|New Job / Frequent Doctor Appts.
Aug 24, 1998
My current employer is aware of my HIV status. There are no questions asked when I have a doctor appointment. Due to complications, I may have one appointment every 1-2 weeks where I must leave work early. I'll be moving to a new city soon, and will be looking for employment. I understand that HIV should not be a factor in the hiring process, but how do I protect myself later when my employer becomes suspicious? It's been 5 years since I've had to go through a probationary period. Am I obligated to disclose my HIV status at that time when my new employer begins to frown upon my frequent absences? Or, when and how should I warn them without hampering or jeapordizing their decision to hire me? Also, what can my current employer say about this situation in the event of a background check?
Response from Ms. Breuer
Thank you for asking these questions before your move. You have been fortunate in your current work situation. Before you know how understanding your new employer will be, please take these steps: 1. Talk with the benefits person in your present human resources department about the Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act of 1996. This is the law that helps you carry your health insurance without a gap. Ask your benefits person how to arrange a seamless transition even if your new employer has a waiting period for coverage. 2. Your medical appointments constitute a reasonable accommodation of a qualified disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You are correct that you have no obligation to inform your prospective employer of your HIV status. You must answer the question about whether you have any disabilities that would prevent you from fulfilling the essential functions of your prospective job. I assume that answer would be no. You are not obligated to discuss your need for periodic medical appointments during the hiring process. You can go to human resources (not your supervisor, since most supervisors have no experience in negotiating reasonable accommodations) soon after you're hired and mention that you have a condition that requires a minor accommodation. When you do that in HR, you are officially putting your new employer on notice that you have a disability. And that is all you need to say about it.
They may ask for documentation that you are indeed disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If they do, you must provide a note from your treating physician which states that you are being treated for a disability and you require periodic appointments to work with your medications. Be sure to tell the physician that you do not want the diagnosis in the note. It should not be there, although some physicians are not familiar with the fact that the ADA works this way. As long as you are fulfilling the essential functions of your job, that should be the end of the requests for information.
3. Since your current employer knows your HIV status, I encourage you strongly to discuss the confidentiality of your medical information before you leave with whomever might be giving a reference on you. They have no right to share this information with a prospective employer, and they probably need to be reminded of that. Your disclosure is entirely voluntary and does not make them free to share it. Your current employer may not say anything about your medical condition in a background check.
4. And last, please think long and hard about disclosure before you do it with your new employer. Get to know the culture of your new organization. Learn whether they have ever done workplace HIV education. See how easily they adjust to your reasonable accommodation of time off for medical appointments. You are under no obligation to tell them your diagnosis, so think about what your goal would be if you were to disclose. I'm pleased that your experience with the current employer has been good, and wish I could tell you that all workplaces are that way now, but you can tell from reading the questions on this website that we haven't quite reached that place yet.
For more information about planning a job change or a return to work, you can find very helpful materials at the website of the National AIDS Fund at http://aidsfund.org.
Have a great life in your new city!
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