HIV and Privacy Laws: What You Need to Know

HIV and Privacy Laws: What You Need to Know

Even though there are numerous effective treatments for HIV, there is still quite a bit of stigma around the disease. This often stems from misunderstanding and a lack of education. People may mistakenly assume that HIV is the same as AIDS or that someone with HIV can transmit the virus through casual contact. While neither of these assumptions is true, it is one of the reasons why HIV privacy laws exist.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the Federal agency responsible for setting standards regarding HIV disclosure laws. State health departments may also impose additional legislation. But ultimately the purpose of HIV privacy laws is to maintain the “confidentiality and security of public health data” regarding HIV, AIDS, viral hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

If a person has a positive result from an HIV test through a healthcare provider, the testing site is required by law to report the result to the state health department. There are several reasons for this notification, primarily for tracking the rates of HIV diagnoses within the state. But HIV privacy laws state that the state department cannot share private patient information with other institutions, such as insurance companies or even the CDC.

However, to reduce HIV transmission rates, HIV status disclosure may be enforced in certain situations. Here’s everything that you need to know about the HIV privacy and confidentiality issues of HIV-positive patients.

1. Do You Have to Tell Your Employer You Have HIV?

Under most circumstances, you do not need to inform your employer if you test positive for HIV. Thanks to HIV privacy laws, employers cannot ask employees if they are HIV positive, nor can they fire an employee for their status under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) law.

Thanks to modern medicine, a person living with HIV can manage their viral load with medication. Through antiretroviral drugs, their viral load can decrease to an undetectable level, meaning that it is also non-transmittable. Having HIV should not interfere with a person’s ability to do their job.

However, there are some situations where a person may be encouraged to share their HIV status to protect themselves and others. If there is a reason why your health status could influence your working ability or safety, you should disclose this to your employer. Further, if you require any accommodations for your health condition, it is wise to inform a supervisor or HR manager. Legally, employers are not allowed to discriminate against you due to your HIV status.

2. Am I Required to Tell Partners if I am HIV Positive?

Telling sexual partners about your HIV status can be extremely uncomfortable. But it is extremely important to inform all sexual partners of your HIV status, even if you are using protection such as condoms. HIV is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact – so you should notify any sexual partners who may have been exposed.

Some states do allow for legal action to be taken against a person who do not adhere to HIV status disclosure requirements and pass on the virus to a partner. While some of this legislation is in the works to be changed, 35 states have active legislation that criminalizes HIV exposure. These are typically only enforced if a person knowingly exposes another to HIV. However, failing to notify partners promptly could potentially get you into legal trouble. This resources has some helpful information about talking to a partner.

Now, what if you are taking antiretroviral drugs and are undetectable? The answer is that you should still disclose this information as legally in most states the viral load is not considered. Ultimately, honesty is always important in any relationship, so being open about your status is something you should communicate to a partner.

3. Are There Jobs I Cannot Have if I am HIV Positive?

Some specific occupations do require employees to disclose their HIV status or be tested before employment. While this does not necessarily disqualify you from the position, the viral load may need to be routinely tested to ensure you are undetectable.

For instance, in the UK, all healthcare workers who are responsible for procedures involving exposure to blood must complete an HIV test. If a person tests positive for HIV, they are allowed to work but must complete regular monitoring.

In the US, employers are not allowed to ask unlawful health questions leading to HIV status disclosure. If your employer has discriminated against you after revealing your HIV status, you have the right to take legal action.

4. Does HIV Disqualify You from the Military?

The military has always had several (434 to be exact) medical regulations in place which can disqualify applicants from joining. Some of these include severe allergies, asthma, hearing and vision issues, and chronic joint diseases. In the past, people with HIV have not been allowed to join the military.

As of July 2021, people with HIV are still not allowed to enlist in the military; however, if you contract HIV while enlisted, you can remain in the service. The military offers some health care services for active duty servicemen that extend to HIV treatment. HIV privacy laws are more limited within the military as all active members are required to be tested every 2 years for HIV, and the results could be used to determine if the member is still “fit for duty.”

However, there is much action being taken to remove this discrimination and allow servicemembers who are HIV+ to remain in active duty. Most recently a lawsuit was filed against the US Airforce after two members were dismissed due to their HIV status. The results from this case are likely to influence future claims regarding HIV status disclosure.

Discover More About HIV Privacy Laws

Navigating your life after learning you are HIV+ can be incredibly difficult. HIV privacy laws can be quite complicated and confusing, but it’s important to understand your rights as well as your disclosure requirements.

Thankfully, there are plenty of organizations out there offering valuable resources for treatment options and support. PrEP Daily exists to help people who are at risk of HIV transmission or who are living with HIV. We can help you get in touch with a healthcare provider for PrEP or HIV treatments.

If you need assistance in this matter or would like to learn more about HIV transmission, prevention, and treatment options, please get in touch with us at PrEP Daily. You can connect with one of our navigators online to learn more!