Think twice before firing a disabled employee

Maintenance Foreman Ed Halley wished he had chosen a more peaceful career after being informed anonymously that Joe Spartan, an electrician, had AIDS. When confronted with the report Spartan reluctantly admitted he was stricken.
By Raymond Dreyfack December 1, 1999

Maintenance Foreman Ed Halley wished he had chosen a more peaceful career after being informed anonymously that Joe Spartan, an electrician, had AIDS. When confronted with the report Spartan reluctantly admitted he was stricken.

“Hundreds of studies have been made,” the anxious employee assured Halley. “The evidence is overwhelming that AIDS is not communicable without sexual contact. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“You’re probably right,” the foreman replied. “Let me give it some thought. I’ll get back to you.”

Halley was anything but sure Spartan was right. When he got home, he consulted his wife. “Emma, in my place, what would you do?”

Emma frowned. “I dunno, Ed. I wouldn’t feel comfortable working side-by-side with a person who has AIDS.”

“Yeah, but –“

Emma shrugged. “Why don’t you put it to a vote in your department? How many people do you have working for you?”

“Eighteen. That may not be a bad idea.”

Next day, Halley sent Spartan on an errand outside the department and put the question to the rest of the crew. The vote was no by a margin of 13 to 5. Halley broke the bad news to Spartan.

“Sorry, pal, it’s a rotten break. But you can’t fault people for being scared. You wouldn’t want to work in a place where most of the crew feel that way.”

Spartan didn’t take the news lying down. “I’ve got rights,” he told Halley. “And I intend fighting for them.”

Question: What would you do in Halley’s place? Can he stick by his decision to terminate Spartan?

Train’s verdict: Plant Engineer Fred Train’s first move upon receiving the termination notice for approval was to rake Halley over the coals. “For one thing, you violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by firing Spartan instead of adjusting the job to his illness. For another, you broke the law by confiding his medical problem to the rest of the crew. I’ll try to talk him out of legal action if I can. If not, I’ll try to work out a fair financial settlement with Personnel should he decide to resign.”

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