Reasonable Accommodation and Unreasonable Fears: An AIDS Policy Guide for Human Resource Personnel
Elkiss, Helen, Human Resource Planning
As AIDS becomes more prevalent in our society, organizations will find it necessary to develop AIDS-related policies. Human Resource (HR) personnel will have primary responsibility for implementing and overseeing such policies. Increasingly, organizations will incorporate concerns about AIDS into their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). This article discusses employees' fears (both rational and irrational) about contracting AIDS from co-workers, legal rights of persons with AIDS (PWA), and rights of employees who refuse to work with persons with AIDS (or someone who is HIV positive). Also discussed is organizational policy AIDS, education and training for employees so that they can understand how the disease is and is not transmitted, and the role of the employee assistance professional in counseling and referral for AIDS-related concerns of employees.
Fear and ignore associated with the disease AIDS can cause disruption to an organization when an employee with the disease works in close proximity to other employees. A study which surveyed co-worker's reactions to working with persons with AIDS (PWA) found that 66% would be concerned about using the same bathroom, 40% would be concerned about eating in the same cafeteria, and 63% would be concerned about sharing tools or other work equipment (Individual Employment Rights, 1988). HR professionals, especially those working with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), are ideal individuals in on organization to address these fears and to provide counseling both for employees suffering from fear of AIDS or suffering from the disease itself. This paper provides guidelines for HR personnel to develop an AIDS policy and outlines the role EAP professionals play in that policy.
AIDS first came to medical attention in 1979. According to 1989 figures from the National Commission on Aids, from 1979-89 there were 112,000 reported cases. At the end of the last decade, 65,000 people had died from the disease. Over 500,000 cases are expected in the United States alone by 1993.
Minorities are disproportionately affected by this disease. While Blacks make up 12% of the population and Hispanics 6%, they comprise 24% and 14%, respectively, of AIDS cases. Almost 50% of all persons suffering from AIDS, from newborns to age 29, are black or Hispanic, with 80% of infected newborns in these minority groups (Minter, 1988).
This bleak picture, along with the irrational fears of many employees, requires a proactive response. The responsible organization must provide educational programs on how to prevent contracting the disease and institute a comprehensive AIDS policy before any major controversies arise.
A random survey, taken in 1989 by Crain's Chicago business, asked 1,500 local Chicago businesses how they would react to keeping an employee on the job who had tested positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): 50% said they would allow the person to continue to work as long as he or she showed no symptoms, 38% were unsure of how they would react, and 12% stated they would fire the employee. An astonishing 35% responded that PWA should not be considered handicapped (Oloroso Jr., 1989).
Legal Issues: AIDS as a Handicap
In the employment context, AIDS raises two major questions:
1. What are the legal rights of PWA?
2. What rights do employees have to refuse
to work with a PWA (or someone who is
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
PWA are protected by federal and state laws which prohibits discrimination against the handicapped. Federal law prohibits discrimination based on handicap status for those organizations who have federal contracts of $2,500 or more or who receive federal funds. Also, many states have their own laws dealing with handicap discrimination.
Under the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 USC 504), a handicapped person is defined as an employee or applicant who "has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities" or is regarded as having such an impairment. …