When you’ve been given a positive HIV diagnosis, it can take considerable time to adjust to the news. You have to cope with the barrage of emotions you’re likely to be feeling at first and work out what adjustments you may have to make to your life.
Work is likely to be a consideration. Returning to work after an HIV diagnosis is a challenge. You may worry about taking time off sick and whether you want to share the news with your colleagues. Here are a few ways to find the strength and feel positive about a return to work:
Know Your Rights
Not all employers are up to speed when it comes to legislation on equality in the workplace. It’s good to know and be confident of your rights before you return to work. Firstly, you don’t have to tell your employer about your HIV status. If you’re worried that your employer won’t maintain confidentiality or that it could lead you to be unfairly stigmatised, it’s perfectly reasonable to keep the news to yourself.
If you decide to look for a new job, you don’t have to disclose any health information before you are offered a job. This means employers should not ask about your health during the application or interview process. If you are offered a job, employers then have the right to base their offer upon you meeting their health requirements, only if your health is relevant to the job.
Seek Support at Work
Carrying a secret can weigh heavily. If you feel you can confide in your boss or a workmate you trust, do so. Having a support network or just someone to talk to at work can greatly improve your feelings about returning to work. Some bigger companies may also have a readymade support system in place where employees can seek counselling for any issues they may be experiencing.
Find out what your company offers and decide if and who you want to tell. By telling your boss, they may be able to make “reasonable adjustments” to your work and make life easier for you. This could involve working from home, working flexible hours or just providing a place where you can take a break in private if you need it.
Seek Support Out of Work
Instead or in addition to the support you get at work, a support network out of work will help you to feel stronger too. Talk to friends and family or find a counselling service. Various charitable organisations offer help and advice. Take up opportunities to meet with other people with HIV. In these groups you can talk openly and share advice about dealing with your HIV status in the workplace. Knowing that others are experiencing the same challenges, getting their tips and sharing in their successes will help you to feel much less isolated.
Know That Work Can Make You Feel Stronger
When faced with an HIV diagnosis, you may feel that life will never be the same again. It can actually help you to move on and find ways to cope with that diagnosis if you continue with your usual daily activities. Meeting friends, enjoying a restaurant dinner and even going to work can all help to re-establish a sense of normality. Working gives you a feeling of purpose, it helps to keep you financially stable and it can temporarily distract you from your worries.
Finding the strength to return to work after an HIV diagnosis can be hard. There are still many misconceptions about what it means to have HIV. Prepare yourself for the challenge by knowing your rights and building a strong network of support.