Government estimates say more than 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV, the virus believed to cause Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). That population is growing as people become newly infected and as more survive, thanks to evolving drug treatments. The epidemic has hit workplaces hard. In some communities with high-risk populations, such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the infection rate is reported to be as high as one in every 25 workers. Additional recent polls reveal that even these high estimates are unrealistically low.
More than half of our nation’s workers are in the age group most likely to be infected in the future: adults between 25 and 44 years old.
A growing number of employers have attempted to smooth over real and perceived problems with HIV-infected and AIDS-infected workers by holding training sessions and adopting written policies specifically prohibiting discrimination.
Nevertheless, some employers and employees have reacted to the spread of AIDS with panic—and a strong prejudice against working with people who are infected with HIV. Some insurance companies have made that panic worse by restricting health care coverage or dramatically raising premiums for those infected.
While prejudice and skittishness remain, the legal picture for workers with HIV and AIDS is more clear since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, it is clearly illegal for any company employing 15 or more people to discriminate against workers because they are HIV infected or have AIDS. Employers covered by the ADA must also make reasonable accommodations to allow employees with AIDS or HIV to continue working. Such accommodations might include extended leave policies and reassignment to vacant positions that are less physically strenuous or that have flexible work schedules. For more information on the ADA, see Disability Discrimination in the Workplace: The ADA and ADA Amendments: More Protections Against Disability Discrimination.
In addition, many state and local laws make it illegal to discriminate in employment-related matters on the basis of HIV infection or AIDS. To find out whether your state has such a law, contact your state's fair employment practices agency.
See also our article on HIV and AIDS employment testing.