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Myths and facts about HIV/AIDS in the Workplace

Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs

Many HIV-positive people are abused and shunned by their co-workers and employers, due to the many misperceptions people have concerning HIV/AIDS. This article aims to combat discrimination by dispelling some common myths around the disease.

The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS is caused by a lack of accurate information. Educate yourself and your employees about HIV/AIDS and make sure your work environment is accepting of HIV-positive employees.

MYTH: "AIDS does not have any effect on my business."
FACT: HIV/AIDS is affecting business by diminishing the workforce and contributing to poverty, which decreases the demand for supplies and services. There is also the indirect cost incurred due to increased absenteeism, lower productivity and the time lost by having to recruit new workers and then train them.

MYTH: "If I find out a member of my staff is HIV-positive, I'll simply dismiss him".
FACT: According to the Employment Equity Act, an employer cannot dismiss someone simply because he has HIV, even if other employees refuse to work with that person. This is called wrongful dismissal and the employee is entitled to take legal action against you.

MYTH: You can get HIV by working with an HIV-positive person.
FACT: People working together, even in very close contact, do not risk transmitting HIV unless they engage in activities that put an infectious body fluid (blood, sperm or breast milk) into direct and intimate contact with someone else's mucous membranes or bloodstream.
It's important that First Aid kits (which include protective gloves) are available in the workplace, and that employees are trained to prevent HIV transmission when helping an injured person (See article on Universal Precautions in the workplace).

MYTH: "Once I find out an employee is HIV-positive, I should starting looking for a replacement immediately".
FACT: HIV-positive people can live indefinitely by leading a healthy lifestyle and then taking anti-retroviral medication when it becomes necessary. These employees can live active, productive lives long after they have become infected.

MYTH: "If an employee tells me he/she has HIV, it's my duty to inform the rest of my staff."
FACT: An HIV-positive has the right to privacy and confidentiality regarding their status. It is illegal to disclose someone's HIV status without his or her written permission.

MYTH: "There's nothing I can do about HIV/AIDS in my company."
FACT: There are many positive steps employers and employees can take to deal with the HIV and AIDS epidemic. These include:

  • Developing a workplace HIV/AIDS programme that includes awareness campaigns, condom distribution, treatment of sexually transmitted infections and access to treatment for HIV-positive staff members
  • Negotiating benefits such as medical aid, insurance, retirement benefits and disability cover in the interests of all employees
  • Allowing workers the time to seek treatment. After all, a health employee is a productive one

MYTH: I just don't have the money to implement a workplace HIV programme.
FACT: There are many governmental, non-profit and religious organisations that provide education, testing and treatment services at little or no cost. The benefits of such a programme in terms of productivity, improved employee moral, retention of staff and so on, far outweighs the time and financial investment you make.

Discriminating against HIV-positive workers or colleagues is illegal. Educate yourself and your staff about HIV/AIDS so you can make the work environment safer and so that fear doesn't make you treat an HIV-positive person differently.

Copyright © 2016 Business Partners Ltd.  All rights reserved.

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