HIV Discrimination Persistent in the Workplace

Last week actor Charlie Sheen revealed that he is HIV-positive and has known about his health status for the last several years. Immediately following Sheen’s disclosure came reports that previous intimate partners were lining up to pursue legal action against Sheen for allegedly infecting them with the disease. The recent press regarding Sheen’s situation brings to light the fact that HIV is still a frightening topic that is met with many misconceptions. Nowhere are these misconceptions and fears greater manifested than in the workplace, where after 30-plus years of HIV knowledge managers are still discriminating against HIV-positive employees, in violation of the law.

HIV and AIDS are qualifying disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Therefore, employers are prohibited from making employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s HIV status, and are required to reasonably accommodate those employees who are in fact HIV positive. Although most employers are well aware of the law, many are still making mistakes that can lead to costly discrimination lawsuits.

New Lawsuit Evidences Lack of Progress

The most recent example of HIV discrimination comes from a Subway restaurant in Indianapolis. The EEOC recently prosecuted the Subway franchise for firing a man due to a “stereotype that people who are in the restaurant business are contagious and that people can contract HIV through food.” The lawsuit filed on the man’s behalf by the EEOC alleges that he was fired in violation of the ADA. The suit seeks back pay and punitive damages.

Recent polls have suggested that the general public is still wary of HIV and does not have the requisite knowledge to comment accurately on the subject of contagion and workplace risk. Undoubtedly, this lack of knowledge extends to management, and is a real discrimination risk in the workplace. Thankfully, training courses flesh out the confusing legal principles set forth in the ADA, and provide managers and employees with the knowledge required to make fair and neutral employment decisions no matter the disability in question.

Training Courses Carve the Path to ADA Compliance

The fundamentals outlined in Syntrio’s disability discrimination courses are custom tailored to the needs of your business and include real-life and hypothetical scenarios that teach your managers the nuances of the law that may not be readily apparent. Because the courses are designed in a cost-effective and time-sensitive manner your managers will receive the instruction they need to prevent disability discrimination while minimizing the time missed from work.

Syntrio is committed to helping employers avoid the costly mistakes (and associate litigation) that are associated with complicated areas of employment law. We are also able to custom-tailor our courses to fit the needs of your business.

Contact Syntrio for more information about our prevention of disability discrimination in the workplace courses for management and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on compliance issues that may impact your business!


Happy Birthday ADA! A Brief History of the Law Through the Years

July 2014 marks the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which was signed into law this month in 1990. The ADA, and the corresponding Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) both “prohibit discrimination and guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.”

History of the ADA and ADAAA

Recognizing that people with disabilities faced challenges in their everyday lives, in 1988 congress took upon the task to implement a law promoting equality in all aspects of life for individuals with qualified disabilities. Problems such as a lack of access to acceptable health care and simple access to physical structures were issues that the law sought to address. On July 26, 1990, the ADA was passed into law.

Disability rights reform did not begin with the passage of the ADA however. As far back as 1973, there has been a federal law prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities (the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). The Rehabilitation Act is the law on which the ADA and ADAAA are based. The most significant aspect of the Rehabilitation Act was Section 504, which identified individuals with disabilities as a minority class subject to protection and increased scrutiny in discrimination actions.

After many hours of debate and testimony, the ADA was passed in July 1990. The law as it went into effect guaranteed that people with disabilities would have the right to continue to seek and maintain work and access to housing and physical structures. However, in 2008 the ADA was amended. Among the important changes to the law was the expansion of the definition of the term “disabled,” making it easier for individuals to prove that they have a disability and are entitled to the protections of the ADA.

Disability Discrimination Today

Despite the protections afforded by the ADA and its subsequent amendments, disability discrimination persists today. In fact, this type of discrimination is one of the more common forms of employment discrimination in today’s workforce. Employers must be reminded that discrimination or retaliation of any form based on disability is against the law, and it is important to educate managers about aspects of disability discrimination so that it can be prevented.

What is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she has a disability.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to employees or applicants with disabilities, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer ("undue hardship").

What Employers Can Do to Prevent Disability Discrimination

  1. Non-Discrimination Policy
    Ensure that a non-discrimination policy is in place and that it is clearly communicated to all employees.

  2.  Train Everyone
    Train everyone, but particularly managers and supervisors, on their duty to prevent disability discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations so qualified employees with disabilities can do their jobs.

  3. Respond Quickly and Effectively to Requests for Accommodations
    The duty to provide reasonable accommodation is triggered when requested by an individual or when an employer becomes aware of a disability-caused limitation. It is important to remember that an employee does not need to actually say the words “reasonable accommodation” for the duty to be triggered.

  4.  Document Everything!
    Document the accommodations considered, offered, accepted, and declined, as well as the justification for the steps taken. If adverse action is taken against an employee with a disability, make sure to document the non-discriminatory reasons why the action was taken and be prepare to back it up.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR Compliance Training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670.