Weighing the Decision
The decision to disclose your HIV status at work is a deeply personal choice that can have both positive and negative outcomes, so think carefully about the pros and cons before you act.
One benefit of disclosing at work is that it can create supportive relationships with your coworkers. On the other hand, telling people that you are living with HIV may have the opposite effect and cause your colleagues to treat you differently. You have to be the judge of which outcome is more likely.
If you decide to disclose to one or more of your coworkers, think carefully about which individuals to tell and how to tell them. Should you tell your boss or the Human Resources Department before you talk to your coworkers? Should you tell your entire work team about your diagnosis or just disclose to individuals? It’s good to have a plan in mind before you start telling your colleagues.
Help in Your Workplace
If you aren’t sure how to handle disclosing your HIV status at work, many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) intended to help employees deal with personal issues that affect work their performance, health, or well-being. EAP services are free of charge and usually available for an employee’s immediate family as well. Issues and information that you discuss with an EAP provider remain confidential from your employer, unless the service is mandated by your employer for corrective purposes (such as dealing with substance abuse issues).
Discrimination is Illegal
Although there are pros and cons to disclosing your HIV status to your coworkers, it’s important to keep in mind that workplace discrimination based on HIV status is illegal.
The following laws may apply to people living with HIV/AIDS:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standards
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
- State, county, and municipal laws on HIV testing, discrimination, etc.
If you are experiencing discrimination after disclosing your status, there are resources available to assist you. For more information, see CDC’s Business and Labor Respond to AIDS-HIV is Still at Work .
Frequently Asked Questions
I just got a job as a nurse. Do patients need to be informed that I’m HIV-positive?
Probably not, unless a patient is somehow exposed to your bodily fluids. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s (ACOEM) guidelines state: "ACOEM does not support notification of patients of a healthcare worker's serological status with respect to HIV unless an exposure has taken place. However, because some healthcare workers perform medical procedures in which there is a small risk of viral transmission to patients, they are subject to additional guidelines." For more information, see CDC’s Business Responds to AIDS/Labor Responds to AIDS: Policy & Legal FAQs.
I accidentally picked up my coworker's drink and drank it after she did. She has HIV—do I need to be tested?
No. HIV is NOT transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings. HIV is not transmitted through shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a doorknob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. For more information, see CDC’s Business Responds to AIDS/Labor Responds to AIDS: Transmission & Workplace FAQs.
- CDC - Preventing Occupational HIV Transmission to Healthcare Personnel
- CDC - Global AIDS Program: About Our Work: Private-Public Partnerships and Workplace Programs
The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS is compiling documentation on multinational corporations’ “best practices” for HIV/AIDS policies and programs.
Last revised: 08/24/2009