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Hep C Discrimination in the Workplace

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. December 21, 2009

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There are several reasons why people with Hepatitis C might be discriminated against at work. However, delving deeper into these reasons clearly demonstrates that such discrimination is unacceptable.

Mostly fueled by ignorance about Hepatitis C infection, many with this illness are subject to discrimination. Unfortunately, unfair discrimination can lead to seemingly devastating consequences to a person’s employment status. Thus, those with Hepatitis C may find themselves engaged in a campaign to educate fellow workers and employers about their disease and their capacity for productivity.

Considering how many companies are currently cost-cutting, downsizing and laying off employees, job security is the source of tremendous stress for a majority of Americans. For the four to five million Americans with the disease, discrimination based on Hepatitis C can be especially worrisome in the workplace. Understanding why Hepatitis C could be discriminated against can help those with this disease decide with whom – and how – they discuss their health status.

The Basis of Discrimination

Two primary reasons for discrimination are fear and ignorance. Based on these qualifiers, Hepatitis C is a prime candidate for discrimination because of:

  1. Transmission – Because there is no Hepatitis C vaccine and no guaranteed cure, people are afraid of getting it. Many do not know that Hepatitis C is only transmitted via blood- to-blood contact. Such ignorance about its transmission can make some fearful about casual contact (as happens in most work environments) with a person who has Hepatitis C.
  2. Fear of Illness – Some individuals are uncomfortable being around others who are sick. Being uncomfortable around others with an illness is how certain people protect themselves from their personal fear of disease. A self-serving, coping mechanism, this discomfort may cause social rejection of people with disease to spare risking emotional exposure to suffering and/or death.

Justification for Discrimination

For the most part, receiving different treatment for Hepatitis C status is not just unfair, but it is against the law. However, some employers may feel justified in their discriminatory stance against employees with this illness. Business owners concerned about employee attendance and productivity may assume that someone with Hepatitis C would perform poorly in these areas. This is due to an assumption that those with Hepatitis C are subject to repeated doctor’s appointments or feeling fatigued or sick often.

According to “The Hepatitis C Survey: Bridging the Gaps in HCV Understanding and Treatment” – conducted by TNS and Synovate and sponsored by Novartis and Human Genome Sciences – one area in which this disease exerts a toll on patients is in employment. In this survey, Hepatitis C patients described missing days at work, decreases in productivity and lost income. The following statistics were deciphered:

  1. 44 percent of respondents reported taking time off from work
  2. 36 percent of respondents reported reduced productivity

These statistics could be of concern to employers who are forced to maximize their employees’ efficiency. However, these statistics must be put into context. Without a reliable comparison of how many people without Hepatitis C take time off from work and how many without Hepatitis C experience reduced work productivity, chances are it would not be that far from those surveyed. This is because, at some time or another, everybody must contend with illness and not feeling up to par.

From another perspective, today’s employment hardships intensify the competition for workers to keep their jobs. While such competition can prevent people from taking time off from work, it certainly diminishes their productivity. According to an article published in the October 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review, making workaholics take time off improved their work performance.

Unless a person with Hepatitis C is exhibiting a behavior or pattern that would be problematic for other employees, their job security should not be threatened. To do so is discrimination, an unlawful incarnation of fear and ignorance. As more people learn to cope with their own fears around illness, that casual contact does not transmit Hepatitis C and that a person with Hepatitis C is no more apt to miss work or have diminished productivity compared to others, discriminating against this disease in the workplace will no longer be tolerated.

References:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/Rcw/default.aspx?cite=49.60.172, Unfair practices with respect to HIV or hepatitis C infection, Retrieved November 4, 2009, Washington State Legislature, 2009.

http://drugstorenews.com/%28S%281ednfv453jha1c45rnnwft45%29%29/story.aspx?id=120727&menuid=335, Survey finds hepatitis C patients adversely affected by medications, Alaric DeArment, Retrieved November 4, 2009, Drug Store News, October 2009.

http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/10/making-time-off-predictable-and-required/ar/1, Making Time Off Predictable–and Required, Leslie A. Perlow, Jessica L. Porter, Retrieved November 5, 2009, Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Publishing, October 2009.

http://www.hepatitis-central.com/mt/archives/2007/08/breaking_the_he.html, Breaking the Hepatitis C Social Stigma, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved November 5, 2009, Natural Wellness, 2009.

http://www.hepeducation.org/supportgroups/documents/DISCLOSURE.pdf, Hepatitis C Disclosure, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved November, 4, 2009, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2009.

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/question-28290.html, I was fired because of my hepatitis C: Was this legal?, Retrieved November 4, 2009, Nolo, 2009.

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HepatitisCentral.com provides information regarding hepatitis and liver disease. Comments are available to the community in order to discuss these topics and obtain answers to questions through community members. The Editors at HepatitisCentral.com will not be responding to questions or comments posed in article comments.

  • X-15

    What is a test for whether or not hepatitis c discrimination was the cause of a person losing their job?

  • Blue

    I am being discriminated at work because my HR Dept told my boss I have Hepatitis C. Help. What do I do?

  • dasst

    In medical profession is the employer requirer to pay for hep shots?