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HIV and HR Briefs:

 

Jennifer J. Halpern, Ph.D.

 

DO NOT QUOTE OR DISTRIBUTE WITHOUT PERMISSION

Note: This article refers to New York State regulations and resources. Similar ones are available in your state.

Discussing HIV Status During the Job Interview

Why'd S/He Bring This Up?

There is currently no particular recommendation that HIV+ individuals should or should not reveal their status during a job interview, according to AidsWork of Tompkins County. It is a personal decision.

There are rational reasons why an individual might reveal his/her status, A strong sense of wanting everything to be in the open; or desire not to have the status "discovered" later and be used in any way against him/her are top reasons for revelation. (Of course, using that knowledge against an individual is patently illegal; but some employers may do that anyway and hope to get away with it.)

Other individuals may consider it to be "no one's business", and the law supports that view. Potential employers and employers may not ask about HIV status, no matter how relevant that status is to the work to be performed.

It is possible that an individual might bring up his or her status as a threat--but that would be very conniving on the individual's part.

Even if an individual brings up HIV status voluntarily, the interviewer may not pursue the issue (including asking any questions about why they've mentioned this, problems in past workplaces with it, etc.) If employers have any questions about what can and can't be discussed (e.g., if the candidate wants to discuss it further), it's wise to call:

NYS PartNer Assistance Program (PNAP) 800-541-2437.

 

The Basic Rules

Discussing a Job Candidate's HIV status

It is prohibited to reveal a job candidate's or employee's name in conjunction with his/her HIV status. Only specific medical and government personnel; parents, and any person to whom a court orders disclosure may have access to this information. Disclosure of the information is generally permitted only after a form approved by the NYS Department of Health is signed by the individual authorizing the release of the HIV-related information.

This is a single-use release, and the form has a statement prohibiting redisclosure.

There are "Breach of HIV Confidentiality Forms" available from the NYS Department of Health.

 

HR Policies

To protect your company from accusations and possible lawsuits, it may be worth while reviewing your interview protocols. Structured interviews have the virtue of being the same for everyone, and allowing the company to be able to compare and contrast answers in a "structured" fashion. The best answers, as anticipated by the company, are provided by the best candidate, regardless of his/her health status.

In addition, structured interviews remove the temptation of following lines of thought presented by the candidate which might be, as in this case, legally questionable.

Interviews should be thoroughly documented for the legal protection of the company.

If you do not use structured interviews, and want to pursue whether the individual is protecting him/herself or threatening the interviewer, the most reasonable course is to use test questions about legally acceptable topics. Does the individual seem deceptive or devious in talking about past work experiences? Does s/he accept deceptive behavior as a modus operandi? One technique could be to create a scenario in which deceptive behavior was used, and see how the individual responds to it, for example. This could become a standard part of a structured interview, in fact.

 

HIV and the WorkPlace

The NYS Health Department defines "significant risk" of contracting or transmitting HIV infection only in cases of sexual intercourse, sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia; gestation, birthing, breastfeeding when the mother is HIV infected; and rarely, transfusion or transplantation of blood, organs, etc. obtained from an infected individual.

Circumstances that do not involve significant risk include: exposure to urine, saliva, sweat, tears, vomitus that do not contain blood visible to the naked eye; or exposure of intact skin to blood or any other body substance.

Notice that this listing does not categorize the risk inherent in exposure of broken skin to blood or any other body substance.

Blood that has dried "overnight" no longer carries any danger of transmitting infection, according to AidsWork. Blood merely "wiped off" of an item--it is not dry, nor sterilized--still may carry a transmission risk.

 

Standard Precautions

Since it is illegal to ask about HIV status, medical establishments and other organizations in which the spread of infection is a possibility use "standard precautions". All personnel are treated the same.

The standard medical precautions are:

Health and Safety in the Lab or Machine Room

The situation in the lab or the machine room or other places where an engineer or other employee might anticipate cuts or scrapes on an accidental, but somewhat regular, basis to is different from either the medical setting or the basic office. A review of your company's health and safety practices might be called for. This may be done with the assistance of NYS Dept of Health.

Some ideas to limit exposure:

 

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Sources:

  1. AidsWork, Tompkins County. 2001.

Copyright 2001 ZevGroup. Further information about the contents of this report is available upon request from Jennifer J. Halpern, Ph.D.