EEOC Updates COVID-19 Guidance to Cover Retaliation and Interference

Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On November 17, 20201, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated and expanded its guidance on “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” by adding a section titled “M. Retaliation and Interference” to include more information about employer retaliation in Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic-related employment situations, according to an EEOC press release.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created new situations and additional challenges, but it is no excuse to retaliate against people for opposing employment discrimination. This updated technical assistance provides additional clarity on how our laws balance workers’ rights to speak up without fear of retaliation against employers’ responsibilities to create a healthy and safe work environment,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows.

The guidance – which has been updated many times during the pandemic – clarifies the rights of employees and job applicants who believe they suffered retaliation for protected activities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or other employment discrimination laws. The guidance explains how these rights are balanced against the need to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols. Key updates include:

  • Job applicants and current and former employees are protected from retaliation by employers for asserting their rights under any of the EEOC-enforced anti-discrimination laws.
  • Protected activity can take many forms, including filing a charge of discrimination; complaining to a supervisor about coworker harassment; or requesting accommodation of a disability or a religious belief, practice, or observance, regardless of whether the request is granted or denied.
  • Additionally, the ADA prohibits not only retaliation for protected EEO activity, but also “interference” with an individual’s exercise of ADA rights.

This updated guidance also supports the EEOC’s participation in an interagency initiative to end retaliation against workers who exercise their protected labor and employment law rights with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The initiative will include collaboration among these civil law enforcement agencies to protect workers on issues of unlawful retaliatory conduct.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws. To learn more about the EEOC, visit www.eeoc.gov.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a potentially deadly respiratory illness that spreads from person to person. As of November 23, 2021, there are more than 258 million global cases and more than 5.1 million global deaths, while the United States leads the world with more than 47 million cases and more than 772,000 deaths, according to research from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

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