The Justice Department is working to stem what it describes as an increase in discrimination tied to the Ebola outbreak, issuing guidelines Monday prohibiting any bullying or harassment based on a perception that certain people or groups might carry the virus.
Officials said Africans may be most likely to face discrimination since the worst of the outbreak is taking place in several West African nations.
The one-page guidance, issued by the department’s Civil Rights Division, provided examples of discrimination — including school districts potentially asking children of African descent to stay home, employers changing work assignments of African employees or landlords declining to rent to aid workers who served in areas of the continent not affected by the Ebola outbreak.
DOJ said science and law enforcement must work together to ensure that “unfounded fear” does not lead to discriminatory treatment.
“As the global response to the Ebola virus continues, it is important to remain vigilant in ensuring that the civil rights of all people are respected,” officials said in a statement.
Dr. Joxel Garcia, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said last month that the city’s large African population was being disproportionately affected by people’s fears over catching the disease.
Cab drivers with African-sounding names, even those from nations not affected by Ebola, lost customers.
“When they read the name, they come out of the taxi,” Dr. Garcia said, urging people not to overreact.
The guidelines issued Monday lay out three main principles for law enforcement: to ensure that people are not discriminated against because of perceptions about the disease and where it is prevalent, that information on Ebola and treatment is provided in languages other than English and that information also be made accessible to people with disabilities.
“Policies that are overbroad or that are motivated by fear rather than facts may lead to unlawful discrimination,” the guidance states. “The United States will vigorously enforce laws prohibiting discrimination and unlawful harassment.”