Members of Asian communities in Canada and around the world have been facing racism and discrimination as a result of misinformation and stereotypes about the communities perceived to be associated with the virus.
A crisis can bring out shameful aspects of crowd behaviour, including xenophobia and other forms of discrimination. It is important to note that human rights and occupational health and safety protections also extend to ensuring that employees are not harassed, bullied or mistreated in the course of their employment because of their race, ancestry, or place of origin. In some cases, employers may need to respond to insensitive and possibly discriminatory conduct directed at their workers by co-workers, suppliers, or members of the public.
Most human rights commissions have issued a warning against discrimination based on ethnic or national origin as concerns over COVID-19 grow. Under human right legislation across Canada, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone based on their ethnic or national origin, race or colour. Human right legislation protects against discrimination “based on an irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease.”
An employer’s legal obligations under human rights legislation continue to apply in dealing with employees who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. Employers should balance the duty of care owed to their entire staff against the rights and obligations of individual employees.
Considerate handling of a global crisis like this can reinforce an organization’s values and boost a healthy employee relations climate. Therefore, employers should emphasize their anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and remind employees of dignity and respect when interacting with each other.