State Jobs Policy Improves for People with HIV/AIDS

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania has persuaded the state to revise regulations on occupational and professional licensing to protect workers and job applicants with HIV.

Harnessing the support of then-Gov. Ed Rendell, the AIDS Law Project was able to get a decades-old policy statement updated in January to specifically exclude HIV as a disease that would bar people from being employed or accepted for job training.

Nearly 30 state licensing boards had been bound by language that could create roadblocks for people with “infectious,” “contagious” and “communicable” diseases.

“The state regulations were using those terms interchangeably, without definition and without recognizing that HIV is not transmitted in a workplace,” said Executive Director Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq. “The new statement clarifies that those terms are not to be applied to people with HIV, thereby protecting them from job discrimination.”

The licensing policy covers dozens of jobs and professions in Pennsylvania, including: barbers, cosmetologists, pharmacists, nurses, nursing assistants, physical therapists, podiatrists and optometrists.

The AIDS Law Project’s effort to clarify the policy stemmed from a 2006 case in which an HIV-positive client had been denied admission to a cosmetology school that interpreted the state’s rules as barring him from taking a licensing exam. As part of the successful resolution of that case, the state cosmetology board issued a statement that its licensing requirements should not exclude people with HIV.

A recent case in which a nursing assistant faced a similar roadblock, prompted the AIDS Law Project to push to clarify the state’s umbrella policy governing all licensing boards.

Rendell supported the policy update after Goldfein conferred with then-Commonwealth Secretary Basil Merenda in a meeting arranged by Michael Marsico, then-deputy director of the governor’s office. Former AIDS Law Project staffer Patrick J. Egan, now assistant professor of politics and public policy at New York University, served as an adviser to Goldfein during the process.

“The new policy makes Pennsylvania consistent with federal law,” said Merenda. “Now, people who have an HIV disability can pursue the professions they want to work in, that they have the experience and qualifications to be licensed in.

“They can be productive members of society and help people, as well as achieve their own dreams.”

The new policy statement posted on the website of the state’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, now spells out that the “the Bureau, in accordance with the ADA and the guidance from the United States Department of Justice, has determined that, for the purposes of administering the professional and occupational licensing laws over which it or any of its 29 licensing Boards have jurisdiction, the terms  ‘infectious disease,’ ‘communicable disease’ or ‘contagious disease’ do not include diseases, such as HIV, that are not transmitted through casual contact or through the usual practice of the profession or occupation for which a license is required.”

The Bureau’s full statement can be on the Department of State’s website.