Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Zones of Indifference and the American Workplace: The Case of Persons with HIV/AIDS

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Zones of Indifference and the American Workplace: The Case of Persons with HIV/AIDS

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of employees wit HIV/AIDS but much can happen within the work setting to thwart or facilitate tti intent of this piece of legislation. Informal behavior and unofficial practice are oft influenced by the organization's zone of indifference. This article examines tr nature of the zone of indifference when it comes to the issue of employees havir HIV/AIDS. Using qualitative analysis, four lessons are drawn.

INTRODUCTION

The literature on organizational behavior is rich in its assessment of individuals and the need for conformity to workplace values, rules, and practices. At least in rational and complex settings, two assumptions are generally made. First, the diversity of cultures among employees is and will "remain subordinate to some common themes" (Thompson, 1967). Even with the expanding layers of diversity found in the 21st century, central themes like productivity, efficiency, and citizen/customer responsiveness will continue to be the focus of most workplaces in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.

Second, individuals tend to make value and behavioral choices that are in the best interest of the work organization (Simon, 1965). They may advance the cause of the organization for a number of reasons but, at minimum, they do so in order to keep their jobs, pursue career and professional interests, and ensure that the organization remains a viable vehicle for accomplishing these personal objectives.

The logic of both assumptions seems to hold true on issues which fall into what Simon (1957a and 1957b) calls an "area of acceptance" or which Barnard (1938) originally referred to as a "zone of indifference." Within this area or zone, issues are relatively noncontroversial and, hence, provide little room for intense debate and disagreement. As Denhart (1993) points out, it is in the best interest of the organization to have the widest zone of indifference on issues because this allows it to avoid value-conflict and value-based decision-making on the part of individual employees.

But what about workplace issues that prove to be value-changing or controversial in nature? The literature on anti-discrimination policies (Riccucci, 1997; Bullock and Lamb, 1984; Rodgers and Bullock, 1976) and organizational culture (Fraser and Stupak, 1988; Trice and Beyer, 1993; Ott, 1989) suggests that the zone of indifference might be substantially smaller on these kinds of issues that, say, on issues pertaining to method of performance appraisal or level of compensation. This is why, in some settings, school desegregation plans and workplace affirmative action programs were difficult to implement. While workplace culture tends to constrain the individual from officially "acting out" unacceptable values and behaviors, it can also permit informal and unsanctioned dissenting responses to issues involving smaller zones of indifference.

The purpose of this study is to examine the nature of the zone of indifference when it comes to the issue of employees having either the human immodeficiency virus (HIV) or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of employees and job applicants with HIV/AIDS and prohibits most work organizations from discriminating against seropositive persons in hiring, training, and promotion practices. From the perspective of workplace culture, therefore, the purpose of the ADA is to set the tone by outlining acceptable values and expected behaviors.

Seropositive employees and job applicants who seek protection under the ADA must provide official notification and documentation of the afflicting. This task cannot be accomplished simply by submitting an anonymous HIV blood test report because the law requires a clear and direct connection between the person and the virus. Given the stigma that remains attached to the epidemic, the notification and documentation requirement of the ADA means that the seropositive person must make a fundamental decision whether to "stand up" and claim protection under the ADA or to remain silent and hope that no discrimination acts are forthcoming (Slack, 1995, 1996, 1998). …

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