On Tuesday, Dec. 1, the global community celebrated World AIDS Day 2015. It's a day to pay attention to the issues surrounding those 1.2 million Americans who are HIV-positive, and the workplace is home to many of the most important of these issues.
Employees living with HIV must balance two seemingly competing directives. On one hand, there is the need to seek accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires at least some disclosure to employers. On the other hand, however, is the tremendous stigma that HIV and those living with it carry. It can be a tough balance to strike, so it's important to know what your responsibility as an employer is.
EEOC seeks to protect privacy
Documentation recently released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has laid the groundwork for how HIV-positive employees can manage their request for accommodation without compromising their privacy. While not a new law per se, the statement released by the EEOC serves as a public message of support for employees, as well as a reminder to companies of their responsibilities.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the EEOC helped workers resolve 200 cases of HIV/AIDS discrimination, resulting in more than $825,000 worth of damages for affected employees and applicants.
Rules of disclosure
The SHRM noted that employers aren't permitted to ask a potential candidate about a disability until after a job offer has been extended. Past that point, however, it's a bit more gray. Employees don't have to disclose the exact nature of their disability, but at the same time, employers can request medical documentation outlining symptoms if the disability isn't obvious.
Even so, there are methods that employees can take to protect their privacy. For example, the source stated that it's perfectly permissible to disclose more general details of a disability – for example, by declaring that a worker has an "immune condition."
However, this isn't to say that an employee never has to provide a diagnosis, particularly if an employer is unclear as to how a staff member's symptomology or presentation could affect his or her ability to work without accommodation. But there are steps that workers can take to avoid disclosing too much information up front, which can be a welcome recommendation if someone is feeling uneasy about coming forth with his or her disability at work.