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HIV/AIDS in the workplace
Mar 9, 2003

Hi. I was recently placed on debate team for a college course. We will be discussing the right to know vs. personal privacy on HIV/AIDS in various situations. My part is to research HIV/AIDS in the workplace. I have read many of your answers to other questions. I am basically wondering who a person like this should contact if they believe they are being discriminated against, what the boundries are by regulations on who in the workplace is allowed access to such information, and as an employee the responsibility of reporting their own HIV/AIDS case? Any information would be appreciated very much. Thank you very much. Student in Indiana

Response from Ms. Breuer

Dear Student in Indiana, Ah, "right to know." It's much rarer than most people think. And lots of folks would be happy to apply it to themselves and appalled if their information suddenly became the content of someone else's presumed "right to know."

You didn't ask for that. It came for free.

Anyone at work who suspects discrimination based on HIV status should contact the highest ranking officer in the company/organization who is responsible for EEOC compliance. In some cases, that person is the HR director (not a clerk in the HR department) of a business. In some cases, the person may be offsite. The immediate supervisor is rarely a good choice, unless the employee knows that the supervisor has received training in this area.

The boundaries are determined loosely by the Americans with Disabilities Act and largely by best practices. Co-workers do not have access to peers' medical information. Immediate supervisors often do not have access, and most usually don't need it. Industrial/occupational health nurses often do have access, and have very clear guidance on when/how to share that information with anyone else.

After 16 years of watching this play itself out in giant corporate environments, 10-person businesses and everything in between, I would advise an employer that the management and supervisory team doesn't WANT to know. Leave that information in the hands of the occupuational health nurse, or the employee and his/her own provider. What you know can be held against you if your actions are perceived as discriminatory. If you have to decide who gets laid off, you do not want to know everyone's diagnosis; you'll be accused of "Darwinian herd-thinning," one of the uglier phrases I've come across in this work.

Employees with responsibility for reporting their own HIV/AIDS cases to their employers? Surgeons. That's pretty much it. And such requirements are industry practice-based, not based in law. The legal types have been smart enough, by and large, to leave HIV reporting requirements to the people who know the industry from the inside.

This issue needs informed people who are confronted endlessly with this question when they insist on "right to know": If you knew, what would you do differently?

If there's anything you would do differently, implement it now, regardless of what you know or don't know about employees' blood status, to protect everyone, and apply it to everyone. If there isn't anything you'd do differently, there's no compelling argument for knowing. End of story.

Good luck!



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