By Chakeema Cruickshank, Staff Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many lives in more ways than one. Some effects include the impact on public health, labor, and finances. However, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has also shed light on discrimination. In order to combat it, it is important to know what it looks like, how it presents itself in different ways, and how to reduce it.
Fear, uncertainty, and misinformation surrounding this pandemic has led to social stigmas and stereotypes creating what is known as COVID-19 discrimination. This discrimination sustains itself out of fear and uncertainty. This includes accusing certain groups of being responsible for the spread of the virus and linking the virus to certain regions.
Enforcing stigmas continues to spread the fear and anxiety surrounding the virus. Discrimination can take place in many forms and is pervasive in many sectors including housing, employment, and healthcare. This can present itself as verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. When individuals face discrimination or social stigma, they are often times avoided or rejected. The negative implications is that this can lead individuals to shy away from seeking treatment, medical care, and testing. As a result, stigmas are not just dangerous to mental and emotional health, but also to physical health. This helps continue the outbreak of the virus.
Some groups that may experience COVID-19 stigma are certain racial and ethnic groups, such as Asian Americans and African-Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian and Black Americans have been more likely to report adverse experiences due to their race or ethnicity since the pandemic began. Aside from racial stigmas, those that have tested positive, recently left COVID-19 quarantine, frontline and essential workers, people facing homelessness, and people with underlying health conditions also may experience COVID-19 discrmination.
COVID-19 Discrimination and Employment
Developing workplace responses for COVID-19 is more significant than ever to combat discrimination. Employers should can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 related stigma in their workplaces through maintaining confidentiality of those seeking care, enacting policies against stigmas, ensuring accurate and up to date information sharing of information and preventing negative language on the job.
Moreover, employers should develop a rights-based response to the pandemic and ensure employees are aware of their rights. In New Jersey, individuals are protected under the Laws Against Discrimination (LAD). This protects against harassment and discrimination based on race, disability, religion, and other protected characterisitcs and providing reasonable accommodations when they are requested. This now includes COVID-19 discrimination.
An increasing number of employers and institutions are instilling vaccination mandates and mandatory testing. Many major religious denominations are supportive of the vaccine, however, there are some vaccine exemptions based on religious reasoning, as well as medical necessity. This has become a huge issue of contention, since some employers may be faced with the difficulty of navigating through vaccine resistance and religious exemptions. As discussed, religion is a protected characteristic under LAD.
Reducing Discrimination and Stigma
In this pandemic, everyone is at risk of the virus and no one group is more likely than another to contract or spread the virus. The reality is that COVID-19 does not discriminate. Businesses and their employees should both work to challenge myths, stereotypes, and stigmas, and instead share facts and accurate information.
Staff Writer Chakeema Cruickshank is currently a first year at Rutgers Law School Camden. Prior to Rutgers Law, she worked for United States Senator Robert Menendez doing constituent relations and outreach for education, environment, and technology.