The Justice Department said today that an anti-discrimination law protecting the handicapped extends to employees with the AIDS virus if they are in the federal work force or have jobs in programs receiving federal aid.
The opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel is in line with a Supreme Court ruling last year and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 passed by Congress.
The opinion also says that those with the AIDS virus in whom the disease has progressed can be excluded from the workplace if they pose a threat to the health or safety of others or are unable to do their job.
Transmission Risk Low
Since the available medical information shows that the risk of infection being transmitted in the normal course of the workplace is very low, an AIDS-infected employee “by and large . . . should be treated like any other employee,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Douglas Kmiec said at a news conference.
Kmiec said an AIDS-infected employee “should be assessed for his ability to do the job like anyone else.”
The legal opinion differs sharply from an opinion his predecessor, Charles Cooper, issued in June, 1986, that employers may discriminate against victims of contagious diseases such as AIDS based on an irrational fear of contagion.
The Supreme Court rejected that argument last year, extending the protection of the federal Rehabilitation Act to people handicapped by contagious disease, including AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
The Justice Department is “finally catching up with legal reality,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Many state handicapped laws have already been changed to protect people infected with AIDS.