"A cultural change is needed in workplaces. Simple, proactive steps by employers to show they are understand HIV and would be supportive of disclosure will have a dramatic effect on the working lives of people with HIV.”
National AIDS Trust
People living with HIV across the globe are living, working, and volunteering more than ever before. Whilst in some countries such as the UK, the Equalities Act (2010) added further protections to those living with HIV, yet many employers are unaware that HIV is included within this legislation as a hidden disability (Dalton, 2017). Globally, living with HIV is not always a protected characteristic under law, and many employees and volunteers face HIV-related stigma in their places of work or volunteering as a result.
A glance at employment data for people living with HIV, reveals some worrying trends:
A significant proportion of people living with HIV felt stigmatised and had experienced HIV-related discrimination at work. This had a substantial effect on wellbeing; with around half reporting feelings of shame, guilt, or self-blame in relation to their HIV status in the last year - whilst one in five reported having felt suicidal.
A fifth of respondents who had disclosed their HIV positive status at work had experienced discrimination in their current or previous job.
12% of participants had decided not to apply for, or turned down, employment or a promotion due to their HIV status.
Over half (52%) of working respondents reported they had told no one in their workplace about their HIV status (Stigma Survey, 2015).
However, social attitudes toward HIV are beginning to change. The National AIDS Trust (2021) found that people living with HIV are generally more satisfied with their working lives than ever before, and are able to play an important part in the workforce. Positively, over half of those surveyed (58%) felt that HIV had no impact on their working life, and where organisations do need to make adjustments these are simple and inexpensive to accommodate.
Whilst this is encouraging news, evidence still shows that in the UK, and globally, stigma towards people living with HIV continues to persist in society, especially within places of employment. Stigma towards a co-worker or volunteer who has been open about their HIV status can, in turn, then impact on that person’s mental wellbeing, affecting their performance and their level of engagement within the organisation.
By ensuring that the workforce is educated and informed about HIV, through the Positive Allies Declaration, this situation can be avoided. We are a visible way of showing future and current employees and volunteers, that your organisation is tackling HIV-related stigma. Click below to find out how to sign the Positive Allies Declaration.
“I wasn’t well educated on HIV and on the legal situation around HIV at work, but I felt that it was my duty to inform my employers in case I needed time off for medical or appointments or in case I ended up cutting myself at work and spilling some blood, so I told my boss. She was sympathetic and understanding but felt that she had to tell the Deputy Manager. The DM was known for not being particularly discreet and so I ask that the information be kept confidential. I was also worried about the impact others knowing of my HIV status may have on my career. The DM was also equally sympathetic when she was told.
However, two weeks later, when I went into work I noticed people acting differently towards me, as if I was wearing a chicken on my head! I had no idea they knew, but I was getting those pitying tilted head looks. I collared one particular girl I was close to and she teared up and told me that everybody knew I had 'AIDS.' My boss said it had not come from her. The DM admitted that she had shared the information over a glass of wine with a friend in the workplace. When I asked the friend, he admitted telling others and said he wasn’t aware that it was meant to be a secret.”
Former employee of a theatre in London, UK
What do people living with HIV say?
Read further testimonials from people living with HIV and their experiences of employment