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Case will test efficacy of HIV/Aids workplace disclosure policies

A labour case that will test the efficacy of policies regarding treatment of people living with HIV/Aids and status disclosure in the workplace has been brought before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in Cape Town.

According to a Cape Argus report, the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has brought the arbitration case against the Department of Health on behalf of one of its members who works at Groote Schuur Hospital.

The union lodged a complaint regarding the conduct of a senior manager at the hospital after he allegedly told a co-employee confidential information regarding the HIV status of another employee. The information, according to the argument brought before the CCMA, was shared in confidence and in an attempt to explain the woman’s absenteeism from work. The union also alleges that the information was shared without the concerned woman’s consent.

The report says it has also argued that subsequent to the manager being informed of the woman’s HIV status, she received differential treatment which led to the impairment of her dignity. Subsequently, she suffered from depression and tried to commit suicide and after this was foiled, she tried to vent her anger on the manager and planned to attack him.

The report says the union acknowledged the fact that the manager was issued a final written warning by the hospital, but it challenged the fact its member was not given an opportunity to show the gravity of the offence on her part. However, the department, through its lawyers, argued that no discrimination took place against the woman employee and that action was taken against the manager in the form of a transfer to another department. The department also argued that there was collusion by the complainant and two others to have the manager removed from the Department of Health because each had an axe to grind with him.

In his evidence, the manager told the hearing that the woman worked in his department but reported to another co-employee. According to his knowledge, the woman performed very well at work but her frequent absenteeism was brought to his attention by her supervisor. After hearing the woman’s side, he said, a solution was found: the woman was transferred to another unit where she did not have to work on weekends and public holidays.

However, after a while, the woman employee came to see her in his office, in tears, and told him that she had just found out about her HIV status. “I told her not to tell her immediate boss because she has a big mouth and also offered to refer her for counselling but she said her doctor had already given her some counselling.”

The report says he also told the hearing that after a mass resignation of workers at his department, the hospital was forced to outsource some services and this affected certain departments, including the one in which the complainant worked. “I personally called the complainant to my office to explain where she would be transferred – a unit which dealt with patients living with HIV because it had similar working shifts to what she was now working,” he said.

However, the report says, Nehawu’s legal representative challenged this version, arguing that one of its witnesses would testify that she was informed by the manager of the woman’s HIV status shortly after she had disclosed in confidence to him.

When it was put to the manager he had signed a final written warning he argued he did so despite his objections as he wanted the matter behind him. It emerged that he was “progressively disciplined” therefore no formal disciplinary hearing was held.

The report says other accusations levelled against him included nepotism and sexual harassment. Nehawu also argued that the employer failed in its duty to support the woman.

The hearing was postponed to 27 June, the report says.

[link url=""]Cape Argus report (subscription needed)[/link]

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