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Back to Work

The First Steps Back to Working

February 1997

As more and more people living with HIV/AIDS have stated a desire to return to work, a whole gamut of issues have surfaced.

  • Do I want to return to my former profession?
  • What if I get sick again?
  • How do I inform my employer about special accommodations?
  • How do I retain my Social Security?
  • What should I put on my resume?

In this column, we will take some of the most commonly asked questions and get an expert's opinion.

Q. What do I do about gaps in my resume?

A. We asked Shawn Kish, head of California Careers, and facilitator of the two-part resume class in the Work It! series, to respond:

"Here's my advice for handling gaps in your resume, or as I call it 'gaposis.'

"First, take some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Many people have gaps in their resumes today.

"Second, remember that having an employment gap doesn't mean that you won't be considered for another position. If you're qualified, an employer will usually consider you for a position, even with 'gaposis.' When possible, fill those gaps in your resume with the time you spent in school or performing volunteer work or internships.

"Third, be prepared to address the issue by formulating your response beforehand. If your employment gap was due to HIV-related health problems, you could simply say, 'I needed time off to deal with an illness in the family' or 'I had to attend to a personal or family matter.' You are not required to discuss your previous or present health status. An employer may ask for additional information, but remember, you are not required to give it.

"Fourth, if possible, mention other constructive things that you did or learned during your time off. This could include self-evaluation, reading, writing, hobbies, classes or seminars. If possible, discuss how they'll help you to be a better employee.

"Fifth, if your gap is recent, tell the employer that you're really excited to get back to work. A positive attitude is especially important, because it shows the employer you resolved the issue and are ready to go back to work.

"Finally, mention the reason for the gap in your cover letter. By doing so, the employer is less likely to eliminate you from the running before speaking to you.

"Always remember: A gap in your resume won't necessarily prevent you from finding another job, but being unprepared to address it may."

Q. Do I have to disclose my HIV status to potential employers?

A. We asked Randy Boyle, AIDS Project Los Angeles' outreach attorney, and Jacques Chambers, manager of APLA's Benefits Program, to respond:

"There is no legal requirement to tell a potential employer about your HIV condition.

"However, if a potential employer asks a direct question during an interview about whether you have any conditions the company should know about or might have to accommodate, you should answer the question if you know you will be asking for 'reasonable accommodation' (time off for doctor's appointments, for treatments, or other special consideration). Otherwise, the employer could fire you for not answering truthfully during the interview process.

"But if you are HIV-positive, and have no special needs, and then your condition changes on down the line, the employer cannot fire you then for requesting 'reasonable accommodation' for your condition.

"If you tell a prospective employer that you have a condition that may require some accommodation, the employer can ask about the nature of your condition and may want a letter from your physician. You and your doctor can describe the accommodations you need, without specifically saying that your condition is HIV or AIDS.

"If you are going to work for a company with 'small group' health insurance (fewer than 50 employees), you may have to fill out a health questionnaire. The insurer can ask whether you have AIDS, if you are HIV-symptomatic, how recently you have seen a doctor, what medications you are taking, etc. The employer usually distributes these questionnaires to new employees and may read the results. In this situation, your HIV condition could increase the rate the company pays for small group health insurance."

Please call (213) 993-1696 with your Back to Work questions or concerns and attend our Work It! series of community forums. Call (213) 993-1664 for more information on the forums.

Resources cited in this article

  • Randy Boyle, APLA outreach attorney, (213) 993-1502

  • Shawn Kish, APLA network administrator, (213) 993-1527

  • Jacques Chambers, APLA Benefits Program manager, (213) 993-1473

    This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

  • This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
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