Report: Low-Wage Asian and Latinx Workers Lack COVID-19 Protections and Information, Face Retaliation from Employers and Customers


April 21, 2021

For Immediate Release: April 21, 2021


Media Contacts:

Lande Watson, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus / 415-212-8588

Alejandra Domenzain, Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California, Berkeley / 510-643-2090


Report: Low-Wage Asian and Latinx Workers Lack COVID-19 Protections and Information, Face Retaliation from Employers and Customers

California-focused survey of over 600 workers found that:

One in three are not comfortable reporting COVID-19 symptoms to their employer

Almost one in five who risked their lives to provide services during the pandemic are paid less than the minimum wage

More than two-thirds of those paid below minimum wage received no information on what to do if sick or exposed to COVID-19

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Low-wage Asian and Latinx workers harbor significant health concerns related to COVID-19 but lack basic safety and wage protections and information while facing retaliation from employers and harassment from customers, according to a new report published by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus in collaboration with the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at the University of California, Berkeley.

The report, Few Options, Many Risks: Low-Wage Asian and Latinx Workers in the COVID-19 Pandemic, is based on survey responses from more than 600 primarily low-wage Asian and Latinx workers and captures the experience of California workers across several industries, particularly restaurant, domestic work/home health care, and janitorial/hospitality. Almost one in five (17%) respondents reported being paid less than the state minimum wage of $12/hour. The report comes as California legislators debate new laws this month on increasing corporate accountability for fast food worker safety, extending health and safety protections to domestic workers, improving accesss to safety net benefits like unemployment insurance benefits, increasing paid family leave benefits, and extending MediCal and access to interim relief benefits to undocumented workers.

“From these surveys, we can see clearly that the lowest paid workers in California have the fewest workplace protections against COVID-19. The pandemic has laid bare the health risks, economic struggles, and disparities that workers of color, low-wage workers, and women workers were already experiencing long before COVID-19 hit our communities,” said Winnie Kao, Senior Counsel for Impact Litigation at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. “Many workers haven’t been given or told about required health and safety protections in the workplace or paid sick leave, or have been left to enforce those protections against employers or consumers on their own. Too many are faced with an impossible choice between putting food on the table and risking their own and their family’s health and safety. Even with vaccines out, workers are still at risk. We still need to address these underlying problems.”

Half of surveyed workers reported being concerned that they will be unable to financially support themselves or their families if they get sick. Approximately one in five surveyed workers (19%) have concerns about their own medical conditions, which put them at greater risk if infected with COVID-19.

The report includes stories from six in-depth interviews with workers conducted in February and March 2021. These stories shed light on the impossible choices faced by workers during the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic, our managers have not taken COVID-19 seriously. I saw this first hand when I tested positive for the virus myself,” said Aracely Nava, a fast-food worker and single mother living in Richmond, California. “When workers here have gotten sick, management has told workers who tested positive not to tell coworkers that they had the virus, and told me, ‘If the City calls you, don’t tell them you got COVID-19 at work—tell them you got it anywhere else, but not here.’ This is not the right way to handle the biggest crisis facing our state. I know that across California, many other workers have faced COVID safety issues like mine.”

Despite the dangerous conditions workers face, many lack information or protective equipment from their employers. Only 12% of surveyed domestic workers and home health care workers are regularly provided with N-95 respirators. Strikingly, more than two-thirds of those paid below minimum wage received no information on what to do if sick or exposed to COVID-19.

Almost three in five workers received no information from employers about their right to use paid sick leave for COVID-19, may have received misleading or incomplete information, or are unsure whether they can use paid sick leave.

“There’s no excuse for employers who do not provide basic information, protection, and paid sick leave. When a worker takes the brave step of speaking up, employers need to address the hazard and protect that person. Unfortunately, this is not the norm even though it’s employers’ legal responsibility,” said Alejandra Domenzain from the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at the University of California, Berkeley.

Workers also face retaliation from their employers and harassment from customers. One-third of all surveyed workers are not comfortable reporting COVID-19 symptoms to their employer. Almost one-third of respondents–and 49% of those who are restaurant workers–had a negative interaction with a co-worker, customer, or client who was not following COVID-19 guidelines. Two restaurant workers report that a person physically assaulted them or a co-worker. Among workers who report that they or a coworker spoke up about concerns, 15% reported that their employer retaliated against them or their coworkers.

In light of these findings, the report recommends:

  • Expanding protections and benefits to workers, including through equitable vaccine access expanded paid sick leave and healthcare, enforced anti-retaliation laws, and safety net benefits regardless of immigration status
  • Increasing labor law enforcement capacity, including increased staffing and resources at state and local agencies and greater accountability for violations
  • Improving education and support for workers, including through multilingual and culturally appropriate information and accessible training for employers
  • Strengthening worker representation through unions, health and safety committees and other bodies, including through measures like the FAST Recovery Act

Read the report.


About Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (ALC)

ALC was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights Asian American organization. Recognizing that social, economic, political and racial inequalities continue to exist in the United States, ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for all sectors of our society, with a specific focus directed toward addressing the needs of low-income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.


About the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at the University of California, Berkeley

LOHP promotes safe, healthy, and just workplaces and builds the capacity of workers and worker organizations to take action for improved working conditions. We work with a range of partners including unions, worker centers and community organizations, agencies, employer groups, policy makers, and academics. We look broadly at the impact of work on health and we advance the principle that Healthy Jobs – which pay a living wage, provide job security and benefits, protect against hazards and harassment, have reasonable workloads, and engage workers in the decisions that affect them – are a basic human right.

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