Recent studies by Modem and Sons established that 3% of employees died of AIDS in the past two years. This equates to 10% of payroll and a 43% prevalence rate. Based on current calculations, this will escalate over the next eight years to almost double. You should prepare your company to manage these great losses in productivity and skills.
People that are HIV positive have not yet developed AIDS. They can hold down active jobs for a long time. The problem arises when your employees become ill and use up their sick leave, and their ability to work starts deteriorating. This results in reduced productivity, profitability and additional premature costs for retirement funds, group life schemes and medical aid benefit costs. As a business you not only lose profit but also valuable skills.
If you think you can just fire these people, think again. You cannot discriminate against employees with HIV or AIDS. Your employees are all equal in the eyes of the law. The procedures for dealing with HIV/AIDS related illnesses are no different than for any other illness. You must take immediate action once a problem is apparent. Follow the procedure outlined in your company’s disciplinary code. HIV related illnesses are also detectable. Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of HIV/AIDS and associated illnesses. HIV related illnesses can be managed to ensure your employee returns to work as soon as possible to continue with productive work.
As an employer you must investigate thoroughly the seriousness of the illness. You would have to find the employee incapable of performing the functions, duties or responsibilities of the position due to illness before termination becomes an option. You should take into consideration the period of absence; the nature of the job – is there sufficient risk of transmission of HIV/AIDS; and establish the feasibility of temporary replacement for the incapacitated person.
In the case of permanent incapacity, the employer should consider the possibility of either alternative employment within company or adjusting the duties of the employee. It is seen as unfair dismissal if you dismiss an employee based on a HIV status. In the case of HIV/AIDS, counselling would be appropriate.
The impact of HIV/AIDS can be managed by implementing a formal HIV/AIDS policy. Form an AIDS committee to drive the process. Educate your employees on HIV/AIDS. Implement policies to reduce the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in the workplace. Employees may not be tested for HIV/AIDS unless the Labour Court rules it justifiable and inherently vital for the job. The Labour Court has ruled that the employer does not have to apply for the court’s permission for voluntary HIV testing, provided the results remain confidential and employees are not victimised or discriminated against for refusing the test. Prevention of exposure remains the most effective measure for reducing the risk of HIV transmission.
Contact ECA(SA) National Office at (011) 392 0000.