Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) destroys the body’s T-cells; the cells that fight off infection and disease. Once a person’s body has completely lost the ability to fight infection and disease, the HIV infection leads to AIDS – Auto Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is the final stage of HIV, where the individual’s badly damaged immune system becomes highly susceptible to certain cancers and what are known as opportunistic infections (OIs). These OIs can be localized or systemic and are called “opportunistic” because of their [characteristic] for taking advantage of a weakened immune system. As with any infection, OIs cause fevers and fatigue. Some can also cause weight loss, cough, chest pain, headaches, confusion, nausea, and vomiting. Additionally, some OIs have visible symptoms such as discoloration of the skin.
Individuals diagnosed with HIV and AIDS have a long history of discrimination, in day-to-day life and in the workplace. It has been said that persons living with AIDS or HIV are the equivalent of modern day lepers, as they are often feared and ostracized, both personally and professionally. People have been denied service at restaurants, treatment in medical offices, admission to colleges, universities and other academic programs, as well as pervasive discrimination in the workforce.
While individuals living with HIV and AIDS should not interpret every negative interaction with potential and current employers as discrimination, it is [essential] to know the parameters of lawful behavior for an employer. Employers can inquire about various health conditions that effect a potential employee’s ability to perform certain job functions. However, employers are prohibited from asking specifically or directly about HIV/AIDS status. Further, if an individual chooses to disclose this information to a future employer, the employer is required to keep this information strictly confidential. If an employee is offered a job position without having disclosed his or her diagnosis and it is later discovered during a required medical examination, an employee cannot be dismissed.
The symptoms described above have the ability to affect the way an individual living with AIDS or HIV performs at work. Additionally, advances in medicine and technology have made medications available to individuals living with HIV and AIDS, and these individuals are able to lead more active and full lives, less plagued by chronic infection. However, these medications often have serious side effects which may in turn limit a person’s ability to perform his or her job, miss work, or complete assigned tasks. However, fatigue and inability to perform one’s job is not always the case. An individual who is living with HIV or AIDS may be experiencing symptoms, but can still perform their essential job functions if provided with a reasonable accommodation. It is important to know that employers must provide these reasonable accommodations.
AIDS, even if asymptomatic, is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, the 2008 amendments to the ADA [state] that people with HIV and AID can demonstrate they are disabled by showing that their unmedicated HIV/AIDS substantially limits the function of their immune system. Protection under the ADA means that an individual living with AIDS cannot be denied employment or fired because of his or her status as a person with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, employment law protects individuals with a family member or friend with AIDS or HIV from facing discrimination. As persons that suffer from AIDS and have its symptoms are considered disabled, they should contact a disability employment attorney if they have experienced any form of discrimination in the workplace.