December 18, 2006
In the workplace, attitudes and approaches toward HIV/AIDS remain complex. Some managers are unaware of what, if any, accommodations are available to HIV-positive employees. Others may react poorly to learning of an employee's HIV status due to the stigma still attached to AIDS.
"[HIV-positive] people are living longer and working longer, and that just puts more of a spotlight on some of the workplace challenges that need to be addressed in these policies," said Peter J. Petesch, managing partner with the Ford & Harrison law firm and a board member for CDC's Business Responds to AIDS program.
Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services operates in 99 countries, and part of its mission is providing services to people with HIV/AIDS. Yet for its own HIV-positive employees, CRS had a minimal, outdated policy dating back to 2001.
CRS eventually instituted a new HIV policy that was one year in the making. Now in place for 10 months, the CRS program includes HIV/AIDS education training for all employees, information for managers and employees about what CRS can do for people with HIV, and 100 percent coverage for all HIV treatment and testing for its employees. The agency hopes to encourage its 5,000 employees to seek testing and, if necessary, treatment.
"We started to recognize as an agency that the same stigma and access to treatment issues are actually affecting our own staff. Here we were saving people in the community but losing our own staff to HIV," said Jennifer Munthali, an HIV-positive CRS staffer who helped write the new policy.
Other organizations are inquiring as to how CRS created its policy and what challenges it faced. Complete treatment coverage has cost less than 20 percent of CRS's overall HIV workplace budget, said Munthali. "That helps other agencies learn this is something affordable and the cost benefit is a healthier staff that is well informed and able to contribute to the work."
For more information, visit www.hivatwork.com.