When it comes to work, disclosure can be very different from telling friends and family. There are two distinct groups of people to think about at work – your employers (or anyone involved in line-managing you) and your work colleagues. Your employers and anyone who is part of your line-management structure is legally obliged to keep any data (including information about your HIV status) confidential. However, it’s important to remember that this may not always happen.

There are good reasons for informing your employers that you have HIV, because you may need to take time off work for clinic appointments or ill-health. People with HIV are protected under the Equality Act 2010 (which replaced most of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in October 2010). The Equality Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone because they have HIV. However, this doesn’t mean that your employers will not treat you differently once you tell them. Protection in law does not guarantee that you will be treated fairly; it just means that you have legal rights if discrimination occurs. If you decide to inform your employer that you have HIV, do it in writing. Make it clear in your letter that you require the information to be kept confidential, in the same way that all other personal data held about you must be kept confidential, and that you require a written acknowledgement of your letter. Keep your employer’s reply and a copy of your original letter to your employer. In most jobs you don’t need to disclose your HIV status unless it begins to affect your work. If you have a job where disclosure of HIV status is required, such as some medical positions, your employer should have made you aware of this.

If you work for an organisation large enough to have an HR or occupational health department, it may be possible for you to tell them about your HIV status in confidence. This could be useful later down the line if you do need time off work for appointments or because of ill health. The HR or occupational health department may be bound to keep this confidential from your immediate department. Make sure you know their confidentiality policy before you tell them if you don’t want your line manager or department to know.

Your work colleagues are not bound by the same rules of confidentiality as your employers, and there are probably fewer reasons to disclose your status to them. It is more likely that when you disclose to a work colleague, information about your HIV status will be passed on to others. There is very little that your employer can do to prevent this. Only if you then find that your work colleagues are treating you differently can you ask your employer to intervene. Report that behaviour to your line manager and state clearly that you want your employer act on your behalf. Your employer is then legally obliged to intervene. Again, this doesn’t prevent you from being discriminated against by your work colleagues. You do, however, have legal rights if your employer knows you are being discriminated against, and does nothing to prevent it.1

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1 Discrimination In The Workplace. THT (www.tht.org.uk)