn’t get the vaccine while I am pregnant or breastfeeding. Does the LAD offer me any protection?

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and your doctor has specifically advised you not to get a COVID-19 vaccine, your employer must provide you with a reasonable accommodation from their mandatory vaccine policy unless doing so would impose an undue burden on their operations. Safety—your safety as well as the safety of your coworkers, clients, and customers—is a factor in evaluating whether a potential accommodation would be reasonable. An employer must base its decisions regarding any potential safety hazard on objective, scientific evidence, including evidence reflected in policies and guidance from

federal, state, and local authorities (including the CDC), and not on unfounded assumptions or stereotypes.

Employers generally may request medical documentation to confirm that an employee who requests a reasonable accommodation on the basis of pregnancy or breastfeeding was advised by their doctor to seek such accommodation. Employers must ensure that all information about an employee’s disability is kept confidential and must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record.

If you cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine because you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and the risk of COVID-19 transmission can be mitigated by your employer granting you a reasonable accommodation, your employer must do so unless it would be an undue burden on its operations. A reasonable accommodation may include allowing you to continue to work remotely, or otherwise to work in a manner that would reduce or eliminate the risk of harm to other employees or to the public. A reasonable accommodation may also include providing you with personal protective equipment that sufficiently mitigates your risk of COVID-19 transmission and exposure. Your employer should engage in a flexible, interactive process with you to determine if an appropriate accommodation exists and must conduct an individualized assessment based on your specific job duties and limitations in assessing whether to provide a particular accommodation.

Under the LAD, if there is no reasonable accommodation that your employer can provide that would mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission to its employees and customers, then your employer can enforce its policy of excluding unvaccinated employees from the physical workplace, even if you are unvaccinated because you have been advised by a physician not to receive the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding. However, that does not mean that your employer can automatically terminate you if you cannot get vaccinated, as the employer may be precluded from doing so by other laws, regulations, or policies.

My employer is requiring me to get a vaccine before returning to work, but my religious beliefs do not allow me to get vaccinated. Does the LAD offer me any protection?

If a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance precludes you from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, your employer must provide you with a reasonable accommodation from their mandatory vaccine policy that would enable you to do your job, unless doing so would impose an undue burden on their operations. Safety—your safety as well as the safety of your coworkers, clients, and customers—is a factor in evaluating whether a potential accommodation would be reasonable. An employer must base its decisions regarding any potential safety hazard on objective, scientific evidence, including evidence reflected in policies and guidance from federal, state, and local authorities (including the CDC), and not on unfounded assumptions or stereotypes.

An employer generally may not question the sincerity of an employee’s religious beliefs, practices, or observance, unless the employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice, or observance. In that case, the employer may make a limited inquiry into the facts and circumstances supporting the employee’s request.

Thus, if you cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine because of sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, and the risk of COVID-19 transmission can be mitigated by your employer granting you a reasonable accommodation, your employer must do so unless it would be an undue burden on its operations. A reasonable accommodation may include allowing you to continue to work remotely, or otherwise to work in a manner that would reduce or eliminate the risk of harm to other employees or to the public. A reasonable accommodation may also include providing you with personal protective equipment that sufficiently mitigates your risk of COVID-19 transmission and exposure. In determining whether providing an accommodation may impose an undue burden, an employer may consider the number of employees who need the particular accommodation and any related loss of productivity.

Under the LAD, if there is no reasonable accommodation that your employer can provide that would mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission to its employees and customers, then your employer can enforce its policy of excluding unvaccinated employees from the physical workplace, even if you are unvaccinated because of a sincerely held religious belief. However, that does not mean that your employer can automatically terminate you if you cannot get vaccinated, as the employer may be precluded from doing so by other laws, regulations, or policies.

Housing

What are the LAD’s protections related to COVID-19 in housing?

A housing provider cannot discriminate against you because of your actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, disability, or other LAD-protected characteristic.

These protections apply even if the conduct at issue stems from concerns related to COVID-19. For example, your landlord or building manager cannot refuse to make necessary repairs to your apartment because they say you are Asian and they are afraid of contracting COVID-19. A landlord or building manager also could not refuse to rent a property to you based on these reasons. The LAD does not prohibit a landlord from taking reasonable steps to protect the landlord or other tenants from COVID-19, but such reasonable steps would not include actions premised on stereotypes based on race or national origin.

What are my rights under the LAD if I receive COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance?

The Department of Community Affairs is currently implementing the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CVERAP), which may provide up to six months of emergency rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households that have had a substantial reduction in income or became unemployed due the COVID-19 pandemic.

The LAD prohibits discrimination and harassment in housing based on the source of lawful income a tenant uses to pay rent, including CVERAP. That means that a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you or attempt to evict you because you will pay rent with CVERAP. Click HERE find out more about the LAD’s protections for people receiving rental assistance.

What are the LAD’s protections against discrimination in lending as they relate to COVID-19 relief funds?

The LAD makes it unlawful for anyone, including a bank or mortgage company, to discriminate against you because of your actual or perceived race, national origin, disability, religion, or any other LAD-protected characteristic.  That means that a lender cannot make decisions about mortgage forbearance applications, including those related to COVID-19, on the basis of race, national origin, religion, or any other LAD-protected characteristic.  Similarly, a bank or other financial institution cannot make decisions about a small business’s application for an emergency loan, extension of credit, or other form of COVID-19-related financial assistance based on the small business owner’s race, national origin, religion, or other LAD-protected characteristic.

How does the LAD apply to COVID-19-related rental or mortgage relief?

A landlord who offers COVID-19-related rent relief to their tenants such as a rent suspension or reduction, may not treat tenants differently based on race, national origin, source of lawful income, disability, or any other LAD-protected characteristic. This is the case whether the relief is offered voluntarily or because the landlord is required to offer such relief by law.  In addition, any creditor that offers COVID-19-related relief to a homeowner (whether voluntarily or because required by law), such as a mortgage forbearance, may not treat homeowners differently based on race, national origin, source of lawful income, disability, or any other LAD-protected characteristic.  Please click HERE for more information about housing and rental assistance and mortgage relief related to COVID-19.

Public Accommodations

What are the LAD’s protections related to COVID-19 in places of public accommodation, including schools?

Under the LAD, a place of public accommodation cannot discriminate against you because of your actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, disability, or other LAD-protected characteristic. The place of public accommodation also must take action to stop harassment based on these characteristics if they know or should have known about it, even if the harassment comes from another patient, customer, or student.

These protections apply even if the conduct at issue stems from concerns related to COVID-19. So, for example, if a classmate repeatedly told your child that your child must have (or must have had) COVID-19 because your child is from China, the school could be liable if you reported the harassment and the school did not investigate or take action. Similarly, if someone on a public bus sees that you are wearing a yarmulke and starts screaming that “Jews are spreading the virus,” the LAD requires the bus driver and bus company to take action to stop the harassment.

What are the LAD’s protections related to medical facilities and COVID-19?

Medical facilities must ensure they do not discriminate based on actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, disability, or other LAD-protected characteristics in their provision of services, including the provision of tests or care related to COVID-19. For example, it is unlawful for a medical facility to discriminate in the administration of COVID-19 tests or provide different levels of COVID-19 treatment to Black and white patients because of their race. Similarly, it would be unlawful for a medical facility to refuse an individual treatment for COVID-19, or for any other illness, because they are Jewish. In addition, to ensure they are not discriminating on the basis of national origin or disability, medical facilities may need to provide qualified interpreter services to ensure effective communications with individuals with limited English proficiency and individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Does the LAD prohibit stores from designating certain hours as limited to shoppers over a specific age?

Some grocery stores and other merchants have adopted policies under which only customers over a certain age are allowed to shop at the store during certain hours. For example, a store might limit the first hour of its daily operations to customers over 65 years of age, while serving customers of all ages for the rest of the store’s hours. Such policies are consistent with Executive Order issued by Governor Murphy, which require retail establishments to reserve designated periods of access solely for high-risk individuals, where possible. These policies would not violate the LAD because age is not a protected characteristic in places of public accommodation.

Can I be required to wear masks or face coverings in a store or other establishment open to the public?

Yes, establishments can impose mask requirements to comply with public health requirements and to protect their employees and other customers. However, a retail establishment that can provide reasonable accommodations to patrons with disabilities, such as a grocery store or pharmacy, cannot refuse to serve you if you cannot wear a mask due to a disability. Instead, they can deny you entry without a mask and arrange for an alternative way to serve you, such as curbside pickup or delivery of goods. In some situations, Executive Orders may require that retail establishments impose mask requirements.

Under the LAD, for other places of public accommodation, if there is no reasonable accommodation that the establishment can provide that would mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission to its staff and to other patrons, then the place of public accommodation can enforce its requirement that you wear a mask and deny you entry even if you cannot wear a mask because of a disability. For example, a gym, movie theater, or casino can enforce its requirement that you wear a mask in order to enter if there is no reasonable accommodation that it can provide to you that would mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission to its staff and to other patrons.

Also, places of public accommodation cannot discriminate against people who are wearing masks or cloth face coverings based on race or any other protected characteristic, such as engaging in racial stereotyping. For example, it would violate the LAD for a place of public accommodation to call the police on, harass, or follow a Black man because he was wearing a mask or face covering or because of the style of mask or face covering he was wearing.

I applied for a PPP loan but believe I was treated differently because of my race or gender. Could that violate the LAD?

Yes. The LAD makes it unlawful for any bank or lender to discriminate against you based on race, gender, national origin, or any other protected characteristic. That includes all terms and conditions of a loan. Some examples of potential warning signs of lending discrimination may include a bank or lender: (1) refusing an available loan or workout option even though you qualify for it based on advertised requirements; (2) offering credit or workout options with a higher rate or worse terms than the one you applied for, even though you qualify for the lower rate; (3) discouraging you from applying for credit without explaining why; (4) denying you credit without giving any reason for the denial or telling you how to find out more information; (5) making negative comments about your race, gender, or other protected characteristic.

I have COVID-19 but need to obtain groceries or pharmaceuticals. What are my rights under the LAD?

The LAD requires places of public accommodation (including grocery stores and pharmacies) to provide reasonable accommodations to a customer or patron with a disability, including a disability related to COVID-19, unless doing so would be an undue burden on their operations.  Thus, under the LAD, a grocery store or pharmacy must make a contact-free method of obtaining goods available to a person with COVID-19 unless doing so would be an undue burden on their operations.

Retaliation

I would like to make an LAD complaint, but I am worried that my employer or housing provider will retaliate against me. What should I do?

The LAD prohibits retaliation against a person for complaining about discrimination or bias-based harassment, or otherwise exercising or attempting to exercise their rights under the law. For example, an employer cannot fire someone for reporting COVID-19-related harassment to human resources. And a housing provider cannot evict someone for reporting housing discrimination to DCR.

Bias Incidents

I witnessed a bias/hate crime on a sidewalk in my town. What should I do?

If you’ve witnessed or experienced a bias/hate crime, you should report that incident to law enforcement immediately by calling 911 or your local law enforcement agency. You also may report a bias incident to the NJ Attorney General’s Office online HERE, via email to NJBIAS@NJDCJ.org, or by calling the Bias Hotline at 800-277-BIAS (2427).

New Jersey Family Leave Act

Who is protected by the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA)?

To be eligible for the protections available under the NJFLA, you must work either for a state or local government agency, or for a company or organization with 30 or more employees worldwide. In addition, you must have been employed by the agency or company for at least 1 year and have worked at least 1,000 hours in the past 12 months. Please click HERE to learn more about the NJFLA.

What protections does the New Jersey Family Leave Act offer?

Eligible employees generally can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave during any 24-month period to care for a family member, or someone who is the equivalent of family, who has a serious health condition (including a diagnosis of COVID-19) or who has been isolated or quarantined because of suspected exposure to a communicable disease (including COVID-19) during a state of emergency. They can also take job-protected leave to take care of a child whose school or place of care is closed by order of a public official due to COVID-19.

When you return to work, you are generally entitled to return to the same position you held before leave, and your employer may not retaliate against you because you took or attempted to take leave under the NJFLA.

When can I take job-protected NJFLA leave related to COVID-19?

If your family member, or someone who is the equivalent of family, has COVID-19 or is isolated or quarantined because of suspected exposure to COVID-19 and you are eligible for the protections of the NJFLA, you can take job-protected leave to take care of them. The same is true if your child’s school or place of care is closed due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

You cannot take leave under the NJFLA based on your own COVID-19 diagnosis, but you can use accrued Earned Sick Leave. Earned Sick Leave is enforced by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL). NJDOL has set up a website about COVID-19. Please click HERE for more information. Your employer may also be required to provide a leave of absence for your own disability if it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

You may also be eligible for job-protected leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is enforced by the federal Department of Labor. Please click HERE for more information.

Am I eligible for job-protected leave under the NJFLA if my child’s school or daycare is closed or operating only virtually?

Yes. If your child’s school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19, you are eligible to take job-protected leave under the NJFLA. Similarly, if your child’s school is operating only virtually, you can take leave under the NJFLA. This applies even if the school is starting the school year with only virtual instruction but will reevaluate the situation in the future to determine if it will open in person.

However, if you already exhausted your 12 weeks of NJFLA leave, including by taking time off in the spring of this year to care for your child while your child’s school or daycare was closed, your employer is not required to provide additional FLA leave.

Am I eligible for job-protected leave if my child’s school or daycare is open but I choose to keep my child home from school because someone in my family is high risk or I am otherwise concerned about my child contracting COVID-19?

Generally, no. You generally cannot take leave under the NJFLA if your child’s school or daycare is open for in-person instruction but you choose not to send your child to school because you fear they will contract COVID-19.

However, if you need to provide care for a child or another family member who has a serious health condition that puts them at higher risk of developing severe illness if they were to contract COVID-19, you may be able to take leave under the NJFLA to care for that family member’s serious health condition.

I was laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19 and therefore did not work at least 1,000 hours in the past 12 months. When my employer calls me back to work, am I still entitled to NJFLA leave?

To be eligible for job-protected leave under the NJFLA, you must have been employed by the agency or company for at least one year and have worked at least 1,000 hours in the past 12 months. If you were furloughed or laid off due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, any time up to 90 calendar days during the COVID-19 furlough or time of unemployment can be counted as time in which you were employed. To calculate the “hours worked” per week during the COVID-19 furlough or unemployment, use the average number of hours you worked per week during the rest of the 12-month period.

How do I get answers to questions I have about Earned Sick Leave, Temporary Disability, Worker’s Compensation, or Family Leave Insurance?

Those laws are enforced by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL). NJDOL has set up a website about NJDOL Benefits and the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Please click HERE for more information.

Translate »