Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yes, Discrimination Against HIV+ Employees Still Exists

The US has laws on the books that prevent on-the-job discrimination against employees working in the States who are living with HIV. It's fantastic legislation that I have been grateful for since my positive test result in January, 2009. I have felt secure since then because I felt that I would be be protected in the workplace.  Maybe I shouldn't have that false sense of security, as it is plain that discrimination is still taking place.
One former employee isn't smiling.

One HIV-positive man in a Michigan dental office called Great Expressions is now alleging that his employees and coworkers, once they found out he carried the virus, created a horribly uncomfortable environment at work. They sprayed him with Lysol, ordered him to not touch doorknobs, and eventually fired him over his serostatus.
Lawyers for James White have called his case the worst case of alleged HIV-related job discrimination they have ever handled. According to White, who was an office assistant at Great Expressions Dental Center, his superiors leaked news of his HIV-positive status to fellow coworkers, several of whom began spraying White with Lysol, prohibiting him from touching doorknobs, and wiping down office furniture and equipment after he used it. Finally, during a stint in the hospital to seek care for his HIV, Great Expressions allegedly called White and told him not to return to work.
White has already sought legal action against Great Expressions, with the Detroit chapter of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that there was probable cause to believe that the office discriminated against him because of his serostatus. Great Expressions has ignored the ruling, however a petition has been created with 37,500 signatures at the time of this writing demanding an apology from the administrators of the office.

Just to be clear about the law in the US regarding HIV-positive employees, I got this clarification from the website for the National Association of Social Workers:
Individuals with disabilities are protected under the Americans with DisabilitiesAct (ADA). Persons with HIV, whether they have outwardly manifested symptoms or not, are considered to have physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. Therefore, the ADA covers them.The ADA gives federal civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities. It also guarantees equal opportunity in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications. Recent court decisions and pending legislation may affect this protection of HIV-positive people against discrimination.

Equal Employment Opportunity Laws (EEOP) cover all private employers, state and local governments, and education institutions that employ 15 or more individuals. They also cover private and public employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor management committees controlling apprenticeship and training.

[Employment practices covered by the ADA] include hiring, firing, job application procedures, job interviews, job assignment, training and promotions, and wage benefits, including health insurance, leave, and other employment related activities.Employers who know an employee is HIV-positive are required to make "reasonable accommodations" for that person.
Great Expressions is clearly violating the law as mandated by the federal government.

People are often taken aback with my willingness to disclose my status, and James White is a perfect example why. People can't hold prejudices or unfair stigma against people living with HIV when someone they like or respect is open about their serostatus. I look forward to the day when this sort of disgusting harassment ends.


  1. We need an answer from Great Expressions. Please sign this petition.

  2. I just want to remind everyone that the law does not prevent discrimination it simply provides a legal course of action against those who participate in said discrimination. Also, the EEOC found merit in a lawsuit they did not however find that the law had indeed been broken in an legal sense. The EEOC simply tells both parties of such a charge that whether or not it feels there have been rules broken and if so (as in this case) it is telling the employee that you certainly have merit for a law suit and the employer that they may want to look into settling the case and correcting their behavior.