One of the followers of this blog page had asked that I address the right of people living with HIV/AIDS in the workplace. His specific question was that “If an employee is diagnosed to be HIV positive, should his or her employment be determined on the basis of risk to other employees, the psychological effects of such discovery on the employee himself and the effect of such knowledge to the customers?” On probing further, he said his company operates in the hospitality and catering sub-sector and the staff in question works in the kitchen as a Kitchen Assistant. Her duties involve supporting the chefs with menu preparation and sometimes with the cooking. According to him, the employee in most cases works with knives, graters and cooking utensils.
The fear expressed by this reader is understandable especially if we consider the sensitive nature of the job handled by the employee in question. However, without being sentimental I want us to examine the position of law, employment processes and some basic regulations that are needed in the workplace to protect the organization, its employees and the customers at large.
It is important to state here that International laws, conventions, and Acts of parliaments prohibit discrimination against people living with HIV in the workplace. This simply implies that an organization will be acting contrary to law if they denied employment to an applicant on the ground that such a person is HIV positive or sacked an employee on the notion that he or she is HIV positive.
You would realize my deliberate use of the word HIV as against AIDS in the presiding paragraph; this is intentional because of the sensitive nature of this topic and also an attempt not to send a wrong signal to readers and HR practitioners in particular.
The question here is, could an employee be sacked based on the report or proven case of HIV, the answer is no. Could the same be said of a case of an employee with AIDS? We may have to probe further by making a distinction between HIV and AIDS.
HIV AND AIDS, WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES OR SIMILARITIES?
WHAT IS HIV?
By simple definition, HIV means “Human Immunodeficiency Virus” HIV is a virus that attacks and has the capacity to damage the human immune system. The immune system helps the body fight off infection; however, untreated HIV could lead to a breakdown in the ability of the body to defend itself against opportunistic infections.
It should be noted that HIV does not kills, however, because of its ability to attack and reduce the capacity of vital body cells such as the “helper T Cells” macrophages and dendritic cells it could degrade the victim’s immune system and progress to AIDS that ultimately create rooms for opportunistic infections that kill if not properly treated and managed.
WHAT IS AIDS?
AIDS or TYPE-3-HIV means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. And, according to Wikipedia, “AIDS is a condition in humans in which progressive failure of the immune system allows life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive.” AIDS is seen as an advanced stage of HIV. It should also be noted that not all HIV cases are likely to develop or result in AIDS. However, medical research has shown that an HIV positive person with a CD4 count below 200 per cubic millimeter will be diagnosed with AIDS.
The risk factor to the victim is huge at this stage because of the absence of a cure for AIDS and with damages to the human immune system, opportunistic infections as common as pneumonia, malaria or other common diseases could kill the victim.
Click to continue to WHAT LEVEL OF RISK IS ASSOCIATED WITH A VICTIM OF HIV OR AIDS?