McDonald’s employee fired for being HIV-positive

This year it was reported that an employee of a McDonald’s restaurant in America was dismissed by his employer on the grounds of his HIV-positive status.

Under the Equality Act 2010, disability is usually defined as a physical or mental impairment where the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on one’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. However, HIV infection is deemed automatically to be a disability for the purposes of the 2010 Act.

Employees living with HIV/AIDS therefore have all the protections under the Equality Act 2010 that other disabled employees have, which includes, protection from unfair dismissal. If an individual with HIV goes on to develop AIDS, they may, for example, suffer from illnesses which can affect their performance at work, therefore, care will need to be taken by employers when dealing with employees who are absent because of AIDS related illnesses.

There remain outdated attitudes about HIV/AIDS which might cause problems in the workplace. In dealing with such circumstances, employers should educate their workforce about the realities (e.g. the low risk of transmission) which may help reduce any unsubstantiated fears.

An important thing to remember for employers is that compensation for unlawful discrimination claims are uncapped, therefore, such claims can be extremely costly to an organisation.

Dominic Bonham