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Workplace and HIV Employees
Nov 21, 2004

I am doing a case study that asks me what my legal and ethical responsibility is to my employer (in a health care setting) if one of my fellow employees came to me and disclosed that he/she had tested positive for HIV. Ethically I know my own answer but legally I have no clue what I should do?

Response from Ms. Breuer

If you are a supervisor, you represent the company and are legally bound to keep that person's medical information confidential. That means not disclosing it to anyone in the organization without the person's (preferably written) permission. (My reference here is to HIPAA and laws regarding privacy in the workplace.)

If you are a co-worker, the legal constraints on the privacy of medical information do not apply the same way, because legally you don't represent the company in the role of employer. However, I need to ask: why would you disclose the person's diagnosis to anyone? What outcome would you want/expect?

Your responsibility to your employer, whether you are a supervisor or not, is to perform the duties of your job to your best capabilities. Beyond that, I believe we all have ethical responsibilities to our employers to treat everyone--coworkers, clients, customers, supervisors, board members--with dignity and respect. Disclosing someone's private medical information does not fall into that category.

I hope that's the ethical conclusion you've reached. If it isn't, I hope you'll write again and engage in dialog about that. Good luck with the case study.



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