“I’m a small business owner, let the corporates and government worry about HIV/AIDS.”
This is a comment I have heard a number of times from small business owners feeling overwhelmed and often resentful of the slew of policies they are expected to have in place.
According to a Stats SA report in 2015, one in ten South Africans are living with the disease. The harsh reality is that every business is affected by HIV/AIDS because it is the workforce that is most afflicted (between 10 and 40% in South Africa, depending on the type of business). Regardless of any moral considerations, there are legalities concerning discrimination and privacy that a simple HIV/AIDS policy will address, providing protection for employer and employee alike.
What should a HIV/Aids policy cover?
- A positioning statement that describes the employers’ approach.
- Rights and obligations: details on how HIV/AIDS will be handled in the workplace (e.g. HIV testing, performance management and discrimination, medical incapacity etc.)
- Standards of behaviour expected of all employees, especially concerning the right to privacy.
- Any education and/or training on HIV/AIDS issues.
As with any policy, it needs to be dynamic and responsive to changes in law or society. The HIV/Aids policy should be:
- Communicated to all employees and any relevant stakeholders.
- Regularly reviewed in the light of new scientific information.
- Monitored for its successful implementation.
- Evaluated for its effectiveness.
The policy should begin with a general statement which positions the company policy on HIV/AIDS and acknowledges the legal and moral issues.
An example: XXX recognises that HIV/AIDS affects the health and well-being of employees and their families. We undertake to assist where practical and to treat those affected with sensitivity.
XXX will not discriminate against employees or applicants on any grounds and this includes HIV status. HIV/AIDS will be treated like any serious illness. This policy is in compliance with South African law and will be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure compliance.
RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS
This is where an employer would list the rights and duties that exist in law and any extra steps that the company may take to ensure fairness and to educate. It is important that expectations and standards are made clear and communicated effectively to everyone in the workplace.
- XXX protects employees’ right to privacy, both in terms of testing and HIV status. An employee who contracts HIV is not obliged to inform the company but is encouraged to seek medical help and guidance.
- XXX will not require HIV/AIDS testing as a prerequisite for recruitment, training or promotion. Where an employee is unable to perform his/her duties due to illness, their services may be terminated in accordance with Section 188(1)(a)(i) of The Labour Relations Act.
- The same sick leave policies will be applied to HIV/AIDS sufferers, as with any other illness. Reasonable time off will be given for counselling and treatment.
- XXX will provide information about HIV/AIDS prevention, transmission and treatment.
- XXX will take all reasonable measures to create and maintain a healthy and safe working environment.
- Discrimination by any member of staff against anyone with HIV/AIDS will not be tolerated. Any employees found doing this, will face disciplinary action.
- Disciplinary action will be taken against any member of staff who is found to have deliberately or negligently disclosed the HIV/AIDS status of another employee to a third party.
HIV/AIDS is a present and real threat to the health and wellbeing of employees. A simple policy statement, which spells out rights and obligations, protects the employer and employees from unwittingly breaking the law.