Working with HIV
With proper care and treatment, many people living with HIV lead normal, healthy lives, including having a job. Most people living with HIV can continue working at their current jobs or look for a new job in their chosen field. Your overall well-being and financial health can be more stable when you are gainfully employed.
Getting a New Job or Returning to Work
Working will affect a lot of your life: your medical status, your finances, your social life, the way you spend your time, and perhaps even your housing or transportation needs. Before taking action on getting a new job or returning to work, you may want to get information and perspectives from:
- Your HIV case manager or counselor, if you have one
- Benefits counselors at an HIV service organization or other community organization
- The Social Security Administrations Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program (WIPA)
- Other people living with HIV who are working, or have returned to work
- Providers of any of your housing, medical, or financial benefits
- Public and non-profit employment and training service providers
Here are some questions to discuss with them:
- What are my goals for employment?
- What kind of work do I want to do?
- What are the resources that can help me set and achieve a new career goal?
- Are there state or local laws that further strengthen anti-discrimination protections in the American Disabilities Act (ADA)?
- How do I access training or education that will help me achieve my goals?
- How can I plan to take care of my health if I go to work?
- How will my going to work impact the benefits I am receiving?
Requesting Reasonable Accommodations
Qualified individuals with disabilities, including people living with HIV, have the right to request reasonable accommodations in the workplace. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables a qualified person with a disability to apply for or perform a job. An accommodation may be tangible (for example, a certain type of chair) or non-tangible (for example, a modified work schedule for someone with a medical condition requiring regular appointments with a health care provider). You are qualified if you are able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.
Your supervisor may not be trained in reasonable accommodations or know how to negotiate them. For that reason, often its best to go directly to the person responsible for human resources at your employer, even if that person works in a different location. In a small business, that person may well be the owner.
When you request an accommodation, state clearly what you need (for example, time off for a clinic visit every third Tuesday of the month, a certain type of chair, or a change in your work hours) and be ready to supply a doctors note supporting your request. The initial note need not contain your diagnosis, but it should verify that you are under that doctors care and that he/she believes you need the accommodation to maintain your health or to be able to fulfill essential functions of your job.
Many people living with HIV do not want to give a lot of details about their health. If you prefer not to provide a lot of information, you may want to limit the medical information you initially give to your employer. However, if your need for accommodation is not obvious, your employer may require that you provide medical documentation to establish that you have a disability as defined by the ADA, to show that the employee needs the requested accommodation, and to help determine effective accommodation options. This can, but often does not, include disclosing your specific medical condition.
Be aware that not all people with HIV or AIDS will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few or simple accommodations. The U.S. Department of Labors (DOL) Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free, expert, and confidential technical assistance to both employees and employers on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, which includes resources for employees living with HIV or AIDS. See AskJAN.org, or call 800-526-7234 (voice) or 877-781-9403 (TTY) for one-on-one guidance.