Workplace Preparedness and the Americans with Disabilities Act: Lessons from Municipal Governments' Management of HIV/AIDS

Article excerpt

Although the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect all disabled individuals from workplace discrimination, its mission is somewhat more difficult to accomplish in situations involving employees and job applicants who are either infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or have developed Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Concomitant social and cultural dimensions of this disease quite often make people with HIV/AIDS believe that it is perilous for them to "stand up" and disclose their condition, a prerequisite for protection and assistance under the act.(1) Given the prejudice that can accompany HIV/AIDS, a supervisor might weigh the risk to his or her career in assisting members of this protected group when doing so may result in opposition from key sources within the workplace hierarchy and throughout the community.

Upon receipt of notification and documentation that an individual has HIV/AIDS, workplace organizations must protect the rights of that job applicant or employee. It is the law. The need for organizational action, moreover, increases with the rising rate of HIV infection in the United States.(2) Protecting HIV-challenged individuals from workplace discrimination involves two kinds of actions on the part of organizations: meeting the job-related needs of members of this disabled group and building a workplace environment that encourages and supports the self-disclosure which the act requires. The purpose of this study is to assess the extent to which organizations, municipal governments specifically, are prepared to carry out these two highly interrelated tasks.

Dimensions of the Study

Three kinds of workplace responsiveness to HIV/AIDS situations are examined here: (1) HIV/AIDS-related activities and programs, (2) reasonable accommodations that are made available to employees with HIV/AIDS, and (3) reasonable accommodations that are made available for job applicants with HIV/AIDS. These are the dependent variables in this study.

I also look at three sets of factors, independent variables, which can play substantial roles in determining the nature and extent of organizational responsiveness. The first factor focuses on personal characteristics of chief administrative officers (CAOs). We sometimes forget that organizations consist of people and that people determine the organizational culture. While much of workplace cultures are historically based, it remains true that "leaders influence the development and expression of culture in their organizations" (Trice and Beyer, 1993; 255). They can play a significant part in the processes of sustaining or modifying existing cultures, and they can use their positions to transform the workplace environment into something totally different. Within the work setting, therefore, CAOs have the power to initiate changes that can lead to differences in organizational attitude and behavior.

The role played by individuals in shaping organizational responses is also noted throughout the policy implementation literature (Pressman and Wildavsky, 1973; Van Meter and Van Horn, 1975; Yinger, 1990). Within the framework of American federalism, the best laid plans of Washington can either be accomplished or thwarted by actions and nonactions, formal and informal behavior, of people in Boston or Bakersfield. This is especially true in the case of antidiscrimination policies (Bullock and Lamb, 1984), such as those involving school desegregation (Rodgers and Bullock, 1976) or protected group integration into the work force (Saltzstein, 1986). Unfortunately, it is with these kinds of policies that interpretations with controversial, threatening, or even "zero-sum" consequences appear much more readily available. CAOs play a role in interpreting potential policy consequences for the workplace.

The second factor focuses on two dimensions of the organization's environment: background demographics and local politics. …

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