Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

AIDS in the Workplace: Ethical Guidelines for Small Business

Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

AIDS in the Workplace: Ethical Guidelines for Small Business

Article excerpt


The AIDS crisis pushes the ethical decision-making process to its extreme. What was primarily a medical issue is now an issue that transcends sociology, psychology, politics, and the law. This places the small business in a complex environment. This article examines the issues of AIDS in the workplace, and the ethical philosophies that are often applied to business. It concludes that ethical small businesses must assume a leadership position in guarding the rights of all stakeholders in the firm when problems of this nature arise.


AIDS As An Issue for Small Business

The Surgeon General of the United States has called AIDS a modern plague, and insists that: "Purely scientific issues pale in comparison to the highly sensitive issues of law, ethics, economics, morality and social values" (11). INC. magazine has called AIDS the number one health priority for managers (10).

To understand the ethical responsibilities of small business in this area, it is necessary to review some of the issues of the disease. People are dying from a disease that is neither well understood nor currently curable. But not all people are affected to the same degree. Ninety-five percent of those who have AIDS belong to three small segments of the society: homosexuals or bisexuals (73%); abusers of intravenous drugs (17%); and people who have been contaminated by these peoples' body fluids (tranfusions of blood or blood products, infants born to infected mothers, and heterosexuals who had sexual contact with someone with AIDS, 5%). The American Red Cross suspects that most of the remaining five percent came in contact with the virus in similar ways.

Unlike most other diseases, this disease primarily strikes people whose lifestyle offends many Americans. It is difficult for many people to develop empathy for its sufferers. This creates special ethical problems for small business because employees dislike AIDS victims, are frightened of AIDS, and do not want people with AIDS in the workplace (8, 10, 14). If a person were known to have AIDS, 63 percent of fellow employees would be concerned about using the same restroom, 40 percent would be concerned about eating in the same cafeteria, and 37 percent would not share tools or equipment with the individual (8).

Under current circumstances, it is unlikely that AIDS will spread in the heterosexual community as it has in the homosexual and drug-abuser communities (11). However, the disease has the potential to be a risk for all who come in contact with the body fluids of those who have AIDS. In the past such a disease would have quickly created a situation where detection and prevention became the major missions. People would have been routinely tested. If the disease was found, those who had it would have been isolated and treated. People who did not have the disease would have been informed of the causes and given information on the prevention of the disease. This was the case with tuberculosis and polio. Such a process requires that a small business do little more than disseminate information, develop procedures for testing, and explain medical benefits. However, AIDS is different, and this difference creates an ethical dilemma for small business. It is more than a health issue. It has become a civil rights issue and a political issue.

The Impact of Conflicting Information

Small businesses have been overwhelmed with a mass of conflicting information about the proper strategies for dealing with this disease in the workplace. There have been controversies between government agencies, homosexual-rights groups, the religious community, medical associations, and researchers. Many people now view the whole process with a great deal of distrust (3). They also question the priority that is given to AIDS when so many other diseases do much more harm to society. For instance, it is estimated that approximately 55,000 people have died from AIDS in the United States since it was first identified. …

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