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HIV/AIDS and Employment Discrimination

Americans living with HIV or AIDS may face discrimination based on their health status in many areas of life—including employment. Fortunately, federal and state laws protect against discrimination.

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS is prohibited by federal law.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), HIV/AIDS qualifies as a "disability," even if asymptomatic, and employers are prohibited from discriminating on that basis:

  • The law applies even if a person is only perceived to be HIV-positive or to have developed AIDS
  • The law covers all public employers and those private employers with 15 or more employees, and prohibits discrimination in all employment practices such as hiring, firing, application procedures, job assignment, training, promotions, wages and benefits.
  • A person is protected by the ADA if they meet legitimate employment requirements and can perform essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.
  • A reasonable accommodation is any modification which would not be significantly difficult or expensive in relation to the size of the employer. A potential loss of customers or co-workers because an employee has HIV/AIDS does not constitute an undue hardship.
  • Although an employer can always consider health and safety when making employment decisions, HIV transmission will very rarely be considered a legitimate direct threat to safety.
  • Although an employer may inquire about health conditions that interfere with job performance, the employer is prohibited from inquiring about HIV status.If medical information/HIV status is disclosed (e.g., to request an accommodation), the ADA requires that information to be kept confidential.

What if you have been the victim of discrimination based on HIV/AIDS Status?

An applicant or employee may file a complaint with the nearest Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Office within 180 days of the discriminatory incident. The EEOC will investigate and attempt to correct the problem. It may also issue the employee a "right to sue" letter, which allows the victim to sue the employer directly in federal court for violations of the ADA.

Many states also prohibit discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, which could provide an additional basis for resolution. Your local EEOC will be familiar with your state’s particular employment discrimination law.