Today' s treatments help people with HIV and AIDS live longer, more productive lives, but manycompanies haven' t kept up with the good news.
"Employers make the mistake of thinking, ' Oh, Bob has HIV; we need to train Bob' s replacement.' Butthese are people with experience who have a lot to contribute" to the workplace, says Sherryl Zemo, business and labor resource service coordinator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
And many employees who have already gone out on disability, "because of new treatments, are comingback to work," she says.
Back in the workplace they often face misinformation and fear. To counter that, the CDC developed theBusiness Responds to AIDS Program to help companies create their own comprehensive AIDS in theWorkplace programs. The program includes a manager' s kit that addresses legal and insurance questions.
Companies need to understand that the Americans with Disabilities Act covers persons with AIDS, Zemosays. "In one way it' s just like accommodation in other areas - you generally can rely on what the doctorrecommends. When an employee discloses his or her status, often the person has a doctor' s letter in handto tell what the symptoms are and how to accommodate them.
"It can be that the person needs to go to the lunchroom to take medication with food. It might be the need torest at work or to work from home some days. It can mean something as simple as a more flexible workschedule so the person can make doctor' s appointments."
And while the privacy issues are no different than with any other illness, "it is still less sociallyacceptable than heart disease or other life-threatening illnesses," according to Zemo. So the CDCprovides basic educational material for co-workers and their families.
People with HIV and AIDS may be living longer, but the news still isn' t good, Zemo emphasizes. "Thereare still 40,000 new infections every year. The pandemic is getting worse, and so the likelihood of HIV inthe workplace is increasing."
(To order a Business Responds to AIDS kit call 800-458-5231 or visit the Business Responds to AIDS website.)
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