By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center
Your HIV status has nothing to do with your ability to find and keep a job.
It’s illegal to discriminate against people because they have HIV. Having HIV means you’re protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and this means your employer has to make reasonable efforts to accommodate your condition. For people living with HIV, that mostly means your boss has to be flexible with your scheduling.
There’s really only one way your HIV status could prevent you from getting a job: Jobs where there is a “direct threat” of you passing HIV to another person. Since casual contact between people does not transmit HIV, this is a really small exception.
Basically, you don’t have to put up with being told your HIV status somehow affects your job status.
Your health is private and confidential. Company employees who handle benefits might find out your status if they see your health-insurance claims, for example. But, they aren’t allowed to tell other people who don’t need to know.
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Should you tell people at work about your HIV status?
Let’s start with the basics: You legally don’t have to tell anyone at work about your HIV status. Your boss, your coworkers, and other employees have no right to know your status if you don’t want them to know it. However, you can choose to tell them if you want to.
It’s tough to know how your boss and other employees will respond if you decide to tell them your status. They could be super supportive or things could get ugly. No one says you have to decide right away, you can take some time to get to know them and decide from there.
Should you become an advocate for HIV rights in the workplace?
Just as some people are completely open about their sexuality, some people living with HIV feel they have nothing to hide.
It takes a special kind of courage to be so open. If you’re that brave, you might think about using your health situation as an opportunity to educate your coworkers and help people overcome their anxieties about HIV.
Ending HIV stigma starts with helping people you know understand they have nothing to fear from people living with HIV.
If you feel comfortable being the person who passes that lesson along, it could be well worth your time.