HIV/AIDS in the Workplace and Learning Environment
S.B. 959, passed in the 71st Texas Legislature, specifies that workplace guidelines be promulgated to assure that the rights and privileges of individuals infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus ("HIV") are protected. Pursuant to that requirement and in recognition of the serious nature of HIV and related health issues in the work and learning environment, the following guidelines and rules are established for Texas A&M University at Galveston.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus cripples the body's ability, through the immune system, to fight infection. Once infected with HIV, a person may remain without symptoms for a long period of time, but is able to infect others through sexual or direct blood contact. As the disease progresses, the immune system can become so weakened that a person may eventually develop life-threatening infections and cancers. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the final stage of HIV infection.
III. Methods of HIV/AIDS Transmission
An individual infected with HIV, although seemingly healthy and without symptoms, may transmit the virus in the following ways:
1. by having sex with an uninfected person (through semen, vaginal fluids, or blood);
2. by sharing needles and syringes;
3. from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy or possibly to the baby through breast-feeding; or
4. by donating infected blood or blood products.
Current scientific and medical technology has determined that HIV is transmitted through certain behaviors, not the environment, and that there is no risk of HIV/AIDS infection through routine daily contact. Live HIV must gain entry to the blood stream or mucous membranes to cause infection. Employees and students are not at risk of exposure to HIV through:
1. casual contact (shaking hands, working side-by-side);
2. use of equipment or supplies (tools, telephones, machinery, furniture, typewriters);
3. use of restrooms, eating or cooking facilities, water fountains;
4. the environment (air, water, insects); or
5. donating blood for blood drives.
IV. HIV/AIDS in the Work/Learning Environment
The existence of HIV infection should not be used to determine suitability of applicants for employment or for student admission unless current scientific information indicates that required activities may expose others to risk of transmission.
A student with HIV infection should be allowed to attend classes without restrictions as long as the student is physically and mentally able to participate, perform assigned work, and poses no physical health risk to others.
An HIV-infected employee will remain employed as long as he or she meets job performance standards and does not engage in activities on the job which current scientific information indicates may expose others to risk of transmission. This right is protected by law.
V. HIV/AIDS Rules Promulgation
The university will adopt rules, procedures and education programs to help its employees and students better understand the medical, legal, administrative and ethical issues involved with HIV/AIDS.
The rules establish that a person's refusal to work or attend classes with HIV-infected individuals will be carefully monitored and documented. Appropriate accommodation or corrective or disciplinary measures may be implemented for people who refuse to work or attend classes with HIV-infected individuals.
The university's rules are available to students, faculty and staff members through handbooks, manuals, brochures or any other method deemed appropriate. Institutional course catalogs should state that educational pamphlets are available to students.
Such rules shall be submitted to the System General Counsel for review and approval.
Texas A&M University does not discriminate against any individual applying for and living in University housing provided the person meets all University admissions criteria and abides by University and residence hall rules. As such, Texas A&M University at Galveston will not exclude HIV-positive students from University housing and will grant the same rights and confidentiality to HIV residents as are accorded to all residence hall students.
There is no justification for excluding individuals infected with HIV from
residential housing. In some circumstances, however, there may be reasonable
concern for the health of someone with a weakened immune system, whether due to
HIV infection or another illness, who might be exposed to certain infectious
diseases in a community living situation. Students with HIV may be offered a
private room only after thorough discussion with the student involved, and only
with his/her consent. Throughout the above discussion, the student's identity
will be protected.
VI. Workplace Management
The approach and resolution of HIV issues in the workplace will vary amongst System members. Careful attention should be given to:
1. existing leave rules for management of chronic conditions;
2. assessment of employee and agency needs;
3. current scientific information about HIV and its related conditions; and
4. current laws and rules regarding HIV/AIDS. (For information on testing, see Section X, HIV Testing, below. For information on confidentiality, refer to Confidentiality)
During the asymptomatic period, the employee is not obligated to provide information about his/her HIV status to the employer. Once HIV-related symptoms occur, it is the employee's responsibility to provide to the employer medically verified information relating to the employee's ability to perform job duties.
VII. Eligibility for Benefits
Workers' Compensation - For the purpose of qualifying for Workers' Compensation or any other similar benefits, State law requires that an employee must provide a written statement of the date and circumstances of the work-related exposure to HIV infection and document the fact that, within ten days or less after exposure, the employee had a test result that indicated an absence of HIV infection. An employee who may have been exposed to HIV while performing duties of employment may not be required to be tested, but refusal to be tested may jeopardize Worker's Compensation benefits.
Unemployment Compensation Benefits - Each System member shall inform employees that state law provides that an individual will be disqualified for Unemployment Compensation benefits:
1. if the Texas Workforce Commission ("TWC") finds that the employee left work voluntarily rather than provide services included within the course and scope of employment to an individual infected with a communicable disease, including HIV. This disqualification applies if the university provided facilities, equipment, training, and supplies necessary to take reasonable precautions against infection.
2. if the TWC finds that the employee has been discharged from employment based on a refusal to provide services included within the course and a scope of employment to an individual infected with a communicable disease, including HIV. This disqualification applies if the university provided facilities, equipment, training, and supplies necessary to take reasonable precautions against infection.
Health Benefits - No Texas A&M University at Galveston student or employee will be subjected to impermissible discrimination under a health benefits plan endorsed by the university on the basis of a positive HIV test result.
VIII. HIV Education Programs
The university offers educational training programs on HIV/AIDS to students and employees. Such programs should be tailored to the cultural, educational, language and developmental needs of the target audience.
Texas A&M University at Galveston shall annually provide each employee an educational pamphlet about methods of transmission and prevention of HIV infection and relevant state laws. The pamphlet shall also be provided to new employees on the first day of employment.
Institutions shall make available to students, on request, one or more educational pamphlets on HIV infection developed by the TDH or similar educational materials and shall include in the student handbook a statement that pamphlets are available from the institution.
The student health service should provide information on prevention of HIV infection, including:
1. the value of abstinence and long-term mutual monogamy;
2. information on the efficacy and use of condoms; and
3. State laws relating to the transmission, and to conduct that may result in the transmission, of HIV.
IX. Guideline Related to Laboratory Courses
Safety Precautions - The university shall develop guidelines for health care workers and students in the health professions concerning prevention of transmission of HIV and concerning health care workers who have HIV infection. Each System health care worker who is involved in hands-on patient care should complete an educational course about HIV infection based on the model education program and workplace guidelines developed by the TDH and the guidelines of this policy.
Education of Students Entering Health Professions - Each institution offering medical, dental, nursing, allied health, counseling and social work degree programs should include within the program curricula information about:
Guidelines for Laboratory Courses - University laboratory courses requiring exposure to material that has potential for transmitting HIV should adopt safety guidelines for handling such material and distribute this information to students and staff prior to such exposure.
X. HIV Testing
Mandatory Testing - No programs for mandatory HIV testing of employees, students, or patients should be undertaken unless required by law or court order.
Voluntary Testing and Counseling - The student health service, the Director of Counseling and the Director of Human Resources should offer or refer students, faculty, and staff members for confidential or anonymous HIV counseling and testing services. All testing conducted by the University will comply with the section Informed Consent and will include counseling before and after the test. Unless required by law, test results should be revealed to the person tested only when the opportunity is provided for immediate, individual, face-to-face counseling about:
1. the meaning of the test result;
2. the possible need for additional testing;
3. measures to prevent the transmission of HIV;
4. the availability of appropriate health care services, including mental health care, and appropriate social and support services in the geographic area of the person's residence;
5. the benefits of partner notification;
6. the availability of partner notification programs; and
7. Identifying and changing high risk behaviors.
Informed Consent - Unless otherwise authorized or required by law, no HIV test should be performed without informed consent of the person to be tested. Consent will be written on a separate form, or the medical record will document that the test has been explained and consent has been obtained. The consent form will state that post-test counseling will be offered or the medical record will note that the patient has been informed that post-test counseling will be offered.
Reporting of Test Results - HIV test results will be reported in compliance with all applicable statutory requirements, including the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Act, Texas Health and Safety Code, Section 81.001.
Conditions of HIV Testing of Employees at Institution's Expense - Employees will be informed that they may request HIV testing and counseling at the expense of the University if:
1. The employee documents, to the satisfaction of the President and CEO for Texas A&M University at Galveston, possible exposure to HIV while performing duties of employment; and
2. The employee was exposed to HIV in a manner that is capable of transmitting HIV as determined by guidelines developed by the Texas Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the U.S. Public Health Service.
Based on the Federal Privacy Act, the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, and the Texas Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Act, any medical documentation or information provided by an HIV-infected employee or student to medical or management personnel must be considered confidential and private information. As such, employers are forbidden by law to disclose this information without the employee's knowledge and consent, except as provided by law (Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Act, Section 9.03, as amended by SB 959).
With consent of the HIV-infected employee, appropriate agency officials such as medical staff, personnel representatives, and/or direct supervisors may be informed of the infected employee's condition. Anyone who has access to confidential information is charged with maintaining strict confidentiality and privacy. It must be emphasized that any individual within an organization who breaches the HIV-infected employee's rights has committed a serious offense. This breach may be cause for litigation, resulting in both civil and criminal penalties.