Circle K Corp., which operates convenience stores in Utah, has suspended its policy that denied health benefits to employees who acquired AIDS from some source other than contact with their spouse or medical errors such as tainted blood transfusions.
The suspension announcement was included in a letter from Charles A. Shoumaker, Phoenix, Ariz., senior vice president for human resources, to John Medina, director of the Utah Anti-Discrimination Division.On Aug. 11, Medina wrote to Circle K officials, saying his office had been notified the company had implemented a policy concerning the provision of health care benefits to people diagnosed as having the AIDS virus.
To determine if the company was complying with the Utah Anti-Discrimination Act of 1964, Medina requested a copy of the company rules and regulations.
A week later, Shoumaker replied and said that effective Jan. 1, 1988, the company announced certain limitations in its health program including denial of coverage to employees who had acquired AIDS other than through contact with their spouse or a blood transfusion.
Shoumaker said the policy was subject to misunderstanding and confusion and earlier this month it was suspended. "We are now in the process of drafting new, broader and more specific policy statements. When we have completed the process, we will provide copies of the new policies to you," he said.
He said the company recognizes its obligation under state and federal laws to avoid discrimination against handicapped persons, and to make reasonable accommodations to their needs.
"Specifically," Shoumaker wrote, "Circle K does not test its employees for AIDS, does not reject applicants because they have AIDS and does not terminate employees because they develop AIDS. If an employee contracts AIDS, Circle K will not force that employee to resign, or to accept an undesirable transfer, because of fear or apprehension on the part of customers or co-workers."
Jay Fowler, a division investigator, said Medina requested an attorney general's opinion more than two years ago to determine if AIDS is a handicap as defined in the Utah Anti-Discrimination Act of 1964. The reply was written by Diane W. Wilkins, assistant attorney general at the time.
She said AIDS itself is not a handicap as defined in the act, but AIDS may result in a handicap for the affected person. "Moreover, determination of the effect of AIDS must be made on a case by case basis," she wrote.
She said if a person files a charge of employment discrimination based on AIDS alone as a handicap, division officials shouldn't accept the charge unless a recognized handicap is included in the charge.