Starting in a new workplace is daunting enough without worrying if you need to disclose your HIV status to your new employer. Some of us are comfortable disclosing our status and have no issue telling people. However, for others, especially newly diagnosed people living with HIV, knowing how to disclose or even if you need to at all can be overwhelming.
Generally, in NSW, you are not legally bound to disclose your HIV status to any employer or potential employer. There are very few situations where you can be legally asked about your status and may be required to have a HIV test. These include joining the Australian Defence Force (ADF), employment in aviation (commercial, domestic, international) and working as a Health Care Worker (HCW).
HCWs must always follow standard universal precautions procedures which means they treat all patients or clients universally, as if everyone was already living with HIV, hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HCV), and other blood-borne viruses (BBVs) to prevent HIV transmission. They must also report all HIV exposure incidents such as needlestick injuries, but can continue to work without any restrictions unless performing EPPs (Exposure Prone Procedures). EPPs are any procedures performed in a confined body cavity where there is poor visibility which pose a risk of cutting yourself with a sharp tool, tooth, or bone.
If you decide to disclose in the workplace, it’s recommended that you carefully consider all your options before you do. While your current supervisor or manager may be understanding, once your status is on file or known in the workplace, you can’t get that information back once it’s been disclosed. Your next supervisor may have a different view which can cause complications later down the track. Even so, all employers have a duty to always maintain employee confidentiality and are bound by the Federal Privacy Act 1988.
If you are applying for a new role, or filling out induction forms, depending on the job or the workplace you may come across a question relating to prescription medications. While HIV antiretrovirals (ARVs) are prescription medications, you do not need to list these on the forms. This question is asked in regards to any medications that are either mood-altering (antidepressants such as Valium) or impact your cardiac health such as blood pressure medications, cholesterol, or other heart medications.
The reason your employer may be asking this varies depending on the type of job you are applying for. You’re likely to find this question if you are going to be operating heavy machinery, working in a health care setting, or driving long distances. Others want to know this as a duty of care, should something happen to you, they would then be able to provide crucial information to emergency responders.
Some people living with HIV take a sick leave day when they go for their general 3- or 6-monthly HIV check-up. Most employers will require you to provide a medical certificate when you take sick leave. In this case, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor to leave off any HIV identifying terms or language and instead state something around ‘general check-up and pathology’. This is entirely true and should not be seen as misrepresenting your doctor’s visit. It is also about protecting your privacy and your doctor should understand this.
Some industries enforce random drug tests which are strategies to see if you have been using illicit substances (such as meth, pot, MDMA) which can endanger yourself or colleagues in the workplace. HIV ARV medications, particularly efavirenz (a potent HIV medication that lowers viral load and increases CD4+ counts) sometimes cause a false positive result for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in cannabis, and the prescription medication benzodiazepine (benzos) will prompt the medical examiner to inform your employer.
If this happens, a letter from your HIV doctor indicating that you are on prescription medication that may cause a false positive drug test is advisable. By law, you cannot be tested for HIV without your specific consent.
If you are dismissed or prevented from undertaking certain duties that are relevant to your role because of your HIV status, this may amount to unlawful discrimination and legal advice should be sought within 21 days of dismissal.
So, unless you are performing surgery, flying jumbo jets, or defending our freedoms, you do not need to legally disclose your HIV status to any employer unless you personally feel it is safe to do so and your privacy will be kept intact. If you have any questions about living with HIV and navigating your employment options or decisions about disclosure, you can get in touch with Positive Life NSW on (02) 9206 2177, 1800 245 677 (freecall) or drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Positive Life NSW also offers Employment and Vocational Support for all people living with HIV in NSW to explore your study, training, paid (casual, part-time or full-time) or voluntary work options. If you feel you have been discriminated against because of your HIV status, or your privacy has been breached, you can contact Positive Life for a referral to lawyers who can offer you more legal support and advice about your situation.