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When to disclose to an employer--if at all
Jun 9, 2001


I currently work for a large employer with 50,000+ employees which is covered by the ADA. I have worked for this same company since I was diagnosed HIV+ 3 years ago. I have been healthy the entire time but worry about the day when I will need protection provided by the ADA. Should I go ahead and inform my employer that I am HIV+ now or should I wait until my health worsens? Who should I inform in my company and will my supervisor be informed by HR? I really do not want my immediate supervisor to know as he is very anti-gay.

Response from Ms. Breuer

First, congratulations on your good health, and may it continue. Second, let's tackle those questions in order, and let me start by applauding you for learning more about this before you need it.

1. You don't ever have to tell your employer that you're HIV-positive. If you find yourself struggling to fulfill the essential functions of the job (please notice that such a condition is not exactly the same as 'health worsening'), then talk with your doctor, ask for a note that requests a reasonable accommodation under the ADA but DOES NOT name the diagnosis. Take the note in person to the highest-ranking HR person you can meet with face to face at your location. Stress the importance of the confidentiality of the conversation, then present the note. It should request specific accommodations to meet your specific need. For example, if you were battling fatigue, it might request a scheduled time each day for a nap, and the appropriate environment for that nap. In the conversation, focus on two things: the functional limitation (such as, cannot maintain the energy to do a full day's work without a rest break) and the requested accommodation (the daily nap). Stay away from the diagnosis; it's your private concern. If you're asked directly, refocus the conversation on your functional limitation. Then agree to a reasonable trial period, such as 3 months. T

Then it's HR's job to take the agreement to your immediate supervisor and give the supervisor an appropriate task: monitor whether the accommodation is working or not. Period.

At no point is there any need to mention the diagnosis. Your supervisor and your HR director probably do not have medical degrees, so there's no point to giving them the diagnosis. Your HR director would be risking a lawsuit if s/he told your supervisor your diagnosis, and should know that.

Your own professionalism can carry this the way you need it to go. Know what you need before you start the conversation, and stay focused. If they put you under great pressure to reveal the diagnosis, remind them that all medical information in the workplace is confidential. If that doesn't work, it would be worth it to spend the money to have an attorney remind them about confidentiality of medical information in writing.

But I'm guessing that in a company of this size, you wouldn't have to take it that far. Good luck, and many years of good health to you!

disclosing status to doctor/employer

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