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Informed supervisor concerned about disclosure
Mar 17, 1998

I am the supervisor of an employee recently diagnosed HIV positive. This individual informed me of the diagnosis. We agreed to keep it confidential pending knowledge of legal consequences in the workplace. My supervisor may be responsible for possibly promoting myself to a higher position, and my HIV positive employee to my vacated position.

Am I responsible for informing my supervisor? If I do not, what is my liability?

Response from Ms. Breuer

Thank you for asking before acting. Not only are you not responsible for informing your supervisor; you are responsible for not informing your supervisor without the employee's clear (probably written, for your protection) permission to do so. Most people who supervise someone who is HIV+ find that there is no reason to even think about asking for permission to disclose to their own supervisors until--if ever--the employee requests reasonable accommodation of the disability. And then, the best course of action usually is to turn to the people in the company who have the necessary training and experience to negotiate reasonable accommodation: human resources, or employee health. Most supervisors have not been trained in negotiating reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so they're not usually the best choice when you need advice about reasonable accommodation.

The guidance of the ADA makes it clear that an employee's work performance is the standard for deciding on such issues as promotions, not the employee's diagnosis.

If you would like more information about your rights and responsibilities and those of your employee, I encourage you to contact the National AIDS Fund in Washington, D.C. toll free at 1-888-234-AIDS to ask for their new booklet, "What About My Rights? Guidelines for Employers and Employees Living with HIV/AIDS." Both you and your employee could read it and become much more comfortable with managing the work relationship over time.

Nancy Breuer



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