Dear Allie: Telling Co-Workers You’re HIV Positive

by Sarah Rutledge Fischer


Dear Allie,

My husband and I have a dispute that I hope you can settle. We are both healthy HIV+ men in our mid-thirties. We have built a comfortable life surrounded by a strong support network. We are out about our HIV+ status to family and friends and try to stay active in both the HIV+ and LGBT rights movements. Our disagreement arises with regard to my career. I recently accepted a position with a new company. I was out about my HIV+ status at my old job, and I’d like to be out in my new job. My husband disagrees. My old boss was a friend, and my husband argues that everyone at this new job is a stranger. I’m torn. My relationship with my team is important. I don’t want to start off with an attitude of distrust. At the same time, I can’t undermine my husband’s sense of security. Help.

New Job, Old Closet

Dear N.J.O.C.,

Congratulations on your new position. Let’s see if I can help you navigate this difficult decision so you can get back to the enjoying this exciting transition.

Before we begin, I should mention that there are certain areas of employment, such as healthcare and sex work, that carry an obligation to disclose HIV+ status. If you work in such a field, I would advise you to seek legal advice regarding your obligation to disclose. Even if you do not work in one of those fields, some jobs require employees to undergo a medical examination or at minimum complete a medical questionnaire. Again, if this is the case, you should contact your attorney or the nearest AIDS service organization to make sure you understand your rights and obligations.

That aside, the decision of whether or not to disclose your HIV+ status at work is a matter of assessing the risks and deciding what level of risk you and your husband can bear. As a starting point, you might check out the list of benefits and risks laid out in the U.S. Department of Labor guide, Employment and Living with HIV/AIDS, available at If you and your husband decide against disclosure, or even if you decided on partial disclosure, make sure to discuss how you will handle the situation if your status becomes known without your consent. The decision to disclose should be yours alone, but we live in a world where not everyone respects this. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. No matter what you decide and what happens from there, it is important that you are making this decision together. The strength of your relationship with your partner and with the friends and family with whom you have surrounded yourselves will see you though.

That should get you started.

Your friend,

If you believe you have been fired or discriminated against in the workplace because of your HIV+ status, you should reach out to the ACLU AIDS Project online at or by telephone at 212-549-2627.

To submit your own question, email Allie at

Benefits of disclosing your HIV+ status at work

• People who disclose their diagnosis may feel unburdened. They no longer feel as though they are hiding something.
• Some people who have disclosed at work find their employer and/or co-workers supportive and helpful, especially when   they get ill.
• Once you have disclosed, no one can ‘out’ you at work.
• When employees are open about their HIV/ AIDS or disability status in the workplace, this can contribute to an inclusive     work culture and potentially reduce stigma against people with HIV/AIDS.

Risks of disclosing your HIV+ status at work

• Once you disclose to your employer, it may be hard not to see every workplace decision as a reflection of this               knowledge.
• Even today, some employees report HIV/AIDS-related discrimination. Sometimes it can be difficult to prove that    discrimination results directly from your disclosure.
• Disclosure to an employer can be an unnecessary complication in your life. Dealing with job stress and legal issues can  affect your health and well-being negatively.
• If you do decide to disclose, remember that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. For now, you may choose to  disclose only to your boss, and wait to disclose to the rest of your team later should you deem it necessary. Managers  and supervisors have a legal obligation to keep your medical information confidential. Limited disclosure could minimize  the potential impact of stigma on your entry into this new position, but also leave you confident that your boss would not  feel blindsided if a later health crisis required time off or other accommodations. If you choose this route, be sure to  discuss confidentiality with your boss or manager. Be polite, but make sure that you are on the same page about their  legal obligation.