AIDS and the American Manager: An Assessment of Management's Response

By Gopalan, Suresh; Summers, David F. | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Autumn 1994 | Go to article overview

AIDS and the American Manager: An Assessment of Management's Response


Gopalan, Suresh, Summers, David F., SAM Advanced Management Journal


Introduction

Mary Johnson, a middle level manager for a small construction firm, saw Jan Warren coming toward her office. Jan had been with the firm for many years and was generally regarded as one of the company's best workers. Mary had asked Jan to come in for a visit because Jan's work was no longer acceptable. Over the past few months, Jan appeared to be mentally preoccupied, her attendance record was poor, and the overall quality of her work was deteriorating.

"Jan, come in and sit down. I need to visit with you about your work. I have noticed that you have been absent quite often and the quality of your work has declined to unacceptable levels. What appears to be the problem?"

"Ms. Johnson, I have wanted to come talk to you about my work, but I have been very reluctant to do so. You see, over the last several months I have not felt well and decided to see a doctor. I just got the results of my blood tests and they indicate HIV infection. I have been worried sick about my job and wanted to talk to you, but I have been afraid to tell you about the infection."

Mary stared in shock at Jan. Of all the causes for Jan's poor performance she had never expected AIDS. Many questions raced through her mind. How would Jan's co-workers react? What would customers say if they found out? How could the company handle the potential financial drain from Jan's health care costs and the loss of her productivity? Whom should she tell about this? How did Jan contract the virus? Should she ask?

Unfortunately, this scenario is no longer unique in American organizations. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates that one in two hundred and fifty Americans is infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus - the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome more commonly known as AIDS). The life expectancy for most HIV-infected individuals ranges from 8 to 12 years. The majority of those infected are young adults between the ages of 25 and 44 - the population segment that is the working core of the United States. AIDS ranks as the third leading cause of death among those 25 to 44 years old and sixth among people 15 to 24 years old. If current projections of HIV infections materialize, more than 50% of the American work force, i.e., approximately 120 million Americans, are at risk for contracting HIV (U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, 1992). Clearly, no business is immune from the threat of AIDS.

So far, management's response to this disease has been "wait and see." Results from surveys show that the majority of firms in the U.S. do not have a formal AIDS policy nor do they offer employee education and training in dealing with this disease (Minter, 1988; Greenberg, 1991; Franklin et al., 1992). Despite a significant increase in the number of organizations encountering employees with AIDS (from 20% in 1988 to 27% 1991), many organizations indicated they were not planning to formulate an AIDS policy (Greenberg, 1991).

This apparent lack of concern is surprising since the literature is full of anecdotal information indicating that AIDS in the workplace raises difficult and complex issues that managers are generally ill prepared to deal with (Business Week, 1993; Banas, 1992; Kirp, 1989). In dealing with AIDS-afflicted employees, managers are often required to balance issues of legal responsibilities against economic concerns of the organization. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992 (ADA) requires organizations to deal with this subject on a more comprehensive basis because individuals infected with HIV and those with full-blown AIDS are considered to be "handicapped" and, therefore, are protected against discrimination.

The complexity of dealing with the AIDS disease combined with adherence to the ADA raises a very important question. How does ADA affect corporate America with regard to HIV/AIDS? To answer this, the authors conducted a comprehensive nationwide survey that captured the responses of managers to various questions on issues concerning HIV/AIDS. …

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