Ethics of care and selective organisational caregiving by private employers for employees with chronic illness in a middle-income country
Social Science and Medicine
School of Business and Law
Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd For people with chronic illnesses in low-and-middle-income countries, access to enabling resources that contribute to health, economic and social resilience such as continued employment, often fall outside the health sector's remit or delivery of national structural protection. In the absence of sufficient laws and policies that mitigate discrimination and enhance reasonable work modifications, private employers have a high degree of agency and discretion in how they hire, manage, or terminate employees with chronic illnesses (ECI). There is a scarcity of research on how employers make decisions under these conditions. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, we interviewed and analysed data from 30 human resource (HR) professionals and decision-makers within private organisations in Klang Valley, Malaysia (June 2015–September 2016). In this paper, we use ‘ethics of care’ as an analytic, and moral lens to present HR's decision-making rationales in caring for and managing ECI. Respondents described the positive influence of international practices, including through parent company policies, as a reference for best practice. While overt bias and discriminatory perceptions were predictably described, participants also discussed care as relational organisational culture, and strategy, albeit selectively. Apart from illness factors such as duration and severity, descriptions of ‘selective caregiving’ included considerations of an employee's duration in organisations, the perceived value of the employee to employers, organisation size, ethos, resources and capabilities, and how organisations managed the uncertainty of illness futures as a potential risk to organisation outcomes. Selective caregiving can contribute to social, economic and health inequalities in populations with chronic illness. Nevertheless, global health actors can use the problems identified by participants, as entry points to engage more closely with employers and the broader private and commercial sectors in LMICs, to facilitate more inclusive care, and care-based intersectoral work to address the social and economic determinants of health.