COVID19 Resources

17 April 2020

As you prioritize your health, safety, and well-being during this global pandemic, The Human Rights Commission is working to ensure that employers, landlords, property managers, medical providers, schools, lawmakers and state agencies do not lose sight of our right to live in a society free from discrimination. To this end, we’ve provided some answers to frequently asked questions about what equity looks like in the time of COVID-19. This guideline is not intended to be complete and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. If you believe you have been discriminated against or experienced a hate crime or an incident of bias, please contact us immediately and/or file a complaint through our website. Together, we can get through this crisis with our human rights intact.

In solidarity,

The staff and Commissioners of the Huaman Rights Commission

The Governor has ordered that schools be closed for the remainder of the school year. My child does not have a home computer to do online learning or we don’t have internet access at home. What resources are available to me?

Every child has the right to education regardless of their socioeconomic status. You should first contact the school to ask about resources and possible alternatives to doing work online. Parents cannot opt out of school.

The Department of Public Service has a list of resources that families can access to get connected. Some companies are offering free internet for sixty days and many of the cellular companies are offering Wi-Fi hotspots. Explore those here

I cannot assist my child with online learning. Who can help me?

If you have a language barrier and/or a disability that prevents you from being able to assist your child with online learning, there may be advocates that can provide support to you and your family. Parents and/or children unable to access online learning due to language access or disabilities should be provided additional resources from the school, supervisory union and Agency of Education. Regardless of the pandemic, schools still have an ongoing obligation to meet children’s IEP and 504 Plans.

The Disability Law Project can help folks navigate the system, advise families of their rights and provide direct advocacy.   They also have information on special education in the COVID-19 crisis and a link to follow for requesting help at:

 https://vtlawhelp.org/special-education-coronavirus

 The Vermont Family Network (VFN) has been providing support to families of children with disabilities through their education helpline. They have also been disseminating information through weekly FAQs, which are on this area of our website (along with other resources):

 https://www.vermontfamilynetwork.org/events-news/covid-19-updates/

 The VFN communicate regularly with the Agency of Education with concerns they are hearing from parents. From the AOE guidance, we take information that would be most useful and relevant to parents and communicate them through our FAQs and social media.

 https://education.vermont.gov/news/covid-19-guidance-vermont-schools#SpEd

My children will be home for the foreseeable future. Can I ask my employer for a flexible work schedule or to work from home right now? 

Yes. Vermont employers are required to discuss and consider in good faith all requests for flexible work arrangements. You may make the request verbally, or in writing. If the request is made in writing, and your employer denies the request, the denial must be in writing and set forth the reasons for the denial. 

You may request an intermediate or long-term change that includes the number of days or hours you work, the time you arrive and depart from work, to work from home, or job-share.  

Flexible working arrangement does not include vacation, routine scheduling of shifts, or another form of employee leave. You may read more about the law: 21 V.S.A. §309 and the Attorney General’s Guide can be found here: https://ago.vermont.gov/covid-19-updates-and-information-from-the-attorney-general/. 

If I or a family member becomes ill, can I still get paid? 

Governor Phil Scott’s Executive Order of March 24, 2020, and the March 18, 2020 “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (H.R. 6201), require certain employers to provide leave for absences from work related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That Act expands the existing federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to allow employees to care for their children if school is closed due to a public health emergency; and provides certain paid sick leave for employees who are quarantined, have been advised by a healthcare provider to stay home due to concerns related to COVID-19, are seeking a medical diagnosis related to COVID-10, or are caring for an individual with COVID-19-related medical needs. 

For more detailed information, please see https://ago.vermont.gov/covid-19-updates-and-information-from-the-attorn...

My employer treats me as a person who is sick or has a disability even though I am in good health and am fine to keep working. Is this discrimination? 

Disability discrimination means treating individuals differently because of their disability, perceived disability, or association with a disabled person. COVID-19 does not allow employers to discriminate against employees with disabilities. However, it does let employers require medical examinations, send employees home who have COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it. 

COVID-19 has changed what an employer can ask about or how an employer treats an employee who is showing symptoms of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that employees who become ill with symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace. Advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness were serious enough to pose a direct threat. Applying this principle to current CDC guidance on COVID-19, this means an employer can send home an employee with COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it. 

Further, employers may ask employees who report feeling ill at work, or who call in sick, questions about their symptoms to determine if they have or may have COVID-19 and may measure employees’ body temperature. Currently these symptoms include, for example, fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. 

All medical information, whether voluntarily disclosed by the employee or discovered by the employer, is confidential.  

You may read more here: 

CDC Guidance for Employers and Workplaces on COVID-19:  
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/busine...

"Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19," https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf 

"COVID-19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Family and Medical Leave Act" 
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/pandemic 

I’ve been laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic, I cannot pay my mortgage or rent. What are my rights? 

Federal, state and local governments have been taking action to prevent people from being removed from their housing because they have lost their source of income during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Rent 

The new federal CARES Act includes a 120-day ban on new nonpayment evictions from properties that participate in federally subsidized housing programs. This includes Section 8, public housing, or housing for seniors or people with disabilities; the rural housing voucher program; and properties with federally backed mortgage loans. A full list of covered programs is on the National Housing Law Project website. The new law does not ban for-cause evictions (example: you broke housing rules) or no-cause evictions. The law bans evictions for nonpayment of rent between March 27 and July 25, 2020. 

The Supreme Court of Vermont has suspended all non-emergency civil cases which includes eviction cases.  

The Vermont Legislature is also trying to put protections in place for Vermont renters. S.333, a bill that would place a freeze on evictions for the duration of the COVID-19 state of emergency, is moving forward in the Senate. The bill would also restrict evictions for not paying rent during the state of emergency and up to 30 days after. It would not enact rent forgiveness or a rent freeze. A vote in the Legislature is planned in the upcoming days. 

Mortgages 

The Federal CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. This act provides help if you have a mortgage that is federally backed. This includes Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Housing Administration (FHA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Veterans Affairs (VA) home loans.  

Under the CARES Act, a mortgage servicer / lender of federally backed mortgage loan may not: 

  • start a judicial or nonjudicial foreclosure process 
  • move for a foreclosure judgment 
  • order a sale, or 
  • execute a foreclosure-related eviction or foreclosure sale for at least 60 days beginning on March 18, 2020. This applies even if you do not have a hardship due to COVID-19. See § 4022(c)(2). 

If you have a federally backed mortgage loan and you have financial hardship due to COVID-19, you can ask for and get a forbearance (postponement) of mortgage payments for up to 180 days. You can then ask for and get additional forbearance for up to another 180 days. During the forbearance period, no fees, penalties, or interest will accrue on your mortgage account beyond the amounts scheduled or calculated. It will be as if you made all payments on time and in full under the terms of the mortgage contract. This appears to apply during the COVID-19 emergency or until December 31, 2020, whichever is earlier. See § 4022(b), (c)(1). 

If you do not have a federally backed mortgage: 

If you are impacted by COVID-19 and you are not able to make mortgage payments, contact your mortgage servicer / lender. If you can get more time to pay, be sure to ask: 

If you will be charged late fees, penalties or interest 

If postponed payments will be recorded in your credit report 

If you need to send any documents to show you are experiencing hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

The hospital/clinic will not allow a family member to attend a medical appointment with me. I need their support. Whom should I talk to? 

Many medical providers are postponing non-urgent appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic. If your appointment is not urgent, you may want to reschedule it for a time when the hospital/clinic will again be allowing family members/support persons to attend appointments with patients.  

Depending on the nature of the appointment or service being sought, you may be able to have an appointment either over the phone or through the internet with your provider. With either of these options, you would be able to have your family member/support person with you.  

If your appointment must be in person, you can explain to the hospital/clinic staff why you need the family member/support person to be with you and ask if they can make an exception. If you need the family member/support person to be with you because of your disability, you should inform your provider that you are making a reasonable accommodation request to have a family member/support person present.  

Alternatively, you may ask to have that person be on the phone with you while you meet with the medical provider. If you do not have a phone available, you can ask the hospital/clinic if it is possible for them to phone your family member/support person during the appointment.  

The hospital/clinic will not allow a live interpreter to assist me during a medical appointment. I’m not comfortable using a remote interpreter. How do I address this? 

Patients with Limited English Proficiency or are Deaf or Hard of Hearing have a legal right to access health care in their preferred language. Hospitals and clinics are required to provide effective communication, which means having an equal opportunity to participate in healthcare services and being able to communicate (both expressively and receptively).  

Hospitals may rely on remote interpreters when an on-site interpreter is not available or, in the case of COVID-19, not allowed. But if a remote interpreter would not be able to provide effective communication for your appointment, let your medical provider know that and ask them to work with you to find an appropriate solution.  

A denial for an interpreter may be discrimination on the basis of disability or national origin. 

My neighbors harass me because they think I have the coronavirus because I am Asian. Am I protected from this type of harassment? 

Hate crimes against Asians are on the rise in housing, in places of public accommodations, and in employment. You are protected from discrimination based on actual or perceived national origin, race, color in all of these areas. 

Neighbor on neighbor harassment is prohibited by both state and federal fair housing laws. Landlords and managers have an obligation to address harassment between tenants. Homeowners have the right to live in neighborhoods and communities free from harassment from their neighbors.  

Furthermore, stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools, hotels, government entities and other businesses that serve the public cannot deny access to or services to persons just because of their perceived race or national origin. Discrimination can range from refusal to serve, to providing different types and levels of services for different customers, restricting entry and the like.  

Discriminatory actions may include termination, demotion, disciplinary sanctions, failure to promote. They also include your employer denying you work hours or preferred shifts or sending you home because customers are “uncomfortable” or “nervous” around you because of your race, national origin or color.  

Additionally, employees have the right to a workplace that is free from harassment. Your employer has an obligation to ensure that you are not harassed at work even when that harassment may be based on fear. Employers aware of such harassment must take prompt remedial action to stop the harassment and to ensure there is no retaliation. 

Read more about Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act (VFHPAA) at 9 V.S.A. §4503 and Vermont’s Fair Employment Practice Act (VFEPA), 21 V.S.A. § 495. 

A store owner removed me from their store because they think I have the virus. Is this discrimination? 

Yes, this can be a form of discrimination based on actual or perceived disability, or potentially, perceived national origin, race or color and may be a violation of Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act (VFHPAA) at 9. V.S.A. §4502. Discrimination can range from refusal to serve, to providing different types and levels of services for different customers, restricting entry and the like because of your protected status.