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Can my employer fire me if I miss work due to COVID-19? Do I have any civil rights protections against discrimination or harassment?

Last Updated: 10/19/2021

On March 20, 2020, Governor Murphy signed a law that prohibited an employer from firing or otherwise punishing an employee who requested time off or took time off from work based on a medical professional's determination that the employee had, or was likely to have, COVID-19.

The law has expired and only applies to actions taken during the public health emergency, from March 20, 2020 through June 4, 2021. Learn more here.

You can report a possible violation of this law through the New Jersey Department of Labor's Division of Wage and Hour Compliance in English or Spanish.

If you are currently unable to work due to COVID-19 or must take care of a loved one or a child, you may use earned sick leave.

NJ employers of all sizes must provide full-time, part-time, and temporary employees with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year so they can care for themselves or a loved one, including for COVID-19 testing, illness, quarantine, or vaccination.

In addition, depending on your situation, you may be eligible for Temporary Disability Insurance or Workers' Compensation. To learn more, refer to the NJ Department of Labor's COVID-19 Worker Benefits and Protections page.

Civil Rights Protections

Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), you are protected from discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, disability, and other protected characteristics in employment, housing, and places open to the public, including businesses, schools, medical providers, etc., including when the conduct at issue is related to COVID-19.

In addition, under the LAD, an employer, housing provider, or place of public accommodation must not discriminate and must take action to stop such harassment if it knows or should have known about it.

If you believe your civil rights were violated, file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights.

For more information about your protections against COVID-19-related harassment or discrimination, visit the Division on Civil Rights' Frequently Asked Questions on Civil Rights and COVID-19.

Employment

The LAD's protections in employment mean, for example, that your employer cannot fire you because you coughed at work and they perceived you to have COVID-19. And if you have east-Asian heritage and a coworker repeatedly harasses you by calling COVID-19 "the Chinese virus" or claiming that Chinese people "caused" COVID-19 or were responsible for spreading it, your employer must take reasonable action to stop the harassment if they knew or should have known about it, regardless of whether the harasser is a coworker or supervisor and regardless of whether the harassing conduct takes place in the office or electronically. Finally, if your employer lays off workers because of COVID-19, they cannot select employees to lay off based on race, national origin, religion, age, disability, or any other LAD-protected characteristic.

You may be able to take job-protected leave under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), enforced by DCR, to care for a family member, or someone who is the equivalent of family, who has a serious health condition, including a diagnosis of COVID-19, or who has been isolated or quarantined because of suspected exposure to COVID-19. You may also be eligible to take job-protected leave to care for your child if their school or place of care was ordered closed due to COVID-19.

Places Open to the Public

Under the LAD, a place of public accommodation cannot discriminate against you because of your actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, disability, or other LAD-protected characteristic. The place of public accommodation also must take action to stop harassment based on these characteristics if they know or should have known about it, even if the harassment comes from another patient, customer, or student.

Housing

The prohibition on discrimination and bias-based harassment in housing means, for example, that a landlord cannot ask a tenant to move out because they have COVID-19 or because the landlord believes they have COVID-19. Similarly, a landlord cannot refuse to rent a property to you because you are Jewish and they say that Jewish people are responsible for spreading COVID-19.

For more information or to file a complaint, please visit the Division on Civil Rights, review DCR's guidance on Civil Rights and COVID-19, or call 973-648-2700.

Source: www.njoag.gov/about/divisions-and-offices/division-on-civil-rights-home/covid-19-resources/; https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/20200320e.shtml