Charlie Sheen just announced he's HIV positive. While Sheen is rich and famous and has all sorts of legal things set up to protect him and his interests, most people with HIV lead much more normal lives. In fact, you may have some people with HIV sitting in the next cubicle and you'd never know it. If you do know it, however, there are laws you must follow. Here's what you need to know about HIV in the workplace.

Yes, you can (and should have) fired Mr. Sheen.

By all reports, Charlie Sheen was difficult to work with. He used drugs and drank and was not responsible and, well, pick up an issue of a gossip magazine if you want the details. The reality is when he lost his job on Two and a Half Men it wasn't because of his HIV status, but because of his behavior.

Having HIV, or another disease or disability, doesn't mean you can be a full-fledged jerk. It doesn't mean you can be a low performer. It does mean that you can't be fired because of your illness (see below), but you an be fired for unrelated reasons.

Treat HIV postive employees like normal humans.

Because they are normal humans. Most infected people aren't like Charlie Sheen. In fact, the CDC says that 1.2 million people in the United States are HIV positive. This means you probably know someone who is infected and you probably treat that person normally. That's how you should treat your employee or coworker who is HIV positive. Like a normal person.

HIV is considered a disability.

Even if an HIV-positive person is otherwise healthy, the courts have ruled that a diagnosis alone is enough to trigger protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means you cannot discriminate against someone who is HIV positive. You can't not hire someone, not promote, or treat that person differently than your other employees. If the person needs accommodations you have to grant them if the request is "reasonable." This law applies to all businesses with 15 or more employees. Some states have lower thresholds.

FMLA applies.

If your employee becomes symptomatic, his medical needs are considered a "serious illness" under FMLA. This law kicks in at 50 employees, and an employee must have worked for your company for at least a year and met minimum hour requirements. However, this isn't just limited to the employee, but his family. If a spouse (same or opposite gender), child, or other household member needs care for his HIV, your employee is entitled to 12 weeks off, just the same as if the employee himself is suffering.

Don't gossip.

Back when the AIDs epidemic started, people were concerned about it being contagious and dying and there was no treatment. Treatment is now extremely successful and it's not contagious when you're engaged in a normal work-based relationship. So, this is not something your whole office needs to know. If you've been let in on the secret, keep it secret. If you're the HR person or Manager who is approving FMLA time or an ADA accommodation request, you don't need to explain to anyone else what is going on. Keep it confidential (as you would all medical issues).

 

Published on: Nov 18, 2015
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