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To Disclose or Not to Disclose

There is no right answer about whether or not to disclose your HIV status at work. In keeping silent about your HIV status, you may lessen the risk of confronting discrimination, harassment, ignorance, and rejection by co-workers, but you would not be protected under anti-discrimination laws.

If you disclose, you might feel a greater sense of freedom, support, and understanding from your co-workers, and anti-discrimination laws would protect you. In making your decision, keep in mind that all employees who have a need to know about your HIV status or other medical information are required by law to keep that information confidential.

Discussing the issue of disclosure with trusted friends, family members or a case manager could help you evaluate your situation and choose what is best for you.

Questions to ask before deciding to disclose:

• What are the likely advantages and disadvantages?
• Will it bring you more or less happiness at work?
• Who do you want to tell about your HIV status?
• How much can you trust that person to maintain confidentiality?

If you choose to disclose:

• Decide whom you will tell, think about how he or she might respond and how likely he or she is to keep the information confidential
• Before you speak with your employer, prepare what you want to say, anticipate different reactions and how you would like to respond
• Document everything in writing and keep copies of all correspondence and performance evaluations
• Keep an ongoing journal of how the person(s) that you disclose to responds
• Request in writing that your employer keep all information confidential and that he or she agree on which employees have a need to know
• Get at least one successful performance evaluation in writing, so that you have documentation that there were no work related problems

Always remember that there are federal and state laws that prohibit employment discrimination against people with disabilities, including HIV and AIDS.

If you choose not to disclose:

• Insurance coverage. If you need more information about what your employer-provided health insurance covers with respect to HIV disease, you can contact the insurance provider directly and ask questions anonymously. You do not need to give your name, only the group insurance plan number, which identifies you as an employee of the company.
• Reasonable Accommodation. If the symptoms of HIV disease limit your performance of essential job functions, you can ask your doctor for a letter to give your employer that describes your functional limitations. For example, Miguel cannot lift more than ten pounds or Ana cannot work overtime because of a physical impairment. This may be enough for your employer to grant you reasonable accommodation without needing to disclose your HIV status. If it is not, the employer has a right to demand the diagnosis, but then is legally obligated to keep your diagnosis confidential.
• Leave of absence. Most insurance companies require a diagnosis for employees to qualify for short term or long term disability leave. If symptoms of HIV disease cause you to take a leave of absence, you may not need to share the diagnosis with your employer. Ask your doctor to contact your employer's disability insurance company directly, and include a written request that the diagnosis not be disclosed to the employer.

Further resources:

American Civil Liberties Union
AIDS Project
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004