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From Claudia’s Corner: COVID Is no Excuse for Workplace Discrimination or Retaliation

Attorney Claudia A. ReisWhile most employers can’t wait to get their employees back to work, some unscrupulous employers are using COVID as an excuse to lay-off New Jersey employees on a discriminatory and/or retaliatory basis. Workplace discrimination and retaliation are against the law and COVID is no excuse for unlawful employment decisions.

So how are some employers using COVID as an excuse to make discriminatory and/or retaliatory employment decisions? We have learned of so many different ways that this is being done.

Some are targeting people in protected classes for lay-offs – meaning that they are making decisions about who to lay-off on the basis of age, race, gender, disability, pregnancy, people who took legally protected leave or FMLA, sexual orientation, etc. Whether in the middle of a pandemic or not, that is unlawful workplace discrimination. In fact, we have gotten calls from laid-off employees whose employers let go of many of the older workers – the people who tend to make more money or cost more in insurance. When employment decisions disproportionately affect a certain protected class of workers – like older workers – that is unlawful discrimination.

Other employers are laying off employees who have complained about discrimination or sexual harassment and/or blew the whistle on illegal workplace conduct. Employers who target for a lay-off employees who have complained about discrimination, harassment, and/or unlawful workplace conduct are violating the law by engaging in illegal retaliation.

Other ways that we have seen employers use COVID as an excuse is that they are returning all of their employees to work but slashing the pay of only some employees in a discriminatory and/or retaliatory manner.  What does that look like? Well, it looks like an employer returning its employees to work but telling only a certain group of employees – like older workers, women, or workers with accommodations – that their pay is being cut while not cutting the pay of other employees.

Yet other employers are allowing some workers to keep working from home while forcing other employees in similar jobs to return to work – sometimes under dangerous circumstances.  Often the workers being forced to return to work under those circumstances are being subjected to age discrimination, race discrimination, gender discrimination, disability discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and/or retaliation for taking leave and or whistleblower retaliation.

Believe it or not, we even know of some employers who are discriminating and/or retaliating against employees by calling back workers but refusing to allow certain groups of employees to return to work.  Often, those employees that are not allowed to return to work are older workers, women, pregnant women, and/or workers who took FMLA leave but have been cleared to return to work.  That is unlawful discrimination, too.

What can you do about it if you feel that your employer is using COVID as an excuse? You can call Claudia Reis and Chris Lenzo at Lenzo & Reis, LLC to see how we can put an end to this discrimination and retaliation.

Claudia’s Corner is brought to you by Claudia A. Reis, a New Jersey employment attorney with the law firm of Lenzo & Reis, LLC.

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