The ethical issues evident in this case are a right to privacy, discrimination, and employee safety. Right to privacy: Velasquez (2002) maintains that "psychological privacy is privacy with respect to a person's inner life. This includes the person's thoughts and plans, personal beliefs, and values, feelings, and wants. These inner aspects of a person are so intimately connected with the person that to invade them is almost an invasion of the very person. Physical privacy is privacy with respect to a person's physical activities.
Because people's inner lives are revealed by their physical activities and expressions, physical privacy is important in part because it is a means for protecting psychological privacy. " (p. 365) Charles O'Brien, Paul Cronan's direct supervisor violated company policy in asking the nature of Paul's illness. According to Exhibit 1 of the case, "If there is an indication that poor health of the employee may be a factor and Medical Department assistance has not been requested heretofore, an appointment shall be arranged for a medical examination for the employee.
"(Paul Cronan and NET (A), 7) No where does Exhibit 1 indicate that Charles O'Brien had a need to know that Paul was suffering from ARC prior to evaluation by the Medical Department. Discriminating against another individual based on a perceived difference about that individual's life style is morally wrong. Mallor, et al. (2001) maintain that "behind most systems of natural law is that some higher law or set of universal moral rules binds all human beings in all times and places. " (p. 7) That an individual is homosexual is not a reason to discriminate against him.
In failing to communicate effectively with employees regarding the risk of AIDs and the illegality of the discrimination, NET encouraged an environment in which employees would act out of fear and hate rather than understanding and sensitivity. NET has an obligation to protect other employees from potential exposure. Obviously the easiest way to protect employees from exposure by Paul is if he is no longer present in the workplace. However, this protects employees only from the exposure of one individual.
Informed education and policies regarding the transmission of communicable diseases would go further in ensuring employees know the risks they face in an average environment. Evidence of the Ethical Issues Paul's supervisor admits to informing other supervisors and it is indicated in the case that a manager at a different facility informed several other employees about Paul's AIDs status; thereby violating Paul's right to privacy. The lack of communication with Paul in arranging his return to work and the unchecked graffiti and threats shows that discrimination is evident.
In settling the case and bringing Paul back to work, NET failed in it's ethical obligation to safeguard other employees against the risk of exposure. Employees indicated that they did not feel safe and were unable to be assured that there was no way they could be exposed to AIDs. Even though employees may have acted illegally in refusing to work, they were acting out of fear for their own safety and felt that NET had not provided the education and necessary safeguards against the transmission of AIDs. Since the invasion of privacy and discrimination occurred, it is unlikely that Paul will ever feel safe at NET.
While a transfer would be a "reasonable accommodation", it would be difficult to find a shop in NET that has not already been negatively influenced by this case. It is too late to retract everything that has been done to foster an environment of hate and revulsion. NET should accept responsibility and inform Paul that due to the company's failure to act sooner, they are now unable to make reasonable accommodations in order for him to return to work. Of course, this should also include compensatory damages. Additionally, NET needs to take steps to ensure that the discrimination is not an accepted mode of behavior.
These steps may include sensitivity training, education on how to keep the workplace safe, and strict enforcement and dissemination of corporate policy. What evidence and reasoning support the preceding responses? NET had a year to educate employees and it is evident when reviewing employee's remarks and the walkout that NET failed to take advantage of that year. This lack of education will make it difficult for Paul to be treated fairly by coworkers. In fact, it appears that NET only offered a two-hour training session to inform employees about the risks and provide an opportunity to ask questions.
When dealing with this issue, there should have been monthly sessions for the prior year to provide employees the opportunity to adjust to the reality of working with someone who has AIDs. NET also reinforced the behavior of its employees by not intervening when it had the chance. Even if NET has taken steps to have a zero tolerance for discrimination, it is apparent that the punishment for breaking the rules will not be severe since on Paul's first day back to work he was faced with anti-gay materials. This is obviously a difficult case to analyze and any possible outcomes would have a negative impact.