Working with HIV
If you are already employed, and wondering about what your HIV diagnosis may mean for your work situation, Jobcentre Plus Disability Employment Advisers can help you. They will talk to you about your current situation and, if you would like them to, will give you and your employer advice, and explore practical ways to help you keep your job.
These advisers can also tell you about how the Disability Discrimination Act may apply to you, and direct you to local organisations that may be able to help you. You can find out more about the service Disability Employment Advisers offer here.
Unless you’re working in certain healthcare professions, there’s absolutely no requirement for you to tell your employer that you’re HIV-positive. (HV-positive healthcare workers need to inform their occupational health doctor and, if relevant, avoid doing invasive procedures. Any information on HIV status given to occupational health staff must be treated with the same confidentiality procedures as for patients.)
The Health and Safety Executive's guidance, Blood-borne viruses in the workplace, states:
Generally, there is no legal obligation on employees to disclose they have a BBV or to take a medical test for it. If an employee is known to have a BBV, this information is strictly confidential and must not be passed on to anyone else without the employee’s permission.
Nevertheless, you may choose to tell your employer in the hope that this will lead to a more supportive working environment. However, you may prefer to keep information about your health confidential in order to avoid discrimination or having to deal with colleagues' attitudes towards HIV.
If you need time off because of illness or for hospital appointments, think about how you are going to explain this without disclosing your HIV status.
The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) website has information on issues you may need to consider, such as how to tell your employer your status, taking your medication at work and managing illness. It also provides information for employers, as does the National AIDS Trust.
There’s no law to stop an employer asking for an HIV test as part of a company medical for new employees. However, they’ve no right to see the result of the test result without your consent.
The only way an employer can ask an existing employee to take an HIV test is if the initial terms and conditions of a job said that this would be the case.
The Disability Discrimination Act provides important workplace protection to people with HIV from the moment of their HIV diagnosis. These rights are on top of those provided by other legislation.
Basically, it is unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to:
- Discriminate against an HIV-positive person in recruitment and selection unless this can be ‘justified’.
- Give an HIV-positive person less favourable treatment (including access to promotion, training and transfers, as well as dismissal and selection for redundancy) unless this can be ‘justified’.
- Fail to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to the work environment to enable an HIV-positive person to work.
The government is committed to ensuring that people with health conditions have their rights – including employment rights – protected. The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides information on how you can take action if you feel you have been treated unfairly at work because of your HIV status. You can find out more here or contact the EHRC helpline on:
0845 604 6610 (England)
0845 604 8810 (Wales)
0845 604 5510 (Scotland)
You can find out other ways to contact the helpline here.
Can my employer sack me because I'm ill due to HIV?
UK government guidance in the Health and Safety Executive's booklet Blood-borne viruses in the workplace states that:
People with a blood-borne virus should be able to work normally, unless they become ill and are no longer fit enough to do their job. If they do become ill, they should be treated in the same way as anyone else with a long-term illness.
The only way this advice will have changed since the Disability Discrimination Act is that the employer must have considered reasonable adjustments before dismissing you as a result of HIV-related illness.
If you are dismissed because you are unable to do the job, the employer must have sufficient evidence upon which to base that decision. This involves, preferably, both a report from the employee's doctor and an examination by a doctor on behalf of the employer.
If you are physically unable to carry out your contractual job, then the employer should consider the possibility of a move to different duties. The likelihood of there being suitable alternative employment will depend largely on the size of the firm involved. Furthermore, there is no duty for the employer to create alternative employment.
THT’s website has information on discrimination in the workplace and offers advice on what action you can take if you are sacked for illness. The THT employment advice service can also provide individual advice on these issues.
General advice services, such as citizens advice bureaux and community law centres, may also be able to help (although not all CABs have a specialist employment adviser). Seek legal advice if your employer is causing you difficulties in relation to time off for sickness.