SINGAPORE: Despite there being no law in Singapore that stipulates that persons who are HIV+ cannot be employed, discrimination against them continues to be a significant issue in the workplace, and HIV-positive individuals who fear rejection, prejudice, and dismissal if their status becomes known are seeking clearer legal protections.

27-year-old outreach worker Mr Chen (transliterated from Mandarin) shared his experiences with Lianhe Zaobao, expressing his challenges when applying for jobs after his diagnosis at 19. Mr Chen revealed that he faced immediate rejection three times when he disclosed his HIV status explicitly. In subsequent attempts, he chose not to mention HIV but described his condition as “immune deficiency” to avoid discrimination.

Mr Chen emphasized the need for increased societal understanding of HIV, stating, “When some employers hear the word ‘HIV,’ they show a discriminatory attitude of wanting to avoid us. But as long as we avoid HIV and describe health problems in another way, employers are more considerate of us. There is a gap in this.”

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Living with HIV also poses financial challenges for individuals like Mr Chen, who must follow up on medical treatments regularly. Even with subsidies, monthly medical expenses amount to at least $500 to $600. The stress of living with HIV is compounded by the dilemma of whether to disclose their health status when applying for jobs, fearing discrimination and potential job loss, on top of the stigma they face among their friends and family.

Action for AIDS (AfA) highlighted the importance of adherence to workplace guidelines launched in 2017 by the Ministry of Health, the National Employers Federation of Singapore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and the Health Promotion Board. AfA urged employers to follow these guidelines to prevent discrimination and called for the government to enact laws providing more protection for individuals living with HIV.

Despite the absence of specific laws protecting HIV-positive employees, individuals who believe they have been unfairly dismissed can seek recourse through the Employment Claims Tribunal. However, civil lawsuits challenging such dismissals are rare, possibly due to the stigma associated with HIV.

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Lawyers who spoke to the Chinese Daily emphasized that eliminating discrimination against HIV and AIDS requires changes in social attitudes, urging the promotion of education to raise awareness.

The upcoming Workplace Fairness Act, expected to be introduced in the second half of 2024, will also give all workers more protection against discrimination. The Act, which aims to ensure employees can report discrimination without fear of retaliation, will prohibit workplace discrimination related to age, nationality, gender, marriage, pregnancy, caregiving responsibilities, race, religion, language, physical disability and mental health issues.

The Ministry of Manpower and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) acknowledged receiving about 30 cases of claims of discrimination due to medical conditions, including HIV, in the past five years. The authorities assisted in two cases, but details of the actions taken were not disclosed.

The authorities have reiterated the importance of treating employees fairly based on their merits, regardless of their medical conditions. With an increase in HIV diagnoses in the first 10 months of this year, addressing workplace discrimination remains a crucial issue in Singapore.