HIV and workplace discrimination

Interview with Camille Alix, in charge of the VIH info droits Service at COCQ-SIDA
October 15th, 2012

Do people living with HIV still face problems in the job market?
Based on the calls that I get, I can confirm that people living with HIV do still encounter a lot of discrimination and work-related problems, whether it’s at the hiring stage, in the course of workplace relations, or during termination.

What problems do people have getting hired?
At the hiring stage, any questions the employer asks with regards to a person’s health are usually discriminatory. And contrary to what many people still think, in Québec there is no job that requires a person to be HIV-negative. Even in a hospital setting. The rule states that it is legally acceptable only to ask questions pertaining to the abilities necessary to carry out a job. Outside of that context, any question related a person’s HIV status constitutes discrimination. Unfortunately, this rule is rarely respected, and I get a lot of calls from people who have been subjected to these types of questions, or who have been refused a job after revealing their HIV-positive status during an interview or on a medical questionnaire.

And in the course of workplace relations?
The problems encountered are usually related to group insurance and to situations of indirect discrimination.
-Group insurance: For some HIV-positive people, signing up for group insurance can be delicate. I often get calls from people wondering what they should do when the time comes to fill out an insurance form. People are commonly under the impression that they have an obligation to inform their employer about their state of health, since their medical insurance is tied to work. In fact, medical information is strictly confidential, and should stay between the insurer and the insured. Even so, the arrival of an HIV-positive person in a small company can cause everyone’s premiums to go up as a result of the high cost of that person’s care and medication. When premiums go up, it can result in a witch-hunt for the person who caused the hike, the result being anything from harassment, to pressure from the employer or employees to force the person out of the group insurance contract, to termination.
– Indirect discrimination: This form of discrimination occurs when a person is negatively affected by company policies as a result of their disability. Examples of this are restricted numbers of breaks or sick days, the pace of work, or equipment. It happens relatively often that these types of restrictive policies prevent the person living with HIV from accomplishing some or even all work-related tasks, and they are forced to leave that job – either of their own volition, or because they are dismissed. The employer actually has an obligation to take measures to adapt the job to accommodate their employee, but unfortunately they don’t always respect this obligation, to the detriment of HIV-positive people, many of whom are not aware of their rights.

What recourse is there when a person living with HIV is the victim of discrimination or is fired for discriminatory reasons?
Recourse does exist, and should be used. In all these situations, it’s possible to file a complaint with the Commission des droits de la Personne et de la Protection de la Jeunesse. In fact, HIV has been officially recognized as a disability by the Human Rights Tribunal, which means that discrimination is actionable. At the VIH Info Droits service, we support users who choose to go before the Commission: we help them write their complaint and we are by their side throughout the process, which can be long and painful.


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