Although healthcare workers should be more educated about HIV and its transmission than people without medical training, HIV-positive nurses still face discrimination in the workplace. Most nursing tasks performed with the appropriate personal protective equipment protect both the nurse and the patient from infection. Unfortunately, despite the low risk and laws against discrimination, many HIV-positive nurses still find themselves targets in the workplace.
As a nurse, you are not required to disclose your HIV status to your employer. If you do decide to tell your supervisor or human resources department that you are HIV positive, this information must be kept confidential and may not be included in your personnel records. In some cases, state disclosure laws may require you to disclose your status in certain situations. For example, if a patient is exposed to a nurses blood or bodily fluids, HIV testing and disclosure may be required.
Discrimination Is Prohibited
The Americans With Disabilities Act considers HIV to be a disability and protects you from discrimination. This includes asking your status during an interview, refusing to hire based on the condition, terminating your employment and harassment on the job. If you work in a nursing position or specialty that poses a direct threat to patients, you might be refused employment or have employment terminated in these cases. For example, you might not be able to work as a surgical nurse or treat trauma patients with open wounds.
The Americans With Disabilities Act entitles you to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. For example, you might request a break at a specified time to take medication or a modified work schedule to attend doctor appointments. Employers must grant the accommodation as long as you can still perform the essential functions of your job and it doesn't cause undue hardship. You might also qualify for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act. If approved, you will receive up to 12 weeks of leave each year for your health condition. FMLA leave is not paid; however, it does protect your job and your health insurance policy.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your HIV-positive status, you may file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights within 180 days of the discrimination. Be sure to document all instances of harassment and discrimination. You may also consider filing a private lawsuit against your employer.
- Nursing Times: Nurses with HIV: Fear and Loathing on the Frontline
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health: Your rights as a woman with HIV/AIDS
- Massachusetts Nurses Association: The Patient's Right to Know the HIV Status of the Health Care Provider
- AIDS Legal Council of Chicago: HIV in the Workplace, Your Legal Rights
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Know the Rights That Protect Individuals With HIV and AIDS
- AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania: HIV-Positive Nursing Assistant Settles Employment-Discrimination Claim
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