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employer/ insurance confidentiality
Nov 25, 2013

I just read this in a 2011 Positively Aware article about legal issues and disclosure: Two times when it is appropriate to tell your employer are: when you are making HIV-related insurance claims or when your job performance is being impaired by HIV. If you are submitting medical bills for treatment of HIV, your employer is going to find out. Its best for your boss to hear it from you rather than through gossip or from the person in charge of benefits.

Is it so certain that an employer will know my status? My company provides Blue Cross, administeded by a benefits management company. We no longer have an HR Manager, so the owner's wife oversees insurance. Should I assume they know my status?

Response from Mr. Chambers

I think that is only half right. Yes, if your performance is slipping to the point that management notices it, AND there is some accommodation that they can make that will improve your performance AND your employer is large enough to come under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), then notifying your employer and requesting reasonable accommodation could be beneficial.

ADA is designed to help people with disabilities (and HIV is a disability under that law) continue working. Your employer comes under ADA if he has more than 15 employees in one location. I encourage you to read up on it before invoking it, to make sure your employer comes under it, and that there is some accommodation they can make to help your performance. And, of course, your doctor supports the request.

Health insurance is another matter. Neither your employer nor the management company has access to the details of your medical claims. Depending on the size of your employer/management company, they may have access to who is filing claims and for how much, but the diagnosis and the specifics of the treatment are not available to them.

If your employer is large enough to be self-funded, in other words, they didn't "buy" health insurance but are merely paying Blue Cross to administer the claims, then, legally, the employer owns all that paperwork and information. However, employers that big know the legal hassles they can get in for using that information in personnel matters, so they usually build a "wall" so that it is clear they have no access of that knowledge. This may be one of the reasons they hired an outside company to administer the claims.

That covers the legal issues, however, that doesn't always protect someone in the real world. The most common way the employer gets wind of such information is when the employee "trusts" a coworker with the information and the company grapevine takes over. The best advice is to tell no one at your work about your status. As much as we have tried to educate people about HIV, The stigma and prejudice still exists in many places, as misplaced as it is.

Good luck, Jacques

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