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Getting worried, need help!
Sep 18, 2001

I would like some advice on the following: I have been working with the same company now for almost 2.5 years. I have been knowingly hiv+ for about 3 years now. When I began working at this job I became close with my manager who oversees my department and confided in her that I was indeed hiv poz. She has been very wonderful and understanding (up until now)about time off and also about not disclosing my health status with anyone else in the company. I get sick very easily it seems now, and usually use up all my sick time early in the year, leaving me with no sick pay for later in the year so that I take days off with no pay. This month I have been suffering from dizziness and nausea. Already in September I have gone home sick twice and called in sick one day as my doctor does not want me driving until we discover the cause of my dizziness. I work in an office with only about 25 people, most of them older, nosey, and love to gossip. My manager told me last week that she has everyone coming up to her and asking her what is wrong with me, she keeps telling them it's female problems and I can tell that she is also getting fed up with me leaving early, and callling in sick. (as well as her boss getting irritated too) Also, my HR director is the worst as far as gossiping and I'm afraid that even with the employee confidentiality issues she will still talk to the other employees (that she is also friends with outside of the office) if she were to find out about my status. I have been getting a lot of slack about the time I've had to take off, as well as the fact I have 5 doctors appointments this month alone and have to leave early on 3 different days for them. I am very afraid that I am going to get fired even though I manage to get all my work done. I was thinking of writing a letter stating that I have a medical condition covered under the American Disabilites Act, without specifying what it is and getting it signed by my doctor, just so it's in my records, that way maybe they will be less apt to fire me. The reason I think I'm going to get fired is I think they believe that I am faking my illnesses, that I just want to get out early and go to the beach or something! I am unsure how to handle this, to be honest with you its getting harder to hide it as I've had words with one of the employess (works in the department that handles employees medical insurance) who was telling jokes with HIV/Aids punchlines, as well as asking everyone what they think of working with someone who had HIV and did not tell anyone there status, that he would have to tell all the employees for there protection even if the person with HIV did not want everyone to know. He does not know that I am poz, he had just read something regarding it and was asking everyones opinion. I feel like just screaming at them all that I am indeed HIV +. I don't know what to do anymore. I just think that these are very uneducated people when it comes to hiv and they would all think that just sitting next to me they have all been contaminated, they would probably all run to there doctors begging to be tested. Can you give me any advice at all before I implode! Thank you very much, not only for whatever information you can give me, but also for letting me vent!!

Response from Ms. Breuer

First, let's deal with your rights and responsibilities at work. You didn't have to disclose, but you did, and so far you've been fortunate. Now that you're facing health problems, you need to take the next step. I recommend this:

1. Talk with your doctor. Request a written note on his/her stationery (not yours) identifying you as a person being treated for a disability as defined by the ADA. Remind your doc NOT to put the diagnosis in the note. (If s/he does it anyway, politely return the note and ask for it to be rewritten without the diagnosis. Instead, the note should focus on your functional limitations.)

2. Your functional limitations have to do with attendance and driving. It doesn't matter why you're having these problems (diagnosis). It just matters that you're having them. Ask your doc what s/he recommends as a way of dealing with these problems. If you two come up with an approach that you think would work (for example, carpooling to work and making up lost time during an evening or weekend day), then ask to have that suggested solution written into the note as well. That's a reasonable accommodation request. Give it to cool manager or the head of human resources. No, you do not have to disclose the diagnosis to the HR person, and that person should not ask. If she/he does, you have an incompetent HR person. Proceed accordingly.

3. As for the biddies, you have three choices: ignore them, educate them without disclosing, disclose and watch the fur fly. You know now that once you disclose, there's no taking it back. I don't recommend disclosing in this under-educated environment. Whatever you decide, though, make your decision based on a GOAL. What do you want to accomplish? If the answer is just that you'd feel better, you need to rethink the decision. A job is too valuable to waste just so you could make some kind of point.

That's pretty directive, I know. But you're at a critical point in your diagnosis, and I don't want you to lose your job when there are steps you can/should take now to protect it. Remember that whatever accommodation you and the cool manager agree on, you must continue to fulfill all of the essential functions of your job. That means making up work you have missed. Reasonable accommodation means adjusting to your health challenges. It isn't a free ride.

You might want to chat with cool manager about her answer to the biddies, by the way. ALL medical information is confidential in the workplace, and it's time the biddies started hearing, "We don't discuss other people's medical conditions without their permission, just as we wouldn't discuss yours."



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