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As COVID-19 Continues to Spread, Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Efforts Are Paramount

Multiple news reports confirm that while in many ways the coronavirus has served to unite, there are increasing reports of discrimination and harassment based on national origin and/or a perception about the source of the illness. These attitudes are similar to prejudices that surfaced after 9/11 against those perceived to resemble the attackers. With those in positions of power fueling such animosity by inaccurately and maliciously labeling the virus as “the China virus” or “the Chinese virus,” it is more important than ever that leadership be proactive in preempting and addressing inappropriate behavior within their community.

The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans and more than 260 civil rights organizations recently called on Congress to denounce the increase in attacks and discrimination against the Asian American community amid concerns over COVID-19, while the CDC cautioned that people should not “show prejudice to people of Asian descent, because of fear of this new virus” or “assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have 2019-nCoV.” EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon similarly warned in a recent statement that mistreatment and harassment of Asian Americans and people of Asian descent due to such perceptions could constitute unlawful discrimination.

Employers, educators, and other leaders interested in promoting respect in their communities should take care to adopt and enforce policies and protocols related to inappropriate behavior. The avenues for reporting discrimination, harassment, or other counterproductive behaviors should be clear, safe, and include an anonymous option. Leadership should publicly announce that blame or harassment of any ethnic or national origin group violates policy and will not be tolerated. Bystander intervention strategies should be explained and encouraged, preferably through a larger training effort on promoting respect. As important, organizations must make sure that all complaints are immediately looked into and inappropriate behavior is decisively and quickly handled.