Not only has discrimination against individuals with HIV and AIDS reared its head in the employment context, issues of discrimination with health insurance and medical care of infected persons have become increasingly urgent. The ADA's coverage extends to many of these situations.

Persons with AIDS and HIV are covered under the ADA if they are disabled. If their symptoms substantially limit one or more major life activities or if they are regarded as disabled because they carry the disease, they are protected by ADA provisions. A person who is fired based on rumors that he or she is HIV-positive, even if he or she is not, is likewise protected by the ADA.

Employers must make reasonable accommodations for individuals who are HIV-positive and protected by the ADA. Some typical accommodations include:

  • additional breaks because of increasing tiredness
  • working from home on days where medication causes frequents bouts of nausea
  • installation of ramps because of wheelchair, scooter, walker use or inability to navigate safely on existing stairs and pathways
  • provision for sitting where standing is difficult
  • time off for doctor's appointments

The ADA also protects individuals who have been denied access to certain facilities because of HIV. For example, public schools cannot exclude HIV-positive children, and nursing homes and county hospitals must accept HIV-positive patients.

My husband is HIV-positive, and I believe I did not get a job because the employer knew about his illness. Am I protected under the ADA?

Yes. The ADA protects persons who are discriminated against simply because they have a relationship or known association with an individual who is HIV-positive.

My employer's customers have become aware of my HIV diagnosis and are threatening to take their business elsewhere. Is this a legitimate reason to fire me?

No. Loss of customers or business due to your disease is not a legal justification for terminating your employment. The attitudes of co-workers are likewise irrelevant.

I have HIV, and my employer wants to isolate me for the safety and health of other employees and customers. Is this reasonable?

No. Although the health of others can be considered, it can only be used to isolate you if you are a "direct threat." You must pose a substantial risk of harm to other individuals through a showing of medical proof that a risk actually exists. Your employer cannot just assume you are a threat.

Sidebar: Because HIV is not transmitted through casual contact, the typical workplace may not legitimately discriminate against the HIV-positive employee on the basis of health and safety risks.

TIP: HIV is not on the list of infectious and communicable diseases that prohibit the hiring of food handlers with such illness.

Can I be required to take an HIV test when I interview for a job?

No. Prior to an actual job offer, employers cannot require applicants to undergo medical testing or exams. After the job offer, you may be required to undergo medical testing if other employees were also required as a condition of employment.

I told my employer that I am HIV positive and was offered a job. However, I have been told I am not eligible for medical benefits. Is this true?

No. You are entitled the same benefits any other employee in your position receives. However, if your health care insurance at work has a $100,000 cap for everyone, you may not claim discrimination if yours is not more than others'.

TIP: HIV is a pre-existing condition in many insurance scenarios and is legally excluded from coverage on that basis, assuming no pre-existing conditions are covered for any employee.

My dentist learned that I have HIV and is refusing to treat me. Is this a violation of the ADA?

Yes. A person whose practice is open to the public such as a lawyer, doctor, hair stylist, or decorator cannot refuse to accept you as a client on the basis of your HIV status.

Sidebar: Illegal discrimination also exists where HIV-positive individuals, including children, have not been allowed in restaurants, health clubs, daycare centers and bowling alleys, on public transportation or use of funeral home facilities.

What do I do if I believe I have been discriminated against because of my HIV-positive medical condition?

File a complaint following the procedures outlined under the ADA. The complaint must be filed with the proper agency no later than 180 days after the alleged discrimination took place. If the discrimination occurred in the workplace, file the complaint with the EEOC. If the discrimination occurred in some other context, contact the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice or:

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

Civil Rights Division

Disability Rights Section-NYAV

Washington, D.C. 20530


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