The Novel Coronavirus crisis has had a variety of consequences for employers in Massachusetts and throughout the country. In some cases, employees have asked that those who have been to China not be allowed to come to work. Alternatively, they may ask not to work with those who have been to China or other areas impacted by it. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned Americans not to assume that someone from Asia is more likely than others to have the disease.
Furthermore, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on their race or national origin. National origin discrimination can take place by refusing to hire or otherwise associate with individuals who only look like they are from a foreign country. It is also important to note that discrimination can occur even if a manager and employee are from the same country or share other attributes.
If an individual shows signs of being ill, it may be appropriate to keep that person out of work. However, it would likely be illegal to do so simply because an individual was in Wuhan or other cities in Asia. Employers should stress that precautions are being taken to protect worker safety and that harassment of others will not be tolerated.
Employers that allow workplace discrimination to occur may be subject to financial penalties. Individuals who believe that they were given worse hours, isolated from customers or otherwise unfairly treated may wish to take action against their employers. Legal counsel may help an individual prove that an employer took actions that violated Title VII or other employment laws. Evidence could include witness or manager statements or emails containing crude language exchanged between managers and employees.