W. Hollywood Votes Job Security for AIDS Victims

Times Staff Writer

Prompted by a wave of concern after the death of a municipal employee, the West Hollywood City Council declared Monday that the city will not discriminate against AIDS victims in hiring or granting health benefits.

The City Council also agreed to match employee contributions toward a $12,000 emergency fund that is intended to help city workers stricken by the disease.

"We're hoping to establish a policy that would be progressive and stand out as an example for other employers in the public and private sectors to utilize," Mayor Alan Viterbi said.

"This is a fairly innovative move and I think it's an important one given the predictions on how far the disease will impact society in general in the next few years," said Ted Kitos, a City Council aide who helped draw up the proposals that were unanimously approved Monday night.

The city has about 100 employees, at least two of whom have the disease. One of those is still on the job while the second has taken disability leave.

Another employee died within the last few weeks, prompting a strong emotional reaction among city employees at a closed-door meeting last week. City policy prohibits any information from being made public abut AIDS victims.

"For many people this was the first time they've seen someone they know fairly close die at a fairly young age, and it was quite shocking," Kitos said.

The city's policy on AIDS in the workplace states that West Hollywood "does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, medical condition, handicap, marital status or sexual orientation. AIDS, like any other life-threatening illness, also does not discriminate and is neither a crime nor a punishment."

The policy says that employees who contract the disease will be allowed to continue working as long as they can and that their condition will be kept confidential. At the same time, information programs will be introduced to make sure that all city workers are fully informed about the disease and "to counter fears and exaggeration."

The emergency fund would be used to help victims of AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and ARC, an AIDS-related condition, if they need money before they start receiving disability payments.

The policy also would apply to victims of other catastrophic illnesses.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission declared in February that AIDS patients are protected by state laws that guard the physically handicapped against job discrimination.

The ruling buttressed AIDS anti-discrimination ordinances that have been passed in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.

West Hollywood's latest action goes further by guaranteeing confidentiality and job security and committing the city to help co-workers and friends of AIDS victims.

The city also is considering a plan to assign some City Hall staff members to handle the paper work and other chores so that employees weakened by the disease can secure long-term medical care.

Staffers also are looking into the fiscal impact that the policy will have on the city.

Phil Sheley, a training specialist at the AIDS Project/Los Angeles, said several companies, especially in the insurance and banking industries, already have such programs.

"The City of West Hollywood has been really good in its approach to the program," he said. "But I just don't know why they didn't do it a long time ago."

Kitos said, "It's not that it wasn't a priority. It's just that there have been many priorities and until recently people have not been coming down with the disease."

The City of West Hollywood was incorporated more than two years ago.

When the city's AIDS's policies are in place, Kitos said, "I predict that we'll have a program that exceeds anything that's been done in the country to date."

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