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Medical Status Disclosed
Feb 18, 2004

I am HIV positive and have been able to successfully protect my privacy for 10 years for me, my wife and kids. 2 years ago I was hospitalized with acute pancreatitis and went to the ER. Unfortunately, a nurse in the ER was/is marrried to someone who I was working with on a project. I believe that my HIV status was disclosed to my employer and co-workers by the nurse's husband, my co-worker. This has become increasingly apparent from the treatment and behavior of my other co-workers, and the envrionment is becoming uncomfortable. I'm concerned that my kids will be confronted with this (ages 10 & 12). Do I have any recourse against the hospital for releasing personal medical information without my approval or knowledge? I'm otherwise healthy and love my job. I've been with my employer for 13 years, but it is becoming clear now that continued employment with them may not be possible. Thank you.

Response from Ms. Breuer

I am so sorry that this is happening to you. You have recourse with the hospital only if you can prove that the nurse disclosed your diagnosis to others. That could be very difficult.

Since you seem to work in a leadership vacuum on this issue, the leadership job is probably yours. Go to your most senior HR person, describe what has been happening (you don't have to verify your diagnosis in this conversation--just refer to it as the apparent "rumor" that you have a stigmatized condition)and ask the HR person to form a plan with you for solving this problem. Your employer obviously needs training in workplace HIV issues and the confidentiality of medical information--as does the hospital.

Don't leave a 13-year job without taking action to improve the deteriorating situation! You have too much invested there to do that. This isn't your problem; it's HR's problem. Hold their feet to the fire. This is what HR professionals are being paid to do.

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