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HIV/AIDS Discrimination and Stigma

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Know Your Rights If You Have HIV/AIDS

If you have HIV or AIDS, many federal, state, and local laws exist to ensure your right to work, education, and privacy. They also ensure your right to access information, treatment, and support.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful to discriminate based on disability. HIV meets the definition of disability under federal and state laws that protect the disabled from discrimination. This includes protection in employment, housing, government services, and public accommodations.

Your workplace rights. The ADA provides federal protection at work for people who are HIV-positive. Under this law, employees or applicants seeking a job with a company of 15 or more employees may have the following rights:

  • An employer cannot ask an applicant if he or she is HIV-positive unless the person has been offered a job. The employer also cannot demand a medical test before a job offer. They can only do it if all people offered jobs must take the same test.
  • An employer cannot refuse to hire a qualified candidate based on HIV status unless it would pose a direct threat to workers or the public. This threat is very rare.
  • An employer cannot withdraw a job offer unless the HIV illness would prevent the person from doing the job.
  • An employer cannot release information about a person's HIV status. It must be kept confidential.

Under the ADA, an employer may be required to make certain changes to allow a disabled person to do a job. The employer doesn't have to do this if it causes "undue hardship," such as financial strain on a small company.

If you think someone has discriminated against you, keep good written records of what happens to you. Stay calm and continue to do your job. Contact a local HIV service organization for a local attorney or go to www.nela.org or www.aclu.org.

Your health and medical rights. The ADA, as well as some local and state laws, also protects against AIDS discrimination in health care. Here are two of your rights:

  • A health care professional cannot refuse to treat you.
  • A health care professional cannot demand that you say whether or not you are HIV-positive.

If you think someone has discriminated against you because you're HIV-positive, you can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. It enforces federal laws prohibiting AIDS discrimination by health care and human service providers.

Your housing rights. The Fair Housing Act, as well as state and local laws, protects HIV-positive people against housing AIDS discrimination. They prohibit landlords from discriminating against people with disabilities, including HIV. Under these laws:

  • A landlord cannot harass or refuse to rent to someone who is HIV-positive.
  • A landlord cannot evict an HIV-positive tenant except for valid reasons, such as not paying the rent or breaking the lease.

If you think someone has discriminated against you, contact a civil rights attorney right away. Or contact a local organization that provides legal assistance to HIV-positive people.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on August 13, 2012
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