HIV/AIDS in the Workplace

 HIV[1] is the virus that causes AIDS[2], an epidemic that is killing working adults in their prime years with no cure in sight.  In fact, AIDS has become the second leading killer of adults in the United States today.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention <www.hivatwork.org> states that approximately fifty percent of people infected with AIDS today are between the ages of 25 and 44 and are currently employed. In Per Austin/Travis County Health and Human Service Department, there were 4,239 documented cases of HIV/AIDS in 2005, and many were in the workforce.

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AIDS is sweeping across the nation and taking talent from the nations work pool at an alarming rate.  Many employees and employers are unaware of the increasing numbers of their peers that are plagued by this disease because of the lack of education in the workplace.  The effects of insufficient education are and will be costly for all employers in the future years.
The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS yields discrimination in the work environment.  Idle gossip and exclusion are the most prevalent forms of discrimination and often leave those that are infected feeling ostracized from their peers (Dunlap, Mary C, 35).
Other forms of discrimination include, firing, unsupported transfers, and lost promotions.  Employees that are subject to these discriminations based on their illness can suffer from a myriad of problems including, low self esteem, hopelessness, and shame.
The lack of education in the workplace encourages employees and employers to continue discrimination.  Because people bring their bias and prejudices into the workplace, it has become the job and responsibility of the employer’s human resources team to educate its employees on the topic of HIV and AIDS.
Media hype also feeds the beast of discrimination by stereotyping people who are infected by HIV/AIDS and by providing false information about how the disease is transmitted from person to person.
Although information in the last two decades has come a long way to educate the public, the population is still dumb to many facts about the virus and how it affects them in their daily lives when they come in contact with a person who is infected.
The media in the last two decades is redeeming itself by providing truthful information about this disease.  There are many forms of materials from pamphlets, websites, newspaper articles, and public announcements that are now available to business to educate on the epidemic.
These materials squash the myths that HIV/AIDS can be contracted through drinking fountains, toilet seats, and shaking hands.  Those employees that do not have access to this type of information, however, still believe the myths and are still discriminatory against infected peers.
Discrimination against employees that are infected cost employers money due to work disruption, low productivity, and potential legal problems.  “Employers need to recognize that there are talented, motivated people living with HIV/AIDS who can bring valuable expertise to the workplace-and that current valued employees may contract HIV/AIDS.”(Franzoi, 5)
By not recognizing this, employers are setting themselves up for a potentially huge loss.  Employers need to consider the big picture and what this catastrophic illness and the discrimination that comes along with it can mean for their business; because thus far, lawsuits arising from HIV/AIDS is more than any other disease in the history of the nation.
They need to consider insurance and health care cost, job accommodations, disability requirements, and confidentially and privacy laws to name a few.   These effects could cost employers money in the long run.
There are many laws that now protect employees who are infected with HIV and AIDS, but little is known about these laws and how they affect the working community of those who are infected.
The Americans with Disabilities Act “…prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability.” <www.hivatwork.org>  The Family Medical Leave Act allows for protected, unpaid leave from employment for persons with serious illnesses, including HIV/AIDS for up to twelve weeks in a twelve month period; and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects against discriminatory treatments.
Despite the increasing number of laws set up for persons who are infected, education is still needed to reduce legal problems and management errors.
“73% of working Americans surveyed feel that their employers should offer a formal workplace AIDS education initiative.” (Employee) Also, “75% of American adults view their employer as the most reliable source for unbiased, trustworthy HIV education.” (Brown, 2).
The desire for education has been voiced by the working public, so why do employers continue to make policies about HIV and AIDS in the workplace but not take the initiative to develop a formal training program?
The Teacher Retirement Systems of Texas has a policy in place mandated by the state of Texas called Human Immunodeficiency Virus Services Act (1989).
The policy brings awareness that discrimination against people infected with HIV and AIDS will not be tolerated, and the laws that protect them.  This policy is disclosed at the time of hire, but is not reviewed; and a mass email is sent yearly to current employees.
When it comes to formal policy most people do not take the time to review the information on their own; therefore, employees are still ignorant to the facts surrounding HIV and AIDS in the workplace.

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