The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Workplace: Management's Responsibilities in AIDS-Related Situations

By Slack, James D. | Public Administration Review, July-August 1995 | Go to article overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Workplace: Management's Responsibilities in AIDS-Related Situations


Slack, James D., Public Administration Review


Because it protects over 43 million people, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 has the potential of being the most significant piece of civil rights legislation enacted in the last three decades. ADA is comprehensive in its coverage, but Title I is of particular importance because it guarantees one of the fundamental rights demanded by every group and individual citizen in America: the right to have equal access to jobs and career opportunities. Organizations that are covered by ADA, private entities and public agencies that employ at least 15 full-time workers,(1) are prohibited from discriminating against otherwise qualified disabled Americans in selection, retention, retirement, and termination policies and practices. In addition, otherwise qualified disabled individuals cannot be denied access to various job-related opportunities, such as participation in training programs and workshops or career advancement and professional development activities.

The ADA protects everyone within the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) spectrum; from individuals just testing positive for the retrovirus to people who have contracted Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).(2) Nearly 500,000 Americans have contracted AIDS since the late 1970s; of these, approximately 97 percent are of working age, and 75 percent are in the prime working cohort of 25 to 44 years old (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1995). Although estimates vary,(3) it is quite probable that more than one million Americans are unknowingly infected with HIV. Given the demographic trends of AIDS, it is reasonable to expect the same proportion of people who are HIV asymptomatic to be (or have the potential of being) in the work force and, therefore, contributors to the economy.

This makes the AIDS epidemic a central workplace issue in both the public and private sectors. Although the numbers of HIV-infected people certainly vary according to location, this disease represents a national problem with severe consequences for every community. Considering the social stigma so often attached to having AIDS,(4) as well as the pattern of discrimination against job applicants and employees who are HIV challenged, the promise of protection under this piece of legislation is perhaps more treasured by members of the AIDS community than by any other group of disabled Americans.

To what degree, and in what manner, will the ADA be applied to workplace situations involving HIV-challenged job applicants and employees? As is the case with so many other pieces of legislation (Van Meter and Van Horn, 1975; Pressman and Wildavsky, 1979; Nakamura and Smalwood, 1980), particularly those that deal with antidiscrimination laws (Saltzstein, 1986; Bullock and Lamb, 1984), ADA will only protect the rights of those in the HIV spectrum if it is understood and implemented effectively at the local level. This article examines management's responsibilities in ensuring the workplace rights of job applicants and employees who have HIV/AIDS.

The Bishop and Jones Study

Peter C. Bishop and Augustus J. Jones (1993) were first to analyze the potential effectiveness of the ADA. Using "prospective implementation analysis," they looked at several factors commonly found to be critical in the implementation process: participation of beneficiaries, clarity of policy goals, specificity of compliance standards, and ability of agencies to monitor and regulate implementation. According to Bishop and Jones, "Congress clearly stated its intent, regulatory agencies developed detailed compliance standards and enforcement mechanisms, and potential beneficiaries are engaged in the process" (1993; 127). Hence, the analysis led them to predict successful implementation.

Because the study was conducted shortly after the passage of ADA, Bishop and Jones admittedly focused only on those variables which tend to affect the early stages of implementation -- those at the federal end of the process (1993; 122). …

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