This year, on World AIDS Day, a new report from the United Nations shows we’ve achieved an encouraging 21 percent reduction in deaths of people living with HIV/AIDS across the globe. With so many people living longer, healthier lives, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that workplaces are free of discrimination on the basis of HIV status. This is both a human and a civil right.
At the U.S. Department of Labor, we are committed to working on multiple fronts to reduce the stigma surrounding this condition and ensure that HIV-positive workers know their workplace rights.
On the global front, my department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs is working to promote global awareness of compassionate approaches to HIV/AIDS by helping other countries develop policies and programs to combat job discrimination. Our educational workshops and training programs have reached 3.3 million workers in 30 countries. These programs educate employers about the importance of treating workers who have HIV/AIDS with dignity and respect.
Here in the United States, my department’s Wage and Hour Division is vigorously enforcing the Family and Medical Leave Act so workers with HIV/AIDS have the workplace flexibility and medical privacy guaranteed by law. Taking time off to care for yourself or a family member who has HIV/AIDS should not put your livelihood in jeopardy. The FMLA gives workers the peace of mind of knowing that their job is protected when they take time off because of illness. We will continue to educate employers about their responsibility to provide eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to recover from HIV-related illness or to care for a covered family member living with HIV/AIDS.
Other organizations within the U.S. Department of Labor are playing important roles as well.
Our Occupational Safety and Health Administration is enforcing safety standards to prevent inadvertent HIV/AIDS transmission in the workplace. Enforcement of OSHA rules on bloodborne pathogens has led to significant reductions of needle-stick injuries and the transmission of bloodborne diseases in medical settings. Our work has helped spur new technological advances in the development of safer needle devices, so America’s health care workers can provide safe, high-quality and compassionate care.
Our Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is prioritizing investigations of employment discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. Workers cannot be denied employment, harassed, demoted, fired, paid less or treated poorly because of their HIV status. Through our aggressive public education campaign, we are informing workers of their rights and employers of their responsibilities under federal law.
And our Office of Disability Employment Policy is conducting national outreach to increase access to workplace training, career counseling and employment-related services for people living with HIV/AIDS. ODEP is also working with employers and employees across the country to promote the availability of reasonable accommodations for workers living with HIV/AIDS.
I know that some people living with HIV/AIDS still face discrimination on the job. That’s why on World AIDS Day, it’s important to rededicate ourselves to fighting harmful stigmas as we work toward the day when all HIV-positive workers receive the humane, compassionate and lawful treatment they deserve.