Jul 27, 2001
DOES AN EMPLOYER HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO LET EMPLOYEE'S KNOW THAT A CO-WORKER HAS BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH HIV?
Response from Ms. Breuer
This is an important and frequently-asked question. The answer may surprise you: The employer has an obligation NOT to let employees know that a co-worker has been diagnosed with HIV. Medical information in the workplace is confidential, and the employer could be subject to severe penalties for disclosing someone's diagnosis without that person's permission.
If you are concerned about co-workers' ability to protect themselves from HIV infection when someone at work has HIV, here is the basic information: 1. Provide or acquire reliable HIV education. We know a great deal about HIV and about how to protect yourself from infection. 2. Learn how to respond to a blood injury on the job using Universal Precautions. In short, using Universal Precautions means treating ALL human blood as if it's infectious and using a non-porous barrier between yourself and someone's blood every time you do first aid. 3. Remember that a person with HIV at work does not pose a threat to anyone's health unless you are sharing needles or having unprotected sex with the HIV-positive person--and those are not workplace decisions. They're personal decisions.
If you have specific questions about the work that an HIV-positive co-worker does, or about job tasks you're concerned might be risky, please write again with a more specific question. It's really important that everyone knows and understands why private medical information must be kept private at work.
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