Care worker hits out at ingrained prejudice against HIV sufferers

A care worker with HIV who won a discrimination case in a landmark tribunal under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) has hit out at the myths surrounding HIV, and the ingrained prejudice against people diagnosed with the condition.

Scott Donnelly (formerly Scott Watts), a trained nurse, was sacked from his job at High Quality Lifestyle (HQL), a care home for men with aggressive behavioural difficulties, in October 2004, after being deemed a ‘major risk’ to patients.

Speaking exclusively to Personnel Today, Donnelly said that the possibility of one of the patients biting him was “negligible”, and that he was shocked there was still so much prejudice against people with HIV.

“Employers need to support workers with HIV, not rally against them,” he said.

The organisation claimed that it had been forced to dismiss Donnelly because there was a strong likelihood that he could be bitten by a violent patient, who might then become infected. HQL also said that Donnelly should have disclosed that he was HIV positive at his interview.

But in September last year, an employment tribunal in Ashford, Kent, ruled that HQL had failed to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate Donnelly’s illness, as required by the DDA, and breached confidentiality by discussing his condition.

Donnelly, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 while working as a manager for a fast-food chain, said the HQL application form made no mention of HIV, and that he did not believe he had any obligation to disclose his condition.

Donnelly added that he had searched extensively for a comparable case of HIV transmission through biting. He consulted with the Terrence Higgins Trust and the UK Coalition of People Living with HIV and Aids, but they had both concluded the risk was negligible.

The case should serve as a warning for UK employers, according to Mark Legister, head of employment at law firm Duncan Lewis & Co. He said employers should seek advice on HIV issues, or run the risk of facing serious financial damages.

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