Paul Cronan Case
This case involves a corporate response to AIDS in the workplace. The return to work of Paul Cronan, a person with AIDS, after a much publicized law suit, led to a walkout of his coworkers. This case documents the circumstances which preceded the work stoppage. Analyzing this case from Paul Cronan’s supervisors point of view there are three main ethical issues to be considered: duty to protect the interests of the company, New England Telephone (NET); obligation to maintain the rights of the other employees; and duty to provide for the safety and privacy of Paul Cronan.
There are ample examples throughout the reading to support identification of these three issues. It is evident that there is substantial interaction between Cronan and his supervisors in the early stages of his illness. Cronan contacted his first boss, Charlie O’Brian, asking for permission to leave work for a doctors appointment on three occasions. Cronan disclosed his illness to O’Brian on the third attempt to leave early from work. On his return to work he was instructed by his boss to see the company doctor. Later he contacted O’Brian, asking to be put on medical leave. Months later when he was well enough to return to work he contacted his new supervisor, Richard Griffin, who informed him that he needed a medical release to return to his job. He also asked Griffin for a transfer to a less volatile environment. These examples prove that the two men were Paul Cronan’s supervisors and thus had to be concerned for the safety and well being of Cronan.
There is evidence to support that there were other employees in Cronan’s department. When his illness was revealed co-workers purportedly threatened to lynch him if he returned. Later it was reported that damaging graffiti had been written on the bathroom stalls. On his return to work after the legal settlement he was treated like a leper by fellow employees. That same day, several co-workers filed a grievance with the local union protesting his re-instatement. The next day the workers walked off the job to reduce their contact with Cronan. Later several employees spoke of their fear of the disease and discomfort with Cronan. These examples prove that there were other employees in the department and thus the supervisors had to see that their rights were upheld, also.
Next, it is evident that the supervisors were agents of the company. Since Paul Cronan worked for NET and they, based upon the reading, were his supervisors, it leads one to surmise that they also worked for NET. The supervisors were obligated by company practice to report matters involving employee attendance to upline supervisors who in turn would report incidences to the human resource department. Upon returning to work from an extended leave the employees contacted their immediate supervisor who then contact the company regarding such matters. When Cronan receive a re-instatement letter from NET it was mentioned that Griffin was his supervisor at that time. These examples prove that the supervisors were representatives of the company and acted as liaisons between the employees and the company and thus were responsible for promoting the interests of the company.
A front line supervisor is always caught in the middle in disputes between the company and the employee and disputes between co-workers. When there are disagreements between a supervisor and an employee, the supervisor is often on his own with little support from upper management, even though he is an agent of the company. The very nature of the job puts the supervisors in a position where they have to be concerned about the rights and needs of all three parties in this case: the company, Paul Cronan, and the other employees. For this reason they are forced to weigh problems, some that have no clear right or wrong answers, and address them, hopefully, in ethical terms.
It must be assumed that ethical values are important to the supervisors, and that they want to make decisions that compromise these values as little as reasonably possible. The process of evaluating and choosing among ethical values, personal goals and the likely consequences of actions is far from simple. To make a responsible decision, they should consider the choices available, the outcomes of each, and their likely impacts on people’s lives. Just which ethical values are upheld and which are violated by the alternatives are essential questions. Which of these values are important for their decision and which are unimportant must be carefully weighed. Whether their ethical values are more important than some of their personal goals may present a further challenge.
Ethical principles are important because we often use them as reasons to think that a given decision is a good one or not so good. Ethical principles implies fairness and impartiality in ones dealings with other people. It requires that one’s own personal likes and dislikes not count as reasons to think something is right or wrong, or ought or ought not to be done.
If I were Paul Cronan’s supervisor, this situation would be difficult for me to handle. One, I would have a duty to inform the company of all employee matters, especially those that concern attendance; and to keep them on the job and productive. I would have a duty to protect the privacy of Cronan. I would have a duty to provide information about the disease to other employees and to the dispel ors. None of these are easy tasks to accomplish without offending someone.
“Management” carries with it much symbolic meaning. Typical definitions suggest that managers use all resources, including people, by directing and controlling them to accomplish an organizational objective. A manager is a person with an assigned responsibility who has been given the authority and power to accomplish an assigned task and who is accountable for getting it done.
Supervisors need to determine if their organization is prepared to deal with HIV and AIDS in the workplace, ask themselves the following questions:
* As an employer, do I understand my rights and responsibilities and my employee’s rights and responsibilities regarding HIV and AIDS?
* Do I understand how federal law, especially the Americans with Disabilities Act, applies to an employee who is HIV+ or has AIDS?
* Do I understand my responsibilities in insuring there is no discrimination in hiring, job assignment, performance appraisals, termination, and other terms and conditions of employment for an employee who is HIV+ or has AIDS? What about an employee who has a dependent who is affected?
* Am I clear about confidentiality requirements?
* Are my co-managers and employees educated and prepared to accept and work with a fellow employee who discloses that he or she is HIV+ or has AIDS?
Most employees living with HIV/AIDS want to continue to work as long as possible, and fair working conditions are key to their health and well-being. Willingness to make accommodations for those suffering shows both fairness and support on the part of the employer.
People with disabilities are created in the image of God just as much as star athletes or homecoming . Yet psychological as well as physical barriers have been placed in their access to the workplace. They experience discrimination because of thoughtless assumptions that disabled people will be less productive or that they really do not want to work.
Such stereotypes are further reinforced by the fact that many people feel uncomfortable around people who are disabled. Because they have not taken the time to work through their own emotions, they do not know what to say to disabled people. Ignorance fosters feelings of insecurity, and the able-bodied end up revealing their own emotional handicaps.
Because there are certain costs associated with employing disabled persons, such as health insurance premiums or special equipment and facilities, some firms have not hired them. This has meant a loss both to business and to society. Disabled people have lost dignity and the sense of worth that comes from making a contribution to society. Society has lost the economic and social contribution disabled workers could have made.
Affirming the authenticity of the disabled does not mean that business must become a charity. It simply means that business should be equitable. People with disabilities should be allowed to work and earn what their productivity will justify. If business would take the minimal step of hiring the disabled and paying them their worth, the overwhelming majority of the disabled would not only prove their worth economically but find their self-respect greatly enhanced. What is not equitable is to deny them access to the marketplace and force them to remain unproductive.
As a member of the community and society and a representative of the company the supervisor has a duty to help prevent the spread of HIV and help to position NET as a concerned and responsible business. The supervisor has a duty to employees to avoid fear and workplace disruption. The positive actions of the supervisor can also help the company which has a duty to shareholders to control healthcare costs and to avoid litigation.
These can be accomplished with a specific policy concerning HIV and AIDS. The supervisor’s approach is to use existing policies to deal with the employment issues that revolve around employees with HIV or AIDS. There is recognition that education about this disease is needed to help explain a company’s approach or policy and what human rights legislation it falls under; prevent the spread of AIDS; dispel myths about HIV and AIDS; decrease harassment and discrimination in the workplace against people with the disease; and promote work safety by teaching precautionary practices and protocols.
A good policy will help supervision meet the needs of management, HIV-infected employees and co-workers. This policy would include:
Show compliance with the law. State that your company adheres to the Americans with Disabilities Act and its protections for people with HIV, including acceptable performance standards, non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation.
Educate. Policies often contain a component stating that HIV/AIDS is not transmitted through casual contact, and that employees with HIV/AIDS are not a health risk to their co-workers. Invite employees to receive more information on HIV through human resources, or state there will be regular employee education.
Protect all employees. Assure employees that their individual health status is confidential, private and not to be disclosed. Also state that the safety of all employees is of utmost importance.
Give clear direction. State where employees should go with questions about HIV transmission, and from whom supervisors should get direction on dealing with HIV issues in their department.
Disseminate this information. Be certain all employees at all levels read and understand your AIDS policy.
Ethically, the supervisors should work with the company to make reasonable accommodations to Cronan; and at the same time provide for worker education. Education regarding HIV and AIDS can help prevent the spread of the virus and can reduce the fear and misunderstanding that can cause disruption in the workplace.
Reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job, an employment practice, or the work environment that makes it possible for a qualified individual with a disability to participate in and enjoy an equal employment opportunity. The employer’s obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation applies to all aspects of employment; the duty is ongoing and may arise any time a person’s disability or job changes. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that will impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. An employment opportunity cannot be denied to a qualified applicant or employee solely because of the need to provide reasonable accommodation.
If the cost of the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer, the employer should determine if financial or technical assistance is available elsewhere, or the individual with a disability should be given the option of paying that portion of the cost which would otherwise constitute an undue hardship for the employer.
An option would be to offer Cronan training for a different job that would be less of a threat to him and his fellow employees.
Employees also have a right to work in an environment free from discrimination and harassment. Under Natural Law the supervisor is morally bound to discourage inappropriate responses relating to AIDS infection or suspected infection, such as stereotyping those affected, moralizing about how the sufferer acquired the virus, and unfounded fears, hysteria or a tendency to shun or harass those who have or are suspected of having AIDS. Natural Law also requires the supervisor to convey the message that harassment of employees with AIDS will not be tolerated and will be dealt with as a disciplinary matter.
Regardless of which strategy a supervisor uses, attention must be paid to communicating it to all employees. Include a position statement in employee benefits handbooks or online benefits bulletins. Discuss it at employee orientation sessions, and include any up-to-the-minute articles in employee newsletters and bulletins on an ongoing basis.
Since the employees were informed of the latest medical facts about aids transmission, the walkout was probably illegal. The workers should be informed to go back to work to avoid disciplinary action, however, to show concern for their fears, the supervisor could transfer Cronan to a job involving minimal employee contact.
The interests of the company are not being taken into account by the workers that walked off their jobs. If Paul’s illness does not present a health hazard to any of the workers they are not within their rights to walk off their jobs. In this case Natural Law dictates that supervision must convey that the company would be within their rights to discharge the 29 workers that walked off their jobs. The supervisor still has a responsibility to protect not just Cronan but all the workers. Paul Cronan from any abuse and his co-workers from the possibility of contracting any contagious illness that he may have.
Supervisors are faced with another dilemma. If they fail to protect the confidentiality of medical information, an action for defamation- could result. On the other hand, employees may claim that they have a right to know so they can decide whether to keep their jobs. Where contact is more than casual, consultation and accommodation should be considered for those who work with the AIDS victims.
However, a general announcement to all employees may be detrimental to morale and productivity.
Under Natural Law, the supervisor has a right to expect fair treatment and understanding from all three agents toward himself. He is responsible for promoting their rights but he has rights, too, and that can be overlooked or ignored.
Implementing reasonable accommodations for Paul Cronan would impose financial burden on NET. That could impede the company’s participation in the free market system because less funds would be available to purchase goods or new equipment for the technicians. However, implementing these changes is the responsible thing to do. Not implementing them could cost the company more in the long run.
Providing AIDS training for all employees would be expensive and leave less funds available for other service related expenses. There again, not offering the training could be more costly for the company if a lawsuit amount was awarded to a harassed employee.
Individual rights is the best reason to limit the free market system with the application of anti-discrimination practices. As is stated in the text, every person has a moral right to be treated as a free equal person by other people and to treat others as equal to themselves. Discrimination is based on the belief that one group is inferior to others groups and thus are less worthy and less competent. It also means that the discriminated group is at an economic disadvantage to other groups.
Neither the supervisor nor the company can afford to look the other way and allow discrimination and harassment tactics to exist in the workplace. The financial consequences could be very detrimental to the company’s bottom line. Also, its standing in the community could be tarnished.