HIV in the Workplace

Do you know your rights?

The law is there to assist and protect employees who, for one reason or another, have serious health issues that require sensitive handling.

If you are living with HIV, your legal rights as an employee are extensive and ensure you are protected in multiple ways. For example, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, and the more recent Equality Act 2006 all aim to offer protection against discrimination and harassment.

Additionally, if your employer breaches the duty of confidentiality in relation to your HIV status, they may be in breach of the Data Protection Act and the duty of care owed to you.

You should never feel discriminated against because of your HIV status, and neither your employers should feel entitled to treat you less favourably due to your health condition. Being HIV positive, you are entitled to expect reasonable adjustments to be made to your working environment and in the way in which you are treated. For example, you have the right to ask for time off to attend regular visits to your clinic and, if the need arises, any additional visits you may require from time to time such as to dieticians or counsellors.

If you are HIV positive, however, you must also help yourself. It would be unrealistic to complain that your employer has breached your rights, if you have yourself informed a significant number of your colleagues, as it is inevitable that such information might be passed on. If you do tell someone, you should make it crystal clear that you do not want this information to be in the public domain.

You are not obliged to inform your employer about your HIV status, but it may help your working environment if you do. If you choose to make this disclosure, which certainly is a very daunting task, it would be advisable that you provide your employer with a list of anticipated absences, such as hospital appointments and details of any further adjustments you may need them to take. Should there be a change in your general health and you require a particular course of treatment, you should give your employer advance warning, thus enabling them to take steps and arrange cover as necessary.

If you find yourself being treated less favourably or facing harassment you should first utilise your employer's grievance procedure. You should do this as soon as you feel uncomfortable, as the longer you leave it the harder it will be to remedy. A grievance should always be in writing.

Finally, if you suspect you have been dismissed from work on the basis of your HIV status, feel you have been treated unfairly and your employer does not provide you with a reasonable hearing, then you have all the rights to pursue legal action and claim damages and compensation from them and to escalate your claim at the Employment Tribunal.

The law can protect you if you have a genuine complaint, although you should be aware that it is a complex issue and you would be well advised to seek advice from a solicitor, contact an employment or disability organisation (such as ACAS and the Disability Rights Commission) or your local union representative (if you are a member of a Trade Union).

This article appeared as an advertising feature in Attitude magazine and was written by Gabriele Giambrone, the founder of Gay Lawyers and senior partner of a law firm dedicated to the needs of the LGBT communities across the UK.