The coronavirus does not discriminate. Unfortunately, fear and misinformation about the pandemic is leading to anti-Asian discrimination and racist bullying against people perceived to be Chinese. Similar behaviors are targeting other groups – such as people who have traveled, emergency responders, healthcare workers and people wearing facemasks in public.
Psychological research shows that people feel more anxious when confronting unknowns, which can lead to negative behaviors. This underscores the need for organizations to address coronavirus discrimination and myths in ongoing communication and training, as well as new plans, policies and procedures related to the pandemic.
Raise employee awareness
As organizations grapple with the evolving changes, these seven tips can help raise employee awareness of coronavirus discrimination and reinforce the need to maintain a respectful, inclusive workplace culture. Encourage employees to:
- Stay up to date through reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and state and local health departments.
- Avoid spreading rumors and misinformation on social media, email and other communication channels.
- Be aware of actions that may stigmatize or discriminate against certain individuals or groups, such as excluding them from meetings or sharing inappropriate jokes, videos and images.
- Speak up if they see or hear about COVID-19 related discrimination or harassment toward co-workers, customers, clients, vendors or others.
- Comply with the organization’s code of conduct and policies that prohibit all forms of discrimination and harassment.
- Be an ally to individuals who may be dealing with the pandemic. Showing respect and compassion can help everyone get through this shared emergency.
- Reach out to their manager or designated contact to discuss COVID-19 related questions and concerns.
Train managers and supervisors
Organizations should also conduct additional training for managers and others in supervisory positions about their responsibilities to address, prevent and investigate coronavirus discrimination and other misconduct. Managers also need to stay up to date with changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
The EEOC has published guidance on What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and COVID-19. In addition, on Friday, March 27, the EEOC will post a webinar to address questions about federal employment laws and COVID-19. Questions should be emailed in advance to COVID19.Questions@eeoc.gov by 9 pm, ET, on March 25 for consideration in the webinar.
Reinforce workplace culture among remote workers
For the near-term and possibly longer, many employees are working from home — some for the first time. And while surroundings and routines may change, expectations for professional behavior do not. New telework policies should make it clear that the rules about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior apply to emails, texts, live chats, over-the-web meetings and other remote interactions.
Fears and misinformation about COVID-19 are leading to incidents of discrimination, bias and harassment towards Asians and others. As part of a comprehensive strategy, organizations should address the coronavirus in their policies and procedures to prevent discrimination, harassment, bullying and retaliation. Keeping workplace conduct respectful and free of discrimination and harassment can help organizations and their employees be as productive as possible during the anxious weeks and months ahead.