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NAT's launches new report 'Working with HIV'

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lessons for employers after first major survey of people living with HIV at work

The findings of the first major piece of research to be conducted into the working experiences of people living with HIV have been revealed by NAT (National AIDS Trust).  The research shows that the health effects of HIV are having little impact on people’s ability to work thanks to improvements in treatment, however stigma surrounding HIV still creates barriers in the workplace. 

1,800 gay men living with HIV took part in the survey, which was informed by focus groups among gay men and black Africans living with HIV.  The research, conducted with City University, London, is summarised in the report Working with HIV.

Impact of HIV on work
The research found people with HIV are working in a diverse range of jobs at all levels.  Over half (58 per cent) of the respondents said being HIV positive had no impact on their working life.  However one in ten people noted side effects from drugs had had some impact.  Receiving a diagnosis or changing medications were also identified as flash-points when HIV had an impact.  Despite this, over a third (34 per cent) had not taken any days off to attend HIV clinic appointments in the previous 12 months. 

60 per cent of the respondents had disclosed their HIV status to someone at work, over three-quarters of whom (77 per cent) reported a generally positive reaction.  However out of all respondents almost a third either faced or feared a negative reaction to disclosure.  Although the key reason cited for non-disclosure was ‘no-need’, 53 per cent feared poor treatment and 57 per cent worried about breaches of confidentiality.

A fifth of respondents who had disclosed their HIV positive status at work had experienced discrimination in their current or previous job.  The most common forms of discrimination were being treated differently or excluded and breaches of confidentiality.  More than a third (40 per cent) of respondents who had disclosed their HIV status and had experienced discrimination in a previous job believed they had lost their job as a result.

Lessons for employers
The research also examined the kinds of reasonable adjustments people with HIV asked for.  The most common were time off to go to clinic appointment and flexibility over working hours both of which are relatively simple and inexpensive requests for employers to accommodate. 

Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT, comments:

“The overall picture for people with HIV at work is a positive one.  It is important for employers and HR professionals to realise that people with HIV can and do make valuable contributions to the UK workforce.  Today, often it is not the health of people with HIV that affects their working ability but attitudes of employers or colleagues.

A cultural change is needed in workplaces across the UK.  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.”

Professor Jonathan Elford, City University, London, comments:

“This is the first large-scale research project in the UK to explore the experiences at work of people living with HIV.   This kind of research is vital for building up a true picture of the reality of living and working with HIV in the UK today as well as the challenges people still face.

The overall picture presented by the study is a positive one.  People with HIV who had a job were generally satisfied with their working lives.  Yet, important areas for improvement remain. Disclosing your HIV status at work remains difficult; discrimination still goes on; and some people are still unaware of their employment rights under the Disability Discrimination Act.  In addition, fewer people with HIV have jobs compared to the national average”

Recommendations for employers and HR professionals include:

  • Have a specific policy that addresses HIV and incorporates it into diversity or disability training.
  • Understand their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, the sorts of adjustments that people living with HIV may need in the workplace and the ease with which they can be accommodated.
  • Take proactive steps to raise awareness of HIV at work (e.g. by marking World AIDS Day).

For information and resources about HIV at work visit NAT's Employment Information Resources page.

Notes to the Editor:

Download the report Working with HIV
For further information please contact:
Katherine Sladden
Communications Officer
020 7814 6733 / 07947 725299
NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expert advice and practical resources. We campaign for change.
Shaping attitudes. Challenging injustice. Changing lives.
NAT would like to thank Levi Strauss who funded the research, Gaydar for allowing free access to their membership as well as Professor Jonathan Elford of City University London and researcher Nicola Douglas.