(Although this story is based on a real situation, the exact details and identifying information have been carefully removed. This story is to raise awareness on a particular situation affecting PLWHIV, and has no base in absolute truth.)
He’s been out of work for a while now. It’s been a long battle with AIDS, then the nerve pain, but now it’s the stark reality that his disability checks are ending. He needs income now.
And so he begins to place application after application in. The process is so much different now after the time he spent disabled. They want so much more, and they want it online. It’s a cold process of keywords and no call backs. No one seems to take his situation well.
Then one call comes back. It’s a minimum wage gig but anything is better than nothing. He sets up the interview, and prepares to snag this job. It’s in the bag, he interviews very well.
The interview comes and goes, he is honest about his physical limitations, and that he doesn’t feel that any special accommodation should need to be made, no mention of his HIV status has been asked for, as that is not important in this job. There is zero risk of transmission doing any part of this particular job.
He waits and then gets to on boarding for the job. There is paperwork and more paper work, but then something makes his hair stand up on his neck. They require him to explain his medical condition in depth for the last 7 years. They want to know diagnoses, procedures, hospitalizations. This doesn’t seem right but he needs this job.
He tells the HR representative of his reservations, and it is explained that it is a condition of employment. Reluctantly he submits, and gives them the info. What could it hurt, they have confidence in him and he feels that it should be returned in kind.
Two days into working and he is summarily fired. At will. He wonders why and now feels that his disclosure may have had a role in this. He is scared and at a loss. What should he do?
There are laws that protect from this kind of discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects workers from work place discrimination based on a medical condition, and requires that if an employer hires a person with a known condition, they must accommodate reasonably.
When you are asked about your medical history, if the job doesn’t warrant your disclosure you should politely refuse, and if it is a condition of employment you should ask how your information will be used, stored, and protected. This is a basic right.
Now there may be jobs where the risk of transmission exists and your employer may need to know your status, but that is rare, and in most cases even with a viral load, you are unlikely to expose anyone to it. In my case I want to be a CNA and they will need to know that my viral load is undetectable, and my immune system is back so I won’t be a liability in nursing. But that is sometimes a risky situation, and is expected. If there is no risk in your job, you do not have to disclose. It’s that simple.
Look up your local Center for Independent Living, or ADA representative if you feel discriminated against. Remember that most jobs like this will be “at will” and they have the right then to fire you for no cause whatsoever. They don’t have the right to fire you for a medical condition without reasonable accommodation. You need to report this to the EEOC as well.
Stigma should never be allowed to take anything from you. You have the right to live and to be a functional part of society. Protect that right.
In Unconditional Love,
Your Friend David