what to do if my job finds out my husband and I are HIV+

Question

Just that, what do I do if my employer finds out that my husband and I are HIV+. My husband is saying that we should get an attorney now which specializes in wrongful discharge. But I want to know what you think.

Answer

Let's back up. Who knows about your HIV status? Have you talked with everyone who knows about the confidentiality of medical information? Do they have enough HIV education to override the temptation to tell others, "just for their protection"? How would your employer learn of your status?

You have a couple of alternatives. One is to take all the steam out of the rumor (if there is one) by disclosing to the director of Human Resources at your job. Remind that person that s/he is required to keep medical information confidential and send a follow-up memo stating that you have met, that you discussed your medical condition and that your health care provider says there are no functional limitations at this time. The other is to do the hardest thing we human beings are asked to do: keep your mouth shut. If you need reasonable accommodation at work under the Americans with Disabilities Act, bring in a note from your physician stating your functional limitations (what you can't or have a hard time doing because of your medical condition), what accommodation you are requesting, and that you are being treated for a disability under the ADA. Make sure the note does NOT contain the diagnosis. No one at work needs the diagnosis.

Do you need a wrongful discharge attorney now? I would say no, but I do encourage you to seek legal advice from an HIV-knowledgeable attorney. You can find one through your local AIDS service center or through the American Bar Association's AIDS Coordination Project, 202.662.1025. Often this help is available at no or low cost.

In the meantime, make sure you have copies of all of your performance reviews. If you receive a negative review, do all you can to improve in that area. Ask for advice about improvement in writing. Make it clear that you want to do an excellent job at work. Do not give your employer a reason to think about letting you go because of poor performance. Keep the focus on your productivity, not on your diagnosis. I wish you both well.