To Tell or Not To Tell: Disclosing Your HIV Status : The Workplace: Employers

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To Tell or Not To Tell: Disclosing Your HIV Status
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The Workplace: Employers

If you're applying for a job, be aware that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prospective employers do not have the right to make inquiries about your health or the existence of a disability prior to a conditional job offer. However, they may legally inquire if you are aware of any physical limitation that would interfere with your ability to perform the essential functions of the job.

In a situation where illness due to HIV-related causes is interfering with your work to the extent that it might place your employment in jeopardy, arranging to sit down privately with your boss and revealing your situation may be the way to go. You might even consider bringing a letter from your doctor explaining the current state of your condition, and how it might affect your ability to perform your job. Because the ADA regards a person with HIV or AIDS as a disabled person, your employer is required to reasonably accommodate your needs if you are otherwise qualified to perform the essential duties of your job. Even if you are in a situation in which your health requires invoking the "reasonable accommodation" clause, sometimes all that's needed is a letter from your doctor. It can make nothing more than a general statement that you suffer from a "chronic condition," without specifically necessitating the disclosure of your HIV status.

It's important for you to keep in mind that individual state laws generally do not require anyone in your workplace to maintain your confidentiality if you disclose your status. The ADA helps to protect the confidentiality of an employee's medical information, but it does not specifically address protecting the confidentiality of orally and voluntarily disclosed medical information.

Often companies keep guidelines to deal with potentially complicated legal matters such as dealing with disabilities and its procedures for determining "reasonable accommodations." It's your right to have this information, and you do not need to disclose anything about yourself when requesting this information. Knowing your company's policies will help you to determine whether or not you need to disclose your HIV status.

General tips to consider with regard to employers:

Unless your HIV status affects your current ability to perform your job, you are under no legal obligation to disclose your status to your employer.
Consider very carefully what your purpose is for disclosing your status to your employer.
If you do disclose, tell the person you want to speak with that you have something important to discuss with them.
Stress that you're requesting that what you're going to discuss be kept in strict confidence.
Be mindful that a request for confidentially is not an absolute guarantee that it will be respected.
Some employers will rise to the occasion wonderfully and be genuinely supportive. Others may be disappointing in their responses, and you will understandably feel hurt and angry.
Keep what you say as simple and as direct as possible.
Tell them why you want them to know.
Tell them you are receiving appropriate health care.
Mention if you may need a particular accommodation such as occasional time off for a medical appointment.
Tell your boss that you will make every effort to insure that your work is properly covered and that you're committed to doing your job reliably and well.
Medical-related employer decisions about HIV (or any other disability) must be based on facts about you, not simply an employer's opinions about HIV.
Hopefully you will not need to turn to legal recourse to protect your rights. However, if that happens there are laws to protect you.

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Last Revised: June 27, 2012

This content is written by the POZ and AIDSmeds editorial team. For more information, please visit our "About Us" page.

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