The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued legal guidance with respect to people’s reactions to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. Namely, they wish to remind businesses that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin and race, and that such rules are still in effect. In particular, they want to emphasize that the coronavirus can infect anyone, and people of Asian descent should not be singled out as being more likely to carry the disease.
The 2019-nCoV coronavirus first appeared in the Wuhan province of China in December 2019 but has since spread to other regions and other countries. It reportedly results in flu-like symptoms, include a fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, and muscle aches. There have been hundreds of confirmed dead and tens of thousands more infected, and isolated cases have even appeared in the United States. Given the lethality and infectiousness of the disease, many people in the United States are reasonably afraid that the disease will progress beyond a few isolated cases.
However, even given concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, it is still illegal to discriminate against someone simply because they are of Chinese or East Asian descent, or even because they are from China. While every business should take reasonable steps to prevent a possible outbreak of the disease, such steps should not include discriminatory action against those of Chinese descent. Instead, focus on real, non-discriminatory actions you can take to limit the spread of sickness, including making sure your employees all wash their hands with soap and water, that they cover their mouths when they cough, and that they limit contact with people who are visibly sick as much as possible.
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