As AIDS continues to affect all segments of the population, the workplace is feeling the consequences. Employers are now compelled to confront issues related to AIDS, such as employees’ fear of the disease, company policy decisions and benefit programs.
The ADA covers individuals with HIV, as well as those with AIDS. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this in Bragdon v. Abbott, 118 S.Ct. 2196 (1998), extending the protection of the law to those who are HIV-positive but show no symptoms of the disease. With new treatments the prospects of those with HIV never developing AIDS have dramatically increased, thus furthering the need for legal protection against discrimination.
Under the ADA you can’t discriminate against an applicant or employee with AIDS, and you must make “reasonable accommodation” for the condition. This may include liberal use of leave time and restructuring of responsibilities. (But remember to keep these measures voluntary. Forcing an employee to change his or her work habits could be prosecuted as a violation of the ADA.)
No federal laws prohibit mandatory AIDS tests for your workers, although many states do have statutes related to the issue. Check with your state labor department. If mandatory testing is allowed and you have a legitimate, business-related need for this information, be sure all employees are required to take the test. Otherwise, you could be accused of discriminating against certain workers.
Businesses are in an excellent position to educate employees on how to avoid contracting the disease—thereby preventing the potentially devastating financial impact the illness can have on company health care costs. Any AIDS awareness program you offer should reflect the needs of your company as well as your employees. And it should be more than just a one-time effort: People learn at different rates and by different methods.
A number of government and private agencies have developed programs and materials on AIDS-related workplace issues. Among them are the CDC National Prevention Information Network at (800) 458-5231 or www.cdcnpin.org and the National Aids Fund at www.aidsfund.org.