Oregon: Working to Live
April 4, 2002
AIDS advocates in Portland and elsewhere are facing an increasingly prevalent challenge: how to re-introduce their clients into the workplace. Due to advances in medications in the late 1990s, more people with HIV are living longer, enjoying better health, and returning to work. This raises issues both for employees and employers, who face legal requirements that they meet the special needs of HIV-infected workers while protecting their privacy.Adapted from:
For AIDS service agencies, the challenge is finding ways to help by offering career counseling, workshops and job referral services, as well as employer education about HIV and disability-related issues. "We had a system set up to help people die. Now we have people sitting around at home, disengaged, on disability or other forms of public assistance -- bored," said Thomas Bruner, Cascade AIDS Project executive director.
Cascade AIDS Project set up Working Choices with $100,000 from Worksystems, the Portland-area's gatekeeper of federal work-force retraining money. Only Los Angeles and San Francisco offer similar programs on the West Coast. Positive Resource Center in San Francisco began offering job counseling in 1995. Last year, it helped 1,000 clients and made 546 job placements, according to Dennis Reilly, the center's placement director.
HIV and AIDS qualify as disabilities under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination and requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for those with disabilities. Federal law also requires a worker's medical history to be kept confidential. But a host of court cases show employers do not always follow those requirements.
Those with HIV/AIDS face other challenges that most job applicants don't. They battle exhaustion, pain or other side effects caused by their medication. These often require more frequent breaks, a refrigerator to store medication, or a flexible workweek.
HIV-infected workers also must decide whether to discuss their medical condition with employers. If workers keep quiet, career counselors advise them to practice how to answer questions about gaps in their resumes. "It's a major issue," said Betty Kohlenberg, a vocation counselor in San Francisco specializing in disability issues. "[Disclosure] needs to be handled with extreme care. It's almost never treated as neutral information."
03.29.02; Brent Hunsberger
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.