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Understanding Your Rights and Responsibilities as an HIV-Positive Person in the Workplace in the U.S.

October 26, 2015

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Understanding Your Rights and Responsibilities as an HIV-Positive Person in the Workplace

Table of Contents


You can do a lot to prevent HIV discrimination at work by learning about your rights and responsibilities in the workplace. Here are answers to some of the questions most frequently asked by people living with HIV (HIV+) in relation to their work.

Frequent Workplace Questions

How do I request a reasonable accommodation?

If side effects or symptoms interfere with work, you might ask for changes in your working conditions that would allow you to continue doing a good job. Suppose your HIV drugs make you nauseated in the morning. Suppose your job could be done just as well if you came in an hour later and stayed an hour later. A change like that is called a "reasonable accommodation." If you feel you need a reasonable accommodation, it is your responsibility to ask your employer for one. There are several bits of information you will need to gather and provide:

  • Name the specific functional limitation you want your employer to accommodate (i.e., fatigue, tiredness)
  • Be specific about the change you need to address the limitation (e.g., rest breaks every 90 minutes)
  • Back up your request with a health care provider's note that supports the functional limitation -- but does not state the diagnosis!
  • Make it clear that you understand the purpose of the accommodation: you still have to be able to perform the whole job, even if you have to work longer or different hours
  • Give the request to the person who arranges reasonable accommodation for all conditions -- this person is usually not your supervisor. This person may be the company nurse, HR (human resources) representative, shop steward, or an officer of the company.
  • If you cannot do the whole job even with the accommodation, it is important to consider taking a short-term leave or asking for a job with different requirements that you can meet

How can I get to work on time when I am facing serious diarrhea for two hours after I get up in the morning?

The diarrhea may be an adjustment to new HIV drugs. Other than getting up two hours earlier, you could:

  • Ask for an accommodation (i.e., later arrival time) until you and your health care provider can resolve the diarrhea. Back up your request with a note from your provider.
  • Offer to change your shift to start and end two hours later. Sometimes this is a benefit to an employer with customers who live in other time zones.
  • Advise your supervisor that you have a new medication and will need frequent bathroom breaks while you adjust

If I have been discriminated against, to whom do I complain?

Start with your own supervisor, who is responsible for stopping discriminatory behavior. If that does not yield satisfactory results, or if the discrimination is coming from your supervisor, go to HR or the person responsible for employee relations. If you still do not get satisfactory results, explain the situation to a company officer in writing. If you are still experiencing discrimination with no company action to resolve the issue, go to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is important to document and keep track of all your conversations, writings, and efforts.

What should I tell people if I am injured and bleeding and someone is trying to help me?

Hopefully, by now everyone is using universal precautions. Universal precautions are things people do to protect themselves from contact with other people's bodily fluids -- like wearing gloves. People administering first aid can respond to you safely if they use personal protective equipment (PPE, like gloves, goggles, or face shields) and assume that any worker might carry blood borne diseases. If you know your employer has not provided first aid training for a long time, try to encourage your employer to provide updated first aid training for the benefit of all workers.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.


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