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Comic Relief and Workplace Illnesses

Last Friday was Comic Relief and many businesses will have been doing something funny for money. Sadly we couldn’t because we were packing up for our move two minutes from our current office. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking a short transfer distance is a less stressful move. It isn’t! But elsewhere in the UK, people were running round in pyjamas and red noses and raised £74.3 million, setting a new record-breaking total. Who ever said Brits were a stingy lot with their money?

As always, Comic Relief had a major focus on HIV and Aids; not just in the third world, but here in the UK. Over 100,000 people in the UK are living with the disease, and an estimated 25,000 are reckoned to be unaware of their infection. In the Equality Act, HIV is specified as a disability from the date of diagnosis, regardless of the impact it is having on the person’s life at the time it is diagnosed. Despite campaigns to change people’s attitude, HIV still carried a social stigma and many face discrimination during employment because of it.

When the Equality Act 2010 was still going through Parliament the Lords added a clause which has the general effect of preventing employers from asking any health questions before a prospective employee has been offered a job, except in certain circumstances. This helps people who, but for their disability, would be a good match for the role because they don’t have to disclose data about their health until after a job offer has been made.

There are minimal health and safety risks associated with employing someone with HIV and so there should be no need to ask an employee about HIV status after he has been offered the job (even though it’s technically lawful). If an employee does disclose that he is HIV positive, he has the right for this information to be kept confidential, as the Data Protection Act 1998 specifies that written consent is needed for sensitive personal data to be passed on.

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) commissioned a report, Working with HIV, which found that more than half of respondents living with HIV reported that the disease had had no impact on their work and most had not made any changes to their working lives since diagnosis. Many choose not to disclose the fact that they are suffering from the infection, simply because there is no point. Fear of poor treatment, prejudice and breach of confidentiality are the main reasons why individuals who are HIV positive do not disclose their condition.

Equality legislation means that employers must make reasonable adjustments for workers suffering from a disability, so that they are not treated less favourably than somebody who is able-bodied. If employees choose not to disclose their HIV status to you, and you have no reason to believe that they could be suffering from the condition, then you are under no obligation to make reasonable adjustments. If an employee is suffering from HIV and you are made aware of it, the type of reasonable adjustment you might make could include arranging for the employee to work flexible or reduced hours, to enable him to attend health clinics.

The CIPD has published tips for employers in dealing with employees suffering from HIV, as follows.

  • Make managers aware of the legal entitlements of people living with HIV to have reasonable adjustments to enable them to continue working.
  • HR policies should reflect the needs of people living with HIV at work and will respond appropriately to disclosure by respecting employee confidentiality.
  • Ensure the organisation takes effective steps to tackle HIV-related discrimination in the workplace.
  • Those living with HIV who experience discrimination are supported and encouraged to seek redress through the range of employment disputes available.

Whilst events like Comic Relief go a long way in helping to change people’s perceptions about conditions like HIV, there is still a long way to go. 40% of respondents in the NAT survey believed that had lost a previous job and had been discriminated against after disclosing their HIV status. Every employee should be judged on their ability to do their job – not on their disability.

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