HUMAN RIGHTS and COVID-19
Human rights protections are important all the time, but even more so during stressful and anxious times like these. The Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission has compiled some human rights best practices for employers and service providers. Please note that these best practices may change as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
For more information about COVID-19 check out the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador`s website at www.gov.nl.ca/covid.19/. Follow us on twitter @nlhumanrights or go to our website www.thinkhumanrights.ca for updates.
Discrimination and Harassment
The Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Act protects people from discrimination and harassment based on certain protected (or prohibited) grounds. You are protected in Newfoundland and Labrador in the areas of work, education, housing, health care or in accessing any government or other public services. Examples of public services include stores, restaurants or bars, cabs or sports/gym facilities.
The prohibited grounds include race, colour, nationality, ethnic or social origin and disability, whether perceived or otherwise. Anxiety and fear about COVID-19 is never an excuse to discriminate or harass someone. COVID-19 is not isolated to people of any particular nationality, ethnic or social origin, or race. Avoiding certain businesses or people or making racist comments online are hurtful and perpetuate stereotypes and other forms of discrimination. Instead, we should treat everyone with dignity and respect and stand up to discrimination and harassment in our community.
Employers have a duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship. Information about the duty to accommodate is available on the Commission’s website www.thinkhumanrights.ca. Employers should:
- Strive for a respectful and inclusive workplace. Support your employees during this difficult time.
- Accommodate all employees up to the point of undue hardship. Examples include, let employees work at home, work different shifts or hours, stagger shifts or other alternate work arrangements which support social distancing.
- Not overburden the health care system with requests for medical/sick notes. Unnecessary visits to medical offices increase further risk of exposure for everyone.
- Ensure employer absenteeism policies do not negatively affect employees who cannot work in connection with COVID-19.
- Avoid disciplining or terminating employees who are unable to work because medical or health officials have quarantined them or have advised them to self-isolate and stay home in connection with COVID-19.
- Accommodate child/elder care-giving responsibilities up to the point of undue hardship. The prohibited ground of family status covers situations where a parent or child is ill or in self-isolation, or where the child’s school is closed due to COVID-19. It is the Commission’s position that the prohibited ground of marital status covers situations where a person has to care for a spouse that is ill or in self-isolation. Some accommodation examples are listed above.
- Be sensitive to other factors, such as any particular vulnerability an employee may have. Examples include, if the employee has a compromised immune system or has a mental health issue which causes increased fear or anxiety.
- Take an employee`s request for accommodation in good faith and work together to find a reasonable solution. Include unions in this discussion.
- Offer sick/disability leave, paid or unpaid leave and benefits or notify them of other government benefit programs for employees who cannot work because of COVID-19.
- Prevent workplace harassment based on COVID-19 related stereotypes.
- Refer employees to EAP or other mental health/wellness services.
At the same time, employers are entitled to expect that employees continue to work, unless they have a legitimate reason for why they cannot. It is not discriminatory to lay off employees if there is no work for them to do because of the impacts of COVID-19, so long as employees are not selected for lay-off based on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.
Public Services, Stores and Restaurants, Housing
Service and housing providers (including government) have a duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship. Information about the duty to accommodate is available on the Commission’s website www.thinkhumanrights.ca.
The Commission encourages all service and housing providers to take universal precautions based on the most current advice from public health officials. Service and housing providers should be non-discriminatory in its treatment of individuals, many of whom are vulnerable and marginalized by the current COVID-19 situation. Service and housing providers should:
- Accommodate tenants who are suffering financially because of COVID-19. Examples include, making arrangements to pay rent late or in installments.
- Prevent harassment of and not refuse service to customers based on COVID-19 fear and anxiety.
- Offer online, take-out or delivery services.
- Consider disability-related accommodations when moving services online. Examples include, closed captioned or ASL videos, technologically accessible websites and use of plain language.