Hiv and working life

People living with HIV live completely normal lives. They excel in their working lives and do not represent a risk of infection in their working environment or for any customers, pupils or patients

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Foto: © Cultura Creative/Johnér (illustrasjonsbilde)

HIV-positive colleagues/employees

​No special precautions

Living with HIV in the working environment is no different to having some other chronic illness, such as asthma or eczema. Nevertheless, "HIV" creates negative associations amongst a lot of people, who immediately become afraid of infection as soon as they hear that someone around them has HIV. The fact is that a lot of people who live with HIV and who could have been in work, are prevented from working by the stigma that surrounds the diagnosis, and not by the disease itself.

No risk of infection

Because HIV is transferred only by direct blood contact or unprotected sex, the risk of infection from normal social contact is practically zero. You cannot become infected by holding the hand of an HIV-positive person or by kissing that person on the cheek. HIV is also not transferred in saliva, tears, sweat, stools or urine. Employees living with HIV do not represent a risk of infection in their working environment or to any customers, pupils or patients.

The main risk of work-related infection exists in the health service, and then usually in the form of puncture wounds involving used, infected needles. In such situations, the risk of becoming infected with HIV is only about 0.3 percent.

HIV and involvement in working life

​Preconceptions about HIV in working life

There is no requirement for a person with HIV to inform an employer that he or she has HIV.

Thanks to modern HIV drugs, people with HIV can live completely normally and excel in their working lives. However, a lot of people with HIV experience challenges in connection with living with the diagnosis and involvement in working life as an HIV-positive person.

Studies looking at what it is like to live with HIV and at attitudes within society shows that people who live with HIV worry about other people being afraid of infection, and a lot of them feel shame in connection with their HIV diagnosis. It also shows that knowledge within society of HIV is incomplete and that there are a lot of preconceptions. As part of a study from 2015, 47 percent of respondents said that their knowledge of HIV was poor. A lot of people who live with HIV therefore choose to conceal their HIV diagnosis.

It is often a lack of knowledge about how HIV infection actually works and that HIV-positive people who are receiving treatment are not contagious that prevents people who live with HIV from taking part in work.

Effective medicines

Nowadays HIV means something completely different compared to when the virus first arrived in Norway in the 1980s. The disease is no longer a death sentence. HIV-positive people now live just as long as anyone else. People who live with HIV can now be treated with just one daily tablet. This medication helps the body to maintain a good immune defence and a low viral load.
People who live with HIV are not generally prohibited from doing any particular job. They can work without any restrictions as nurses, as pre-school teachers at nursery schools or as cooks in kitchens.

Thanks to this development in medication, most HIV-positive people are able-bodied and in work. As a colleague or employer, you can help to ensure the participation of HIV-positive people in working life by spreading information and combating preconceptions at your workplace.

Openness about HIV in the workplace

​The question of whether or not to make an HIV-positive status known in the workplace is not an easy one. An HIV-positive person may be reluctant to talk about HIV at work, since it is a diagnosis that is perceived as problematical, or they consider it a private matter. At the same time, this could be difficult if this person is open about HIV in other areas of his or her life.

There is no obligation to be open

You do not have to tell anyone at your place of work that you are living with HIV. Nor do you have to tell your colleagues or your employer.

In job interviews, employers can ask for health information that is required in order to be able to perform tasks in connection with the position, but they cannot ask about HIV directly.

Medical certificates are required by some groups of employees. These are, for example, employees with work tasks that are important for traffic safety in connection with the railways, people working on off-shore facilities in the oil industry, people working on aircraft and smoke and chemical divers. In professions requiring a health certificate, employees undergo medical examinations, in the course of which any HIV diagnosis must be revealed.

Any doctors you are in contact with in order to obtain a health certificate are obliged to keep confidential anything that does not prevent you from doing the work in question.

It is up to you whether or not you want to be open, and if so, to what degree.

If you decide to reveal your HIV diagnosis at work, there is a difference depending on whether you tell colleagues or your employer. If you tell your colleagues, they will not be subject to a duty of confidentiality in the way that your employer would be. You and your employer have a mutual duty of loyalty that means keeping confidential anything that could harm the company or its employees.

Being open about having HIV is an individual choice. For some people it is difficult, while it is easy for others. Some people get a lot of support and understanding from their colleagues and employers. For those who want to tell their colleagues in their place of work, it may be a good idea to involve other people, such as the safety officer and/or union shop steward. There are also a number of HIV organisations that can answer any questions you may have and also attend meetings with employers, if you like.

Rights in the employee's working life

The Working Environment Act

People who live with HIV have exactly the same rights and obligations in their working lives as other people. The Working Environment Act (lovdata.no) and its regulations are applicable to all employers and employees in Norway.

If you suffer from mental or physical symptoms as a consequence of chronic illness, you can advise your employer to apply to the NAV for exemption from the statutory sick pay period. This is not specifically for people living with HIV, but for anyone suffering from a chronic illness in their working life. If the application is successful, this means that the employer does not have to pay sick pay during the initial period of sick leave.

The Working Environment Act states that if an employee's working capacity is reduced, for example due to illness, the employer must, for as long as is possible, take the necessary measures to enable the employee to keep or be given suitable work tasks. This applies for all employees with reduced capacity for work and is not especially for people living with HIV.

Employers have a general duty of facilitation, in that work must be organised and arranged with respect to the individual employee's capacities, proficiency, age and other conditions.

The Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act

People who live with HIV are protected against discrimination in accordance with the Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act (lovdata.no). This means that it is unlawful to treat people living with HIV any worse than others unless it is reasonable and necessary to do so. Nor may HIV-positive people be affected disproportionately harshly relative to the desired intention. It is not discriminatory therefore that e.g. health personnel with HIV cannot perform certain tasks where HIV infection might represent a risk to others. Protection against discrimination also covers discrimination based on a fear of infection. Persecution based on HIV infection is also prohibited.

If you are wondering whether you have been the victim of discrimination, or how you, as an employer, can avoid discrimination, you can contact the Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombudsman (ldo.no).

Other rights in connection with treatment

HIV-positive people are also entitled to essential treatment or other medical care to prevent infection. All HIV-related health care must be free. In addition, infection-preventing dental treatment in case of specific medical conditions (organ transplantation, various forms of cancer, HIV/aids), gives entitlement to support from HELFO (the Norwegian Health Economics Administration).

Working abroad

​Being able to travel abroad, either as a tourist or for work, is something that many people are able to take for granted. Unfortunately this is not always so easy for people living with HIV, who might encounter obstacles while travelling.

Some people restrict entry for people living with HIV.

The Global Database on HIV-Specific Travel and Residence Restrictions (HIVtravel.org) provides a summary of the regulations that are applicable in 192 countries. Sixty-six of these countries have special entries and regulations for people living with HIV.

Tourist visits are rarely a problem. Most countries with entry restrictions, including some European countries such as Hungary and Poland, require obligatory HIV tests for visitors planning lengthier stays, for example for work or study. Depending on the duration of the stay, proof of a negative HIV test must be submitted to the authorities in order to obtain approval of the stay. HIV-positive test results generally result in refusal of entry.

Some countries have entry bars for people living with HIV and require deportation of anyone diagnosed with HIV. These include Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Singapore.

Positive development

The global community is working to achieve better acceptance of people who live with HIV, and recent years have seen a positive development.

In January 2010, the USA lifted its 23-year-old residence ban on people living with HIV. Foreigners no longer have to submit to HIV testing as part of the obligatory medical examination when applying to live in the USA. In the same year, entry bans for HIV-positive people were also lifted by Bulgaria and India.

This is a development in the direction of fewer and fewer restrictions on travelling and working abroad for people who live with HIV, but in the meantime it is still necessary to learn about local regulations before travelling abroad.