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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?
No. Your employer cannot fire you if you miss work because you had COVID-19 or were told to quarantine by a medical professional. You are also legally protected against discrimination or harassment when it comes to COVID-19.
The State of New Jersey has passed legislation that prohibits an employer -- during the ongoing Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency -- from terminating or refusing to reinstate an employee who has, or is likely to have, an infectious disease which requires the employee to miss time at work.
An employee who requests or takes time off from work, based on the recommendation of a medical professional, may not be terminated or refused reinstatement if the employee is likely to infect others in the workplace.
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.
If you believe your civil rights were violated, file a complaint with your regional Division on Civil Rights office.
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. 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
Places of public accommodation, like stores and medical facilities, cannot discriminate based on race, disability, religion, gender identity or expression, or other LAD-protected characteristics in their provision of services. For example, it is unlawful for a medical facility to provide different levels of COVID-19 testing or treatment to Black and white patients because of their race. Additionally, retail stores cannot refuse entry to, remove, or otherwise treat differently a customer who cannot wear a mask because of a medical condition.
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.