HIV employment barriers have lifted – now we can’t let stigma hold us back
A man sits on the stairs at the underpass of an office building in Tokyo September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
People living with HIV in the UK are now not restricted from doing any job - what next to end workplace stigma?
Danny Beales is head of policy and campaigns at National AIDS Trust.
This Pride month, the UK celebrated one of the last barriers to employment for people living with HIV finally being removed.
The Armed Forces agreed to lift the ban on people living with HIV being able to serve in the army, and those taking the HIV prevention drug, PrEP, will not have limited deployment options.
This means the UK is now the second country in the world after South Africa to implement this policy.
We also saw the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announce new measures to make it easier for pilots living with HIV to access full licenses.
Previously, CAA guidance said that pilots living with HIV had to go through additional medical assessments to obtain a full license and prove they were safe to fly. These have now been deemed unnecessary.
Now, pilots will be assessed by their doctors to give them a medical all clear, removing the need for complex, costly and stressful additional testing.
Forty-one years after the first cases of HIV were detected, it’s great to see the end of outdated and discriminatory policies preventing people living with HIV from fulfilling their potential in any job they wish to do.
This recognises the modern realities of HIV: that this is a life-long manageable health condition, and that when on successful treatment, like 97% of people diagnosed with HIV in the UK are, you cannot pass it on.
By employers and professional bodies recognising this, it helps to dismantle the stigma surrounding HIV that has existed for years and celebrates diversity.
Whilst undoubtedly a huge victory, what needs to happen next to ensure out-of-date views of HIV aren’t holding anyone back from fulfilling their potential at work?
There are more than 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, many of whom are still facing stigma and discrimination. While finally there are no more formal restrictions on people living with HIV from doing certain jobs, everyday stigma can hold people back unnecessarily.
National AIDS Trust surveyed the general public on their attitudes towards HIV and found that a quarter feel their employer should tell them if their colleague is living with HIV. This shows us that some people might not know that there is no risk of acquiring HIV through normal work or social contact, and that misconceptions and stigma have real-life consequence for people living with HIV.
People are often asked to fill out a post-employment health questionnaire after getting a new job, and as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, people living with HIV have greater protection if they are open about their status. But they worry about possible stigma and unfair treatment they may face.
This means that, while we can all face some stress at the start of a new job, people living with HIV often face the additional anxiety of deciding whether they want to disclose their HIV status to their new colleagues.
Whilst legal barriers are lifted to employment, now we need to see employers ensure that they and their staff are adequately trained about Equality Act protections for HIV.
Employers should also help to address broader workplace stigma by engaging in events such as World AIDS Day. Employers, just like all the rest of us, must do more to improve awareness around HIV and end stigma, bringing us closer to a world where HIV stigma doesn’t hold anyone back from living the life they choose.
Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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