Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Corporate America's Response to the AIDS Crisis: What Price Glory?

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Corporate America's Response to the AIDS Crisis: What Price Glory?

Article excerpt


Corporate America is concerned about AIDS--and it should be.(1) Each year since 1993, AIDS has been the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four, and more than fifty percent of America's 126 million workers are in this age group.(2) Stated in more dramatic terms, these statistics mean that AIDS is the leading killer of one half of the American workforce.(3) Without the threat of death posed by HIV infection,(4) these same Americans would have thirty to fifty years to participate in the American workforce or as consumers of corporate products.(5)

AIDS is a reality in the workplace. One in six American worksites with more than fifty employees has had at least one employee with HIV infection or AIDS.(6) Many employees also have children, spouses, or domestic partners infected with the disease.(7) Even those employees without direct experience with AIDS have been affected by the disease.(8)

These statistics translate into potentially enormous costs for American corporations and, more broadly, for the American economy.(9) In the purest dollar-based measures, societal costs resulting from HIV/AIDS include direct costs, such as medical and nonmedical costs associated with HIV screening, diagnosis, and counseling, and medical treatment for persons with HIV/AIDS.(10) Other potential costs that are more difficult to measure, but are predicted to increase as HIV/AIDS prevalence rates rise, include "reduction in investment and savings due to higher healthcare expenditures," a "decline in labor productivity [and output] due to worker absenteeism and loss of experienced workers," and adverse "changes in labor market supply and demand."(11)

American corporations bear a portion of these societal costs while acting in multiple roles: as merchant, employer, philanthropist, and corporate citizen.(12) To date, as the result of the AIDS epidemic, the most threatening expenses faced by American corporations and the most significant responses from American corporations have been in their role as employers.(13) Large American corporations (i.e. firms with more than 100 workers) employ sixty-five percent of the American workforce.(14) America's health insurance system is largely employer-based, so our corporations pay some of the health insurance costs caused by the AIDS crisis.(15) In addition, corporate employers frequently provide health-related benefits, such as short- and long-term disability and life insurance.(16)

Corporate employers also face numerous other potential costs occasioned by the disease.(17) The costs associated with the hiring and training of replacement workers fall to American employers.(18) Employee productivity and morale can be negatively affected by experiences with the disease.(19) Employers also face rising litigation costs resulting from real and alleged violations of laws prohibiting discriminatory treatment of employees with HIV/AIDS.(20) "AIDS has generated more individual lawsuits across a broad range of health issues than any other disease in [American] history."(21) Furthermore, AIDS threatens to reduce the size of the skilled labor pool in some communities, especially in developing countries.(22)

AIDS has created a new set of management issues for employers, and has deepened and complicated already existing issues.(23) Employee health and safety concerns, a major issue in some industries, carry new implications because of HIV/AIDS.(24) The most obvious example of this can be found in the health care industry, in which the possibility of blood-borne contamination is probably the greatest.(25) As a result of the AIDS crisis, health care facilities are now required by federal law to implement a blood-borne pathogen standard that covers five million employees nationally.(26) In addition to managing the real safety concerns created by HIV/AIDS, employers must address the hostility and fear experienced by some employees toward their co-workers with HIV/AIDS. …

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