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Many people living with HIV (HIV+) are living longer, healthier lives
because of the success of newer HIV drugs. In addition, newer HIV drugs often
have less serious or troublesome side effects than older HIV drugs. Therefore, many HIV+ people who may have
felt very ill and been unable to work when first diagnosed may now feel well
enough to consider returning to work.
Are You Ready to Return to Work?
Returning to work and feeling productive can boost your confidence and make
you feel better about yourself. However, the idea of re-entering the workforce
can also trigger fears and concerns. Before you jump in, here are a few simple
questions to help you get started:
- What does your health care provider think about your working? Your
provider's thoughts on your readiness for work, including what type of work and
how many hours per week, will likely be based on your overall health and trends
in your CD4 count and viral load.
- Have you tested your stamina (energy level)? Many job counselors recommend
volunteering for a while to build up to full-time work. If you volunteer for an
organization that you like, you might be offered a job there in the future.
Start with a part-time schedule and gradually add more hours per week to test
your energy levels.
- Why do you want to work? "I need a job for the money" is a good reason to
work, but not the only one. Many HIV+ people who work report that the structure
of a job helps them adhere to their HIV drugs and maintain a healthy lifestyle. For others, a
job provides a sense of purpose or a social group with a sense of belonging
that can be a type of family. What do you want your work to do for you?
- Do you have enough support at home, or in your close circle of friends? If
work makes it more difficult to fit in some of your daily chores, will you have
help from family or friends?
- How will work affect your eligibility for benefits, i.e., Social
What Work Do You Want to Do?
If you identify what type of work you want to do, and what you hope to get
from working, your job search will be more likely to be successful. You may
want to think about what you expect to learn, how it might expand your skills,
and what benefits you could enjoy from working.
It may also help to consider:
- Your personality and skills, so that you can make a good match between what
you like to do and the job description
- Work you enjoy gives you energy, while work you dislike drains your
- Talking with other HIV+ people who are working – about their jobs, their
routines, their challenges and successes
- Some people may feel better but not well enough to return to their usual
line of work. In this case, it may be helpful to think about returning to
school or being retrained. Each state has a vocational rehabilitation program
that helps people with disabilities be retrained or find appropriate work.
Applying for a Job
Your HIV status is confidential information. You do not have to disclose your status to a prospective or present employer. 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 looking 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 been 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. 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." Do not 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. Talk with your pharmacist before
you have the drug test. 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. Do not disclose the
medication or your diagnosis.
Signing up for employee benefits. If you find a job with benefits,
do 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 is protected. 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 are
required by law to keep your diagnosis private if you tell them, not everyone
follows the laws and obeys the rules.
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 for people in perfect health and 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.