During the early years of the HIV epidemic, returning to work after diagnosis just didn't happen. Because there were no early detection HIV tests, people were diagnosed only after they presented the most grave opportunistic infections. People were too sick to work and sadly died soon after diagnosis. Today, early diagnosis and the advent of powerful HIV drugs mean people are living long, healthy and productive lives. After diagnosis, most HIV positive men and women continue to work. For those too sick to work when diagnosed, HIV medications will get them back to health and back to work. While going back to work is a positive thing for these people, they need to be aware of some things in order to make their return a positive experience.
Do I Have to Inform My Employer of My HIV Diagnosis?Whether of not you disclose your HIV status to your employer is entirely up to you. You are under no legal obligation to disclose your HIV status. And because HIV is not transmitted by casual contact, you are no risk to your fellow employees.
Like every rule, there are some exceptions. If you work in a job that could expose others to your blood or bodily fluids, consult your local HIV advocacy group to help you decide if telling your employer is necessary. Some people that say you have a moral obligation to tell your employer. Again, because casual contact is not a risk factor for transmitting HIV, there is no moral obligation to tell anyone in the workplace. If your HIV makes it difficult to perform some of your expected duties (too fatigued to restock shelves for instance), you need to notify your employer. However, you can do so without being specific about your diagnosis. Your HIV specialist is well versed in ways to make your limitations known to your employer without jeopardizing your confidentiality. Remember, when applying for a job or after being hired, if your HIV status is requested, consult your local advocacy group or attorney before answering any questions or signing any documents.
What if I Need Special Accommodations In Order to Work?In September 1994, Sidney Abbott visited the office of dentist Dr. Randon Bragdon. This routine visit would spark a controversy that would eventually involve the United States Supreme Court. On that day, Dr. Bragdon refused to fill Ms. Abbott's simple cavity because Ms. Abbott admitted to being HIV positive. After four years of legal debate, the Supreme Court ruled that The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did include people living with HIV. Since then, employers by law have to make "reasonable accommodations" for their employees, including those living and working with HIV. For instance, under the ADA, employers must allow time away from work to seek medical care. In addition, employers must make reasonable accommodations regarding schedule modification, reassignment to vacant positions that are better suited to the person's limitations, and must purchase equipment that will allow the person to better perform his or her job. Keep two things in mind:
- It is up to you, the employee to request accommodations under the ADA.
- Most often employers require medical documentation that you are indeed disabled. This may require you to disclose your HIV status.
Will I Be Able to Get Medical Insurance Through My Employer?
Most often, employees can get insurance though their employers (particularly now that businesses with 15 employees or more are required to do so under the Affordable Care Act). Before accepting a job, inquire about coverage and especially about the prescription drug coverage under the employer's group policy. But remember, you do not have disclose your HIV status if you choose not to. Employers are prohibited from making any inquiry about your status or asking any disability-related questions as per the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Finding a new job is an important but stressful event for anyone, especially someone living with HIV. Talk to your doctor and together decide if you are ready to enter the workforce. And before you do, talk with an HIV advocate to assure your privacy is protected and your rights as an employee are preserved.