New Code of Practice in Kenya Protects HIV+ Employees

Posted on 23 July 2009. Filed under: Governance, MDGs, Public Health |


Photo: UNAIDS
“Your CV is great. But we need your HIV test”

NAIROBI, 22 July 2009 (PlusNews) – When Doreen Aluoch*, 32, got a job as a chef at a leading hotel in Kenya four years ago, she was told she had to have a medical examination before she could be employed, but she did not know that the routine checkup would include an HIV test.

“I was taken to the clinic and my stool, urine and blood samples were taken. I was shocked when I was told that I cannot work as a chef because I had HIV, yet nobody even bothered to tell me that I was undergoing an HIV test,” she said.

“I am now running my own restaurant and I perform just like anybody else, and there are many people like me in every sector. Even people who know my HIV status eat at my restaurant and none of them has ever come to tell me he or she contracted HIV because they ate food cooked by me. If one should not be employed because they are HIV positive, then equally even somebody having about of malaria or hypertension is not fit to work either.”

The Federation of Kenya Employers, in conjunction with the International Labour Organization, the Ministry of Labour, the National AIDS Control Council and other bodies in the Kenyan labour sector have instituted a new code of practice that prohibits employers from compelling employees and prospective employees from undergoing HIV tests without consent.

Applicants selected for a job are routinely given medical tests to ensure that they are healthy and qualify for insurance cover. Employers of people with medical conditions such as hypertension and HIV have to pay higher insurance premiums.

“There is nothing wrong with an employer asking for medical examination results from an employee, because this helps them help the employee manage their health conditions better,” said Jacqueline Mugo, executive director of the Federation of Kenya Employers.

“[But] we are saying it is wrong to use this, and specifically in relation to HIV and AIDS, to deny one employment opportunity so long as they are fit to work. It is immoral to single out HIV as a reason for denying one employment.”

Patchy implementation of workplace policies

''It is immoral to single out HIV as a reason for denying one employment''

She noted that “While 60 percent of employers in Kenya have HIV and AIDS policies, they vary in nature and we envisage that this code of practice will act as a guideline, and set the ground rules for employers in implementing workplace and world of work HIV policies.”

Irene Opiyo, a labour policy consultant, said most employers did not want to employ people living with HIV because they perceived them as unproductive, and would increase the company’s health care costs. She called on the government to draw up labour legislation regarding HIV and crack down on companies with discriminatory policies.

In July 2008, a woman won a landmark case in the Kenyan High Court when she sued her employer for dismissing her on the basis of her HIV status, and her doctor for revealing her HIV tests results without her consent.

In the only case of its kind in Kenya, the court awarded the former waitress US$35,000 and ruled that it was unlawful to end a person’s employment on the basis of being HIV positive.

AIDS activist William Kundi told IRIN/PlusNews that the new code of practice was long overdue. “Some employers do not even tell you the reason they are not employing you, and only tell you that you are not fit to work. It is traumatizing and … stops those who are positive … from revealing their status.”

The new code will help organizations in the management, care and treatment of employees living with HIV, and will also help them set up HIV-related interventions in places of work.

“I believe this is the best place to reach them [employees] with HIV-related messages, like those that promote reduction of stigma, abstinence and faithfulness,” said Mugo. “Employers must work closely with employees to reduce stigma at the workplace to increase productivity of employees.”

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