Fighting HIV AIDS Discrimination in the Workplace

 By: Oliver Hartman
Sadly, the complications that arise from a positive diagnosis of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) extend beyond reduced T-cell count and susceptibility to infection. Today, HIV-positive people continue to face discrimination in their everyday lives, in housing matters, medical care, insurance, and employment. The good news is that many charities and organizations all over the country are taking action.

Where we stand
In a report produced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), testimonies from community based service providers (CBOs) consistently cite issues involving non-hiring, terminations, demotions, and illegally demanding personal information. While this is pronounced in rural areas, cases are similarly reported in major metropolitan centers as well.

Corroborating the findings of the ACLU's report, nationally known Lambda Legal, specialists in discrimination representation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive people, receives thousands of calls annually at its help desk - a substantial portion coming from HIV positive callers- regarding workplace discrimination.

Know your Rights
Discrimination is never acceptable and there are many federal laws protecting individuals, including those with HIV AIDS. Federal laws that define and protect against HIV AIDS discrimination include American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Health Insurance Profitability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Pay Act of 1963, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Together they form an extensive network of safeguards against unjust treatment.

ADA and "Reasonable Accomodation"
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers (in companies with more than 15 employees) must make "reasonable accommodation" for qualified employees with a disability -under which a person who is HIV positive is grouped. As a result, adjustments to a job, the application process, or work environment must to a degree that allows a qualified person to perform the job.

Now, there are legal limits to restrict accommodations to be "reasonable". The understanding is that an adjustment does not cause undue strain to the company, which is determined based on operating budget, facility size, number of employees, and more. Acceptable and expected accommodations include an alteration in job structure, more flexible hours to allow for medical appointments, or special office arrangements including a sitting stool if the job is usually performed standing up.

Knowledge and education are needed to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Here are some resources that provide HIV AIDS information and services:

- Academy of Friends
- AIDS Legal Referral Panel
- Project Inform
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