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Employees with HIV / AIDS

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People with HIV or AIDS are protected under the American’s with Disabilities Act. Persons with HIV, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, may have physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities, and therefore fall under the ADA. HIV/AIDS, like many disabling conditions, is often not fully understood, which can lead to false assumptions and inappropriate actions by employers and co-workers. The ADA extends protection and prohibits discrimination in all employment practice. The potential impact on employment is significant, since the vast majority of reported AIDS cases fall within the ages of 20-59.

The perception that AIDS and the HIV virus are easily transmitted persists, and it creates unwarranted concerns in many work settings. However, most work situations present almost no realistic risk of transmission of the AIDS/HIV virus. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is "no known risk of HIV transmission to co-workers, clients or consumers from contact in industries such as food service establishments." Restaurants owners may fear that AIDS and HIV could be transmitted by staff involved in the preparation and handling of food, however, the CDC indicate that there is "little or no likelihood that employing persons with HIV/AIDS in food handling positions would pose a risk of transmitting HIV." Employers may consider general health and safety concerns, however these must present a "direct threat" to the safety of the individual or others, and employers are required to individually look at each case based on reliable medical information. In most work settings, concern with the possibility of transmission of HIV will not be a legitimate "direct threat." However, if an individual with AIDS or HIV is impaired in terms of performing specific job tasks, such as experiencing dizziness or nausea that effects the ability to operate power equipment or to drive, then other accommodations may be warranted.

Workplace accommodations focus on the conditions and functional limitations that may come about as a result of AIDS and which pose impediments to employment. Most of the accommodations that may be needed by persons with AIDS are typical of those that would be required for other disabling conditions that impact stamina and endurance.

  • Flexible Work Schedules: Employees may need flexibility in work schedules to allow for time off for doctor visits or periodic rest breaks.
  • Endurance/Physical Stamina: Susceptibility to fatigue can be common with workers required to stand for extended periods of time. Regular rest breaks or the availability of a sit/stand stool are possible accommodations.
  • Alternative Work Arrangements: Individuals may experience nausea caused by medication, which may require flexible schedules or allowances to work at home on a periodic basis. Telework can be a useful option, however this should not be used as a means to isolate or exclude a worker.
  • Environment Access: If individuals require use of wheeled mobility aids, employers may need to provide ramps and clear access paths within the work setting.

With AIDS, as with other disabling conditions, workers are required to inform their employer that they need an accommodation. Disclosing specific information about the nature of the condition is the workers' choice, however employers have the right to request medical documentation of the disability and the limitations that are likely to result. Although co-worker or customer attitudes about AIDS are not "relevant factors" in terms of ADA compliance, this is often a concern for employers. It may be helpful to share some of the following information resources with employers.

Suggested Resources

Concerns on the part of many employers and the general public are understandable in view of the extent of misinformation that continues to surround AIDS and HIV. Informational and educational materials about AIDS and the HIV virus may be useful to share with employers if these concerns are raised.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National AIDS Hotline Phone: 800-342-AIDS Spanish: 800-344-SIDA TTY: 800-243-7889

CDC Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention / National Prevention Information Network Background information, new developments, and educational materials. P.O. Box 6003 Rockville, Maryland 20849-6003 Phone: 800-458-5231

Healthcare Workers and HIV/AIDS Guidelines and recommendations for the management of occupational exposure to HIV.

Department of Justice ADA Homepage

  • General information and technical assistance on workplace accommodations.

  • Information on how AIDS/HIV are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Author: Tony Langton
Affiliation: Originally published in the September 2002 TC Direct Newsletter for the NIDRR-funded Tech Connections project.