Addressing HIV/AIDS In the Workplace

Posted on: November 21, 2018, in Blog
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HIV/AIDS affects millions of South Africans from all walks of life, including people in the workplace. There are a number of laws and guidelines relating to people who have HIV/AIDS in the workplace. The most important of these is that an HIV positive employee has the same rights and duties as other employees.  They cannot be treated differently to other employees by employers or by co-workers.

There is no obligation on employees to tell their employers about their HIV status except in certain professions (e.g. surgery or dentistry where there is a risk of exposure to bodily fluids or blood). In some jobs, workers may actually face the risk of HIV infection through accidental direct exposure to infected blood (e.g. some healthcare workers and laboratory technicians) mainly as a result of an accident with a needle/syringe.

The availability of antiviral therapy (ARV therapy) means that most people who are HIV positive should not become too ill to work. However, if HIV does become symptomatic (i.e. the person starts experiencing related infections) it may be helpful to disclose HIV status as the person may require time off work due to illness or may require certain adjustments to be made to their job role, hours of work, etc. in order to allow them to continue working.

From an employer’s perspective, the most important thing is to ensure that a person with HIV is not discriminated against in the workplace. People living with HIV are legally protected from discrimination in the workplace and during recruitment in accordance to Section 7 (2) of the Employment Equity Act, which, for example, prohibits the use of pre-employment HIV testing.

Discrimination in the workplace can take various forms, including:

  • Direct discrimination (e.g. when an employer treats an HIV-positive employee less favourably than others).
  • Indirect discrimination (e.g. when conditions or rules in the workplace disadvantage HIV-positive employees).
  • Associative discrimination (e.g. when a person suffers discrimination because of their association with a person who has been diagnosed with HIV).
  • Harassment (e.g. offensive or intimidating behaviour intended to make a person’s existence in the workplace difficult or untenable).
  • Victimisation (e.g. unfair treatment of an HIV-positive employee who has made a complaint about harassment in the workplace).

The availability of antiviral therapy (ARV therapy) means that most people who are HIV positive should not become too ill to work. However, if HIV does become symptomatic (i.e. the person starts experiencing related infections) it may be helpful to disclose HIV status as the person may require time off work due to illness or may require certain adjustments to be made to their job role, hours of work, etc. in order to allow them to continue working.

If an employee with HIV becomes too unwell to continue their job role, employers should try to find alternative work that may be more suitable. However, employers are not legally-bound to create more suitable employment if there is nothing else available in the organisation or if no reasonable adjustments can be made to the role to permit the person to continue. In this case (as with any other illness) the employer is entitled to terminate the employee’s employment.

It is important to note: 

  • That all blood is treated as possibly infected
  • That first aid kits which include protective gloves and other devices are available in the workplace
  • That employees are trained to prevent HIV transmission when helping an injured person
  • An employee cannot be fired, retrenched or refused a job simply because they are HIV positive.
  • HIV positive employees are also entitled to the same training, development and promotion opportunities as any other employee.
  • No employer can require that a job applicant have an HIV test before they are employed
  • There is a small risk that HIV can be transmitted accidentally through contact with infected blood.

There are many positive steps employers can employees can take to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These include:

  • Developing a workplace policy on HIV/AIDS
  • Negotiating benefits such as medical aid, insurance, retirement benefits and disability cover in the interests of all employees.
  • Developing a workplace programme that includes awareness campaigns, condom distribution, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and care for HIV-positive staff members.

Educate your workforce on HIV/AIDS in commendation of World AIDS Day

 

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