The latest data (June) released by DOH, shows that more than half of the reported cases of HIV belong to the age range of 25-34 years old, which means that most cases are young professionals. With the ongoing advancement of treatment and maintenance for HIV and AIDS, it should be known that life doesn’t end upon diagnosis. Living, however, can still be an uphill battle.

While some people look to their jobs to make ends meet, others consider their work as a part of their self-fulfillment and self-realization. In this edition of STATUS, we ask: Should your serostatus matter at your workplace?

One’s serostatus is very sensitive and private information. Only you can choose to disclose it. However, there may come a time when working conditions are not so favorable to your health or you would need to explain frequent absences. In times like these, it would be beneficial to talk to your supervisor or human resource personnel about your situation.

According to Article VII Section 35 of R.A 8504 (Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998), “Discrimination in any form from pre-employment to post-employment, including hiring, promotion or assignment, based on the actual, perceived or suspected HIV status of an individual is prohibited. Termination from work on the sole basis of actual, perceived or suspected HIV status is deemed unlawful.” This should be your safeguard against unjust dismissal.

The law not only protects you from termination due to your serostatus, but it also preserves your right to privacy and confidentiality. It should also protect you from discrimination in all its forms and subtleties. These were reiterated by the Department of Labor and Employment’s Department Order 102-10, Guidelines for the Implementation of HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control in the Workplace Program.  The D.O 102-10 was issued to strengthen the workplace response in implementing the provisions of RA. 8504 and to provide directions for employers, employees, and program implementers in the workplace.

However, despite these provisions, there are still many victims of discrimination in the workplace. According to the executive vice president of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Gerard Seno, there were employment applications that had been turned down, workers who are PLHIV had lost their jobs, their promotions declined, and access to affordable health services denied. He urged for discrimination like these be removed.

Miguel (not his real name) was a ward nurse who had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Prior to his diagnosis, he was angling to be transferred to a specialty area. He already had everything lined up. He had glowing recommendations from his unit manager and his transfer was already being talked about. Weeks before everything was finalized, he had donated blood for a patient. Later on, he was called to the blood bank where he was advised that his blood had tested positive for HIV.

The transfer he had hoped for never happened. Instead, he was switched to an area which, as he described, involved doing more administrative work than being an actual nurse. Things turned for the worse when he started noticing his colleagues whispering when they see him and then stopping when he stares them down or when he confronts them about it. According to Miguel, the rumors about his serostatus even reached the doctors and head nurses of the hospital.

Despite being able to keep his job and preserve his income, he felt like he lost his dignity at the hospital. It seemed to him that his competence as a nurse was no longer based on his skills but on his serostatus. When asked if he is considering pursuing legal action in relation to his situation, he said no. He is afraid there’s no sufficient evidence to support his case. He’s also much more concerned about his growth as a nurse, which would be difficult at his current function. Miguel plans to speak with the head nurses first to see if they can work something out with him and his intentions of being transferred to a specialty area.

Another notable case would be that of Renato Nocos’. He filed charges of discrimination and unlawful termination against his employer Ricky Reyes and Reyes’ business associate Tonneth Moreno. After disclosing his HIV-reactive status, he was reassigned to a location that wasn’t doing so well, which ended up closing. He was not given a new assignment after that. Nocos won and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) ordered Reyes to reinstate Nocos, and pay him back wages and benefits, including salary differentials, emergency cost of living allowances, 13th month pay, separation pay, and attorney’s fees amounting to a total of PHP615,313.06.

In relation to Nocos’ victory, ALU national executive vice president Gerard Seno said, “Oppression like this happens because there are still a great majority in our society whose judgment calls are still guided by their ignorance about HIV and AIDS.”

The statement above is agreed upon by the results of a study conducted to see the relationship between people’s knowledge and their attitude toward people living with HIV in the workplace. Results indicate that the respondents who have a higher knowledge level manifested a lower tendency to discriminate against PLHIV at the workplace, whereas those who have lower knowledge level have a higher tendency to discriminate against PLHIV.

People who had higher scores on HIV and AIDS knowledge demonstrated supportive attitudes: 1) allowing PLHIV to work in a company or any organization, 2) recommending PLHIV to work in one’s company or organization, and 3) working closely with a PLHIV. They are confident that they will not contract the disease by working closely with PLHIV.

On the other hand, many of the respondents who were against of the idea of allowing PLHIV to work in organizations have fears of contracting HIV and believe they could contract HIV if they stay near PLHIV, share a toilet with PLHIV, and share eating utensils with PLHIV. They also believe that it is okay to refuse employment of PLHIV for the protection of other employees.

This goes to show that proper and accurate education regarding HIV and AIDS is the key to eradicate the stigma surrounding the illness. Earl Patrick Penabella,head of the Philippine Business Sector Response (PBSR) arm of LoveYourself, claims that the situation is changing for the good on the private sector. Various companies like BPOs, manufacturing, and financial institutions among others, and are now proactively reaching out to them instead of them having to initiate and offer their services like conducting HIV Awareness and onsite testing. The seminars are well-attended and the participants are very engaged in the discussion of HIV and AIDS and show genuine concern regarding the issue.

If you’re a PHLIV who’s looking for guidance or simply someone to talk to, you can check out these support groups. You could also visit the LoveYourself Uni and Anglo clinics to talk to our Life Coaches. Also, if you feel like your company is in need of an HIV Awareness discussion, feel free to email [email protected] and copy [email protected].

Text by Jeffrey Venzuela
Photo by Jiru Rada