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HIV-Related "Joking" at Work (Editor's Pick)
Jul 2, 2015

I'm hiv positive and in good health. I'm young and work with other young people. One of my coworkers who I've developed a work-friendship with is one of those people who likes to give people a hard time. He knows I'm gay so he thinks it's hilarious to tell me that I have AIDS. He does this often, and in front of other coworkers. He doesn't know I'm poz but this kind of bantering has been eating away at my self-esteem and at this point makes me want to quit my job, a job I really enjoy and need. I'm wondering what advice you have and if there are any legal implications associated with this scenario. Thank you!

Response from Mr. Chambers

I am assuming that you work in the United States. If so, there are laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, and that is what this is. You are being teased (actually harassed) because of your sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, there is not yet a federal law providing such protection from discrimination for being gay, although there are in many states, however, this still could be considered sexual harassment in the workplace, which is prohibited.

Now, however, in the real world, although you could probably bring an action and win, it probably wouldn't improve the atmosphere in your workplace. Also, you will have to file a harassment complaint with your employer.

Have you tried talking to this person? Without disclosing your HIV status, you could explain how this is hurtful to you and, without threatening, remind him of its illegality. This is especially true if you, like many of us, have lost close friends to AIDS. If you think you can resolve this through personal discussion with him, I would encourage you to try it.

If you do want to consider taking further action, I encourage you to discuss it with an HIV legal services agency in your area or the local office of the federal equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC). Good luck, Jacques


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