As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread there has been a worrying rise in racial harassment, bullying, and discrimination in the workplace.
In the US, the CDC has issued guidance on reports of an increase in discrimination in people at work, particularly against people of Chinese heritage, warning that COVID-19-related “fear and anxiety can lead to social stigma towards Chinese or other Asian Americans.”
While in the UK, trade unions are warning of an increase in discrimination in people at work and advice from employment body ACAS goes so far as to say: “Employers must not single anyone out. For example, they must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity.”
Employers are advised to remind staff of the behavior expected of them and that treating employees of certain nationalities differently or jokes and banter related to coronavirus could expose the company to discrimination claims.
With less than 25% of workplace discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, and workplace bullying reported, many legacy tools for reporting incidents at work are ineffective. Furthermore, employers will be unable to rely simply on a policy that states that discrimination and harassment is not tolerated.
The Director General at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom, has even spoken out: “It’s appalling to see new reports of people being targeted due to their race, ethnicity or purported association with COVID-19. WHO once again calls for an end to stigmatization & discrimination at a time when solidarity and compassion must be paramount,” Tedros said on Twitter.
How your workplace can protect employees from discrimination associated with COVID-19:
- Remind employees of your organization’s discrimination & harassment policies
- Engage relevant employee resource groups to spread information
- If your workplace has a “guardian” or “champion” models to support speaking up, they should be attuned to COVID-19 related discrimination
Employers need to put in place tools encouraging employees to speak up and report if they fall victim to or witness discrimination of any kind. This should be coupled with a cultural reminder from leadership stressing the importance of nipping prejudiced behavior in the bud. Anyone that witnesses the perpetuation of negative stereotypes should be encouraged to speak up and report it.
Download our infosheet on Coronavirus-related workplace discrimination
Neta Meidav is co-founder and CEO of Vault Platform, the trusttech company disrupting workplace misconduct reporting and resolution. Neta worked as a senior adviser to the UK Government for over ten years and is a knowledgeable resource on solutions to the problem of harassment and bullying in the workplace.