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Asked about AIDS during an interview
Aug 13, 1998

I recently had an interview with a prospective employer. The FIRST question asked was "You've just found out that a co-worker has AIDS...How would you feel about working with this person and what would your reaction be?" Myself being hiv pos. I was truly shocked at this question but answered it in a way as not to reveal my own status. I've been wondering if this is maybe a new way of employers trying to find out if job candidates would choke and reveal their OWN status. Of course I didnt reveal my status and answered the question in a compassionate and caring way without revealing anything about myself. If I get this job and my status is found out later, can the employer dismiss me based on that? I may sound a little paranoid but this has been bothering me . I hope its just a case of a compassionate employer and not a way of "tricking" applicants into revealing their status before being hired. Any comments you can give would be appreciated. Thanks!

Response from Ms. Breuer

This is a new one! I think you handled it very well when you responded without revealing your own HIV status. You have no obligation to reveal your status, no matter what the interviewer asks during your employment interview. Any direct question about your HIV status would not be legal, and if this is an indirect one, you have been wise to take the high road by responding compassionately. No, your employer cannot dismiss you later because you did not reveal your status in response to this question. Your employer can ask directly about any limitations on your ability to fulfill the essential functions of the job you're applying for. That question, too, can and should be answered without direct reference to any diagnosis. Refer only to any functional limitations imposed by your condition--if there are any. If there are not, there is no need to raise the issue. You may be thinking about medical history questionnaires for insurance purposes, where it can get you into trouble to lie or withhold information. Job interviews are different.

A third possible explanation of why the employer asked the question could be that there is a person with HIV already on staff, and the employer is unaware enough of confidentiality constraints to think that part of the interview should be "warning" you of that fact. That scenario is familiar to me, unfortunately. If you take the job, I'd be interested to know what you learn on the job! Good luck.

Nancy Breuer



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