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HIV+ in Human resources
Mar 4, 1999

I have been HIV+ for eight years with no illness. Last year, I decided to trade in my ten year career in restaurant management for a less stressful position in Human Relations with another company. First of all, let me say that I love my new position as an employment supervisor. I handle most hiring and some terminations. Here's the catch, my boss has made it "quite" clear that if someone discloses a disability in an interview, I am to not consider them for employment. "They are extremely high risk to us and our insurance company" Typically, being the professional that I am, I would report this immediately. However, she is the "V.P" of Human Resources and only reports to the President. Also, I do not feel that they would risk not backing her on "any" unethical hiring practices. I love what I do, but I know if she found out I was HIV+, she would get rid of me quickly in an alternative way. Two last things, My name was in the local paper 2 years ago releasing my HIV+ status, because court records are public knowledge in a suit I filed against my Ex-lover's estate and family. Also, I work for a national non-profit organization that does vocational rehabilitation for people "with" disabilities. How do I protect myself & when should I disclose?

Thank you,

In a pickle

Response from Ms. Breuer

Dear Pickle,

Yes, you are in a pickle. You are being asked to violate the law. Quite apart from your own HIV status, your boss is putting you into an ethical bind that is grossly unfair. Here are my ideas, after pondering your situation for a day or so:

1. In this environment, do not disclose. You have no need or obligation to disclose. Even if you need reasonable accommodation, you can request it without identifying the condition that leads to your request. This is not a safe environment for disclosure of your HIV status.

2. Do you have any documentation? Anything in writing? What would happen if you were to ask your boss to put her requirement in writing--exactly what are you supposed to do if an interviewee self-identifies as disabled? If you have documentation, that makes your position stronger, but you still may need to practice the profession you have come to love in a different environment. This one is toxic for anyone, much less for someone who is immune-compromised.

3. You need a consultation with an attorney who knows about the Americans with Disabilities Act. The fastest way to find that person is to look up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in your phone book under "government/federal." I am not a lawyer, but I think I know when someone needs one, and I think you need one before you take any further action except advice-seeking from SHRM (see below).

4. The best way to fight discrimination is to prevent it. You can best prevent discrimination against yourself by learning your rights. If you wish, you also can help to prevent future discrimination against others at this company by acting to initiate change, but I'm not going to tell you that you can simultaneously keep your job. Start now to collect good referrals and get copies of your job performance evaluations. Look for your local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, the professional organization of human resources professionals. They're based in Alexandria. VA at 703.548.3440. CAll to ask if they have someone who can advise you about being asked to do something illegal at work by an HR professional.

5. It's a long shot, but you can request a consultation with your boss's boss, to express your discomfort at being asked to violate the law and ask for a clarification of company policy. Talk with the attorney before doing this.

Please let me know what happens. And please remember to take care of yourself. Your health is more important than your "ethically compromised" boss.

Nancy Breuer

Denied a Position
Promotion thwarted because of HIV Infection

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