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Xenophobic COVID-19 Expressions Pose Legal Risk for Employers

April 08, 2020

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Fenwick’s employment practices counsel Anthony DiBenedetto talked to Law360 about the legal risks associated with using xenophobic expressions to describe COVID-19 in the workplace.

DiBenedetto told Law360 that when controversial terms are used to describe COVID-19 in a way that can be perceived as scapegoating a specific group, the remarks could be the basis for a workplace discrimination or harassment claim. He advised companies to have strong anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in place, with managers proactively identifying any issues.

DiBenedetto also talked about how problematic remarks could appear in virtual communications, as more employees have had to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted employees often act in more inappropriate ways when they're communicating through text or instant messaging, saying things they wouldn't say face to face.

"I can definitely see some issues continuing to arise even though a lot of the workforce isn't interacting face to face,” DiBenedetto said.

“It is worth making sure that your policies are clear to employees that [you] not only prohibit discrimination in the workplace, but you prohibit discrimination whenever employees are interacting with each other,” DiBenedetto said.

The full article is available on Law360​ (subscription required).