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Relationship with coworker and confidentiality
Apr 19, 1999

I work in a major metropolitan area as an emergency medical technician, i was having a relationship with a co-worker and found out i had been infected with the hiv virus. I immediately informed my partner, who did not seroconvert, and now she has been telling people at work in an effort to cause a disparagate workplace and attempting to get me fired. I have filed with the EEOC and made complaints to my employer to no avail as of yet. This has been going on for two years now and im wondering if you have any other solutions you could recomend. Thanks

Response from Ms. Breuer

When you disclose your HIV status to a co-worker, it's not the same as disclosing to a supervisor or manager. The co-worker does not represent the employer the way a supervisor does. If the co-worker tells others, you don't have much control over that. Only when your employer discriminates against you on the basis of your HIV status can you take action. That may be why you are not getting a lot of action from your employer or the EEOC.

From an outsider's perspective, there is one really obvious solution: your workplace needs HIV education, with emphasis on the confidentiality of medical information. Your human resources director should be concerned if there is an employee talking about someone else's medical condition without that person's permission. Have you approached your human resources director yet? Or is there an occupational health nurse on staff? Those professionals' training should alert them to the need to educate employees who are disclosing other employees' medical conditions. Either of them should take the employee aside and educate her about HIV and about medical confidentiality.

In a well-run organization, your co-worker's behavior would be more likely to get her fired, not you.

Nancy Breuer



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