An HIV diagnosis is a traumatic one – it changes one’s life and perspectives in many ways. Relationships also change, both personal and at work with one’s employer and colleagues. Initially, I would like to offer my experience in terms of the latter.
A little background: For 15 years, I have worked for a private rehabilitation firm with a staff of 40, most of whom are professionals in this field. I deal with client and clinical issues all the time, and also support administrative efforts to ensure that services are being provided to our clients in a timely and effective manner.
When I first found out about my HIV diagnosis five years ago, I knew that I would likely have support from staff in my company, given the type of work we do. I recognize that this is not always going to be the case in many employment situations.
Upon much thought about the new direction of my life, given my diagnosis, one of the many considerations was what this would mean to me in terms of continuing to stay at work? Would I be able to? Would I need much time off? Worst case, would I need to resign because of my situation? These were questions that I was able to talk about with my partner of many years, who encouraged me to hang in there and to be up-front with my colleagues at work. I was glad that I did.
Proceeding cautiously on that basis, I first contacted some of the managers of the company to advise them of my situation; thankfully, they were totally supportive. My immediate manager suggested I take a few days off to “re-group” and further understand the recent diagnosis and my options, without any concern about what needed to do be done at work. I was glad to have that time and space, as it gave me a chance to put things in perspective and also to contact others who could help me with what might be ahead.
Upon my return to work the next week, I had decided that given the supportive nature of the staff with whom I worked, it would be okay to further disclose what was going on in my life. Again, I knew that they would be concerned about how I was doing, and would offer any assistance possible. At a time of concern for me, that kind of support was really appreciated, as it also laid the foundation for me to further discuss things with other staff, as need be. Many continue to offer support in that regard and often call to find out how things are going.
Since then, and given full disclosure (and updates) of what is going on with my health to at least the managers of the company, there have been really good results, namely:
Yes, admittedly, I have a supportive employer and colleagues/staff. I think that having been up-front with them has allowed me to continue on with working full-time, with some accommodations, as needed. I recognize that my situation is not going to be that of everyone else, and each of us has to consider our own.
- Understanding the need for more frequent medical appointments, and arrangements to make up time, as necessary;
- Being able to do work from home, especially if making up time or when not feeling well enough to commute to work and back;
- Recognition that when I call in to indicate that I’m unwell, there is a basis for it without a detailed explanation (although, I’m careful not to abuse this).
Given the legal requirement for an employer to provide accommodations (at least in Ontario), I do believe that each and every one of us should be able to pursue productive employment activities as we are able to.
Most importantly, to others in a similar situation, please realize that you are not alone! Many supports are available, whether through local service organizations or networks such as this.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’d like to explore many aspects of work (or productive activity), while managing one’s health within the context of having HIV. I’d welcome suggestions for specific topics of interest.
In the meantime, best wishes and continued success to all in 2010!
Dave was born in Toronto, Ontario, where he has lived all of his life. Following high school, he attended the University of Toronto where he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1984.
Dave has worked in many capacities over the years, most recently for a private rehabilitation form where he was employed for 14 years until the summer of 2010. Since that time he has kept busy with efforts on behalf of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation, and is currently a member of their Speaker’s Bureau, Service Access, and Front Desk volunteer teams.