Dear Ask Lambda Legal,
Q: I have been working at the same company for a few years, and am generally happy there. I recently tested positive for HIV, and was wondering: Could I get fired if my boss found out about my HIV status?
A: In the decades since HIV was discovered, we have learned much more about HIV transmission, and seen enormous strides in the treatments available to individuals living with HIV. Unfortunately, there are many people who are still misinformed about HIV and make judgments and decisions based on unfounded and irrational fears. Even though the short answer to your question is, "No, you should not be be fired because of your HIV status," that doesn't mean that your employer has all the information it needs to make sound decisions if it were to find out that you are HIV-positive.
The Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA ) is the federal law that protects people from employment discrimination based on their HIV status, and would protect you if for some reason your boss found out you were HIV positive and tried to fire you for it. This type of employment protection has been in place for almost 25 years, but unfortunately some employers think they don't have to follow the law. In the state of Georgia in 2012, Chanse Cox was fired from his job as a machine operator on the assembly line at Suncup's orange juice packaging plant because he has HIV. Cox had decided to put an end to rumors about his HIV status by informing his plant manager that he was indeed HIV-positive, but that that had no impact on his ability to perform his duties as a machine operator. Shortly thereafter, Cox was called in to a meeting with management and told that his employment was being terminated as a result of his HIV status.
After consulting with Lambda Legal, Cox filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC ), which conducted an investigation and issued a determination in Cox's favor. Conciliation efforts failed, so the EEOC decided in September 2014 to file suit against Suncup Packaging for violating the ADA. Lambda Legal intervened in the case on Cox's behalf in November of 2014.
Suncup claims that Cox is a threat to the health and safety of others, a preposterous claim based not on sound science or rational concern for other employees, but on unfounded fears. Lambda Legal's Help Desk regularly receives calls from people who are denied employment or basic services because of an unjustified fear of HIV transmission. We've come a long way since the beginning of this epidemic but, in 2014, people still face irrational discrimination all across the country.
If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status, contact Lambda Legal's Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or http://www.lambdalegal.org/help.
Scott Schoettes is HIV project director for Lambda Legal.