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HIV employee w/open sores in restaurant job
Jan 21, 2004

I have an employee who has told me that he is HIV pos and has open sores on his arms that bleed. What can I do legally to remove this person from my restaurant business? I don't want to seem cold and callus but this is a restaurant and his sores are open and bleeding. What can I do? Wondering in Minnesota

Response from Ms. Breuer

Dear Wondering, Does your local public health code address the question of open sores among restaurant workers? I would think that open sores would be a problem regardless of HIV status. Bleeding sores are definitely a problem in the public health code for restaurants in my neck of the woods.

I suggest that you take these steps: first, review the public health laws governing restaurants so that you're sure of your ground. Second, counsel the employee--and make sure you focus on the fact that the sores are open and bleeding, not on the HIV status. Do the same for any other employee with open sores. Third, ask the employee to address this issue with his/her physician, explaining that restaurant workers cannot work with open, bleeding sores. Can they be covered adequately so that there is no risk of contact between body fluids and food? Make resolving the issue of the sores a condition for returning to work.

HIV-positive employees can perform well as restaurant employees without endangering anyone's health. There are no recorded cases of HIV infection through contact with blood on food, as unappealing as that image may be. The contact must be immediate and intimate for infection to take place. But blood on food is a public health violation in every jurisdiction I know anything about, for a range of reasons.

If you are able to counsel the employee successfully so that the sores are resolved or covered, you've spared yourself a firing, hiring and re-training job. I urge you to be sure all your employees know the public health rules, so everyone's clear that you're not requiring something of one that isn't required of all.



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