Lawyers with disabilities

HIV: education is key

What does fair treatment in the workplace look like to someone diagnosed with HIV? To mark UK Disability History Month and World AIDS Day, Kirsty Limacher talks to Clive Duffey, co-founder and trustee of Ask for Clive

As well as being the co-founder and trustee of Ask for Clive, an LGBTQ+ inclusion charity, Clive is a senior prevention and support officer for Terrence Higgins Trust, where he provides support to thoseClive Duffey is a light skinned man with grey and white hair and a beard. He stands in front of a green hedge and is wearing a burgundy and white hoodie and a navy top. living with HIV and people who have been recently diagnosed.

He also provides training to professionals about HIV and sexual health.

“Education is the key to making positive changes”, was the overwhelming message that came out of my interview with Clive. His worst personal experience was with a dental practice, as a result of them being “poorly educated and unaware”.

Your rights

The Equality Act 2010 makes certain types of discrimination unlawful, and under the act an HIV positive diagnosis is classed as a disability. There is no general requirement to disclose your status to an employer – other than in certain professions with a higher risk of exposure, such as surgeons. This is a personal and private decision, and Clive recommended carefully considering the benefits of disclosure.  

If you make the decision to disclose your HIV status to your employer, then it’s unlawful to discriminate against you because of your status. Your employer owes those diagnosed a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments.

Clive described some of the reasonable adjustments that could be made, which include:

  • being moved closer to the toilets if the medication is causing stomach issues
  • time off to see your consultant which should not be taken out of your annual leave
  • flexible hours to accommodate reactions from medications

Myths and misconceptions

There are still a lot of misconceptions following a positive HIV diagnosis, both about prognosis and transmissibility of the virus to other people. Education and training are vital in dispelling myths and stigma.

The medication for HIV used to often result in unpleasant side effects, but there have been great advances in treatment over the last couple of decades. When diagnosed early, people living with HIV and taking their treatment as prescribed have the same life expectancy as anyone else.

Those on effective treatment, where the medication has reduced their viral load – the amount of HIV in their blood – to undetectable levels, cannot transmit the virus.

There are over 100,000 people in the UK living with HIV on medication and over 6,000 as of now are undiagnosed. Clive supports initiatives taking the stigma out of regular testing to ensure early diagnosis.

“In Hertfordshire we’re quite lucky, a new system is being trialled in GP surgeries. If a patient goes to them on a number of occasions and […] the reason they’ve gone back is about their immune system, a pop-up now appears on the doctor’s screen saying ‘Consider HIV test’, which is great."

While HIV can affect anyone regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, age or where they live, those in high-risk groups should consider preventative measures including condoms and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV.

The HIV Commission aims to end new cases of HIV by 2030 and this will only be achieved if we act quickly to ensure early diagnosis of new cases and the availability of treatment to those who have been diagnosed.

Terrence Higgins Trust

Terrence Higgins Trust offers free HIV awareness and confidence training to organisations, currently via Zoom.

This covers:

  • HIV prevalence in the UK
  • routes of transmission, how to reduce risk
  • advances in HIV treatment
  • the importance of sticking to treatment
  • how stigma and discrimination affect people living with HIV
  • how the law applies to a person living with HIV

Employers need to create a culture of inclusivity and employees need to be confident that if they disclose their status it will be kept confidential.

This starts by creating a work environment with policies and practices in place that are accommodating to those who have been diagnosed, and ensuring that any issues of harassment are dealt with quickly and effectively should they arise.

There are still a number of myths about living with HIV and the risks to those around you which need to be dispelled. This can only happen through education.

If anything in this article has resonated with you, then you can contact Terrence Higgins Trust directly by email (info@tht.org.uk) or on 0808 802 1221. You can also speak to one of their online advisors.

Help is also available at the following organisations

  • NHS 111: 111
  • Samaritans: 116 123
  • National Sexual Health Helpline: 0300 123 7123
  • Sexual Health Information Scotland: 0800 22 44 88
  • Childline: 0800 1111
  • Refuge: 0808 2000 247
  • Rape Crisis (England and Wales): 0808 802 9999
  • Rape Crisis (Scotland): 08088 01 03 02
  • Galop: 0800 999 5428
  • Shelter (England or Scotland): 0808 800 4444
  • Switchboard LGBT+ helpline: 0300 330 0630

Find out more about reasonable adjustments to improve workplace inclusion, culture and environments for disabled people in our reasonable adjustments guidance.

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