Your rights at work

Disclosure is often talked about in the context of friends, family and lovers but what about disclosure at work?

Workplace disclosure raises a completely different set of issues. I remember getting into a heated debate with a cousin who demanded that people whose work involves interacting with children e.g. teachers, nannies should have mandatory HIV tests.

My knowledge on this issue is limited (lawyers help me out here!) but as far as I am aware and according to Malawi’s National HIV and Aids Workplace Policy (June 2010), employees are under no legal obligation to disclose their status to employers and employers cannot demand mandatory HIV tests from their employees. The policy states: “HIV testing or any form of screening for HIV should not be required of workers, including migrant workers, jobseekers and job applicants.”

At present, the majority of employees avoid disclosing their HIV or Aids status, as they fear discrimination, stigma or other forms of victimisation such as being left out of activities.

Nevertheless, there are many benefits of telling your employer such as access to company programmes (if available) for people living with HIV e.g. nutritional or financial support, medical schemes, or will and death benefits.

Your employer knowing can also make them more understanding if you are away from work for extended periods of time as a result of illness. If you become physically unable to carry out your duties in that particular job, they may move you to different duties.

If you do disclose your status to your employer, they are obligated to maintain outmost confidentiality. However, you may prefer to keep information about your health confidential in order to avoid discrimination or having to deal with colleagues’ attitudes towards HIV.

Disclosure of HIV status can bring peace of mind but only in a safe and supported workplace. Employers, employees will only feel sufficiently safe to test and disclose their status if there is a clear and demonstrated commitment to human rights for workers living HIV.

For this to happen, employers need clear policies on HIV and Aids in the workplace that ensure non-discrimination and protect confidentiality. They also need workplace programmes that offer concrete benefits to HIV positive employees, such as information, care, support and access to treatment.

The government’s workpace policy states that “workers have the right to work in an environment that protects them from stigma, discrimination, unwarranted dismissals.”

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