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Considering Going Back to Work When You're HIV Positive

December 10, 2014

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Applying for a Job

In the US, people with disabilities, including HIV, are protected from job discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In other words, your HIV status is confidential. You do not have to disclose your status to a prospective or present employer. If you have not had any HIV-related symptoms or illnesses and are not on medications that are affecting your job performance, there is probably no need to tell them. It is important to note that each country has its own laws about HIV status and employment. In some places, being HIV+ can disqualify a job candidate.

Here are some potential trouble spots:

  • The application form. Some application forms ask whether you have any medical condition(s) that might interfere with your performing the job. Although you may feel an urge to disclose your status, telling an employer you are HIV+ is not necessary. Moreover, many HIV+ people work productively for years without HIV becoming an issue. The application form is asking for conditions that would prevent you from doing the job. It is not wise to apply for a job you know you cannot do. For all other jobs, the answer to this application question is "no".
  • The interview. If you have not been working for more than a couple of months, it is important to prepare for reasonable questions about the gap in your employment history. Reasonable questions from an interviewer might look like: "why were you out of the workplace for two years?" or "can you explain what were you doing during the five months between your job at (Company 1) and your job at (Company 2) in 2011?" These questions can be scary, but you can manage them well if you think of and rehearse answers ahead of time. For example, when asked about an employment gap, say calmly and confidently that "I was dealing with a family health problem."

While it is illegal for interviewers to ask questions about your medical conditions, some interviews still do. In this case, reply simply that there is no barrier to your doing the whole job (e.g., "I can assure you that I can perform all the duties of this job.").

  • The pre-employment health survey that asks you to list all medications. Take the form to your health care provider and ask him or her to complete it. You can encourage your provider to write something like, "(Your name) is under my care and takes no prescription medications that would interfere with her fulfilling the essential functions of this job." It is not necessary or recommended that you list all your medications. They are none of the employer's business.
  • The pre-employment physical. If your new job requires a pre-employment physical or lab test, it is probably because the employer is trying to find out if you use street drugs. An HIV test would require your written consent and be a pointless expense. You can talk with your pharmacist before you have the drug test and ask whether any of your HIV drugs can lead to a false positive drug test. If so, ask for the name of an alternate drug test. Tell the tester that you need the alternate test for a valid result. It is not necessary to disclose the medication or your diagnosis.
  • Signing up for employee benefits. If you find a job with benefits, it is important that you not lie on application forms for health, life, or disability insurance. That is called insurance fraud. If you find a direct question about HIV or other diagnosis questions, ask how your privacy or confidentiality is protected. It is important that you only turn in the form when you get a satisfactory answer.

Taking Care of Yourself

Once you find a job, it is important to remember that you were hired for your skills. Whatever you believe about disclosing your HIV status at work, keep the focus on your performance. If you want to disclose at work, you may consider waiting for a few months so that you have a chance to get to know your co-workers and get a sense of how they might respond to the news that you are living with HIV.

If you disclose to one co-worker, it is important to be prepared for all co-workers to know your status. Also, although supervisors, managers, human resources (HR) staff, and company officers in charge of employee relations may be required by law to keep your diagnosis private if you tell them, not everyone follows the laws and obeys the rules.

In the US, there are no automatic triggers for disclosing your HIV status at work. You are not required to disclose at work, even if:

  • You are bleeding.
  • You need a reasonable change in the workplace or the way things are usually done so that you can continue to work. This is called an "accommodation" and is intended to provide an equal employment opportunity to someone with a disability. In the US, people living with HIV are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although you are not required to disclose your status when asking for an accommodation, it is your responsibility to ask for one if you need it.
  • Side effects made you late for work
  • You are up for a promotion
  • You need leave time to adjust to new medications

If you are thinking about going back to work, or returning to a full-time job after a period of part-time employment, it is important to talk with your health care provider so that you have the best chance of staying healthy during your work transition. A change in jobs or employment status is considered a major life stressor, even when the new job is a totally positive, wonderful thing. Therefore, it is important to prepare yourself by planning ahead, making sure you have adequate support, and remembering that it is okay to go slowly and be gentle with yourself.

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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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