Other questions and answers on HIV-Related Laws. Also see our pages on HIV/AIDS Discrimination and Testing and Privacy.

What does it mean that an employer may have to provide a “reasonable accommodation” for an employee with a disability?

People with disabilities, such as HIV/AIDS, may experience health-related problems that make it difficult to meet some job requirements or duties.  For example, a person may be exhausted or fatigued and find it difficult to work a full-time schedule.

In certain circumstances, the employer has an obligation to modify or adjust job requirements or workplace policies in order to enable a person with a disability, such as HIV or AIDS, to perform the job duties.  This is known as a “reasonable accommodation.”

Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Modifying or changing job tasks or responsibilities;
  • Establishing a part-time or modified work schedule;
  • Permitting time off during regular work hours for medical appointments;
  • Reassigning an employee to a vacant job; or
  • Making modifications to the physical layout of a job site or acquiring devices such as a telephone amplifier to allow, for example, a person with a hearing impairment to do the job.

How can a person obtain a reasonable accommodation?

It is, with rare exception, the employee’s responsibility to initiate the request for an accommodation.  In addition, an employer may request that an employee provide some information about the nature of the disability.  Employees with concerns about disclosing HIV/AIDS status to a supervisor should contact GLAD Answers at www.GLADAnswers.org in order to strategize about ways to respond to such requests.

There is no fixed set of accommodations that an employee may request.  The nature of a requested accommodation will depend on the particular needs of an individual employee’s circumstances.

Does an employer have to grant a request for a reasonable accommodation?

An employer is not obligated to grant each and every request for an accommodation.  An employer does not have to grant a reasonable accommodation that will create an “undue burden” (i.e. significant difficulty or expense for the employer’s operation).  In addition, the employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation if the employee cannot perform the job function even with the reasonable accommodation.

When is a “reasonable accommodation” for an employee an “undue burden” for an employer?

In determining whether a requested accommodation creates an undue burden or hardship for an employer, courts examine a number of factors, including:

  • The employer’s size, budget and financial constraints;
  • The costs of implementing the requested accommodation; and
  • How the accommodation affects or disrupts the employer’s business.

Again, each situation is examined on a case-by-case basis.

Am I able to purchase syringes at a pharmacy without a prescription?

Yes.  In 2006, Massachusetts passed a law allowing for pharmacies to sell syringes over the counter to anyone who is 18 years of age or older and decriminalizing possession of needles (M. G. L. c. 94c §§27-27A).

Does Massachusetts have needle exchange programs?

Yes.  Massachusetts law permits the Department of Public Health to establish needle exchange programs, but unfortunately requires “local approval” for the siting of a program (M. G. L. c.111 §215). To date, only Boston, Cambridge, Northampton, and Provincetown have needle exchange programs.

Does Massachusetts have a law that requires health insurance plans to cover lipodystrophy surgery?

Yes, on August 10, 2016, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law An Act Relative to HIV-Associated Lipodystrophy Syndrome Treatment. This first-of-its-kind legislation requires public and private insurers to cover treatment of a debilitating side effect of early HIV medications. This historic victory means that some of the longest-term survivors of the HIV epidemic will finally have access to the critical health care they need and deserve.

For more information, see: Governor Baker Signs Historic Law Requiring Treatment for HIV-Associated Lipodystrophy – GLAD.

Are insurance companies required to provide long-term care or life insurance to people who are taking PrEP?

As a general matter, no. However, in a GLAD case, Doe v Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company, Mutual of Omaha agreed to revise its underwriting guidelines to no longer decline long-term care insurance applicants solely on the basis that an applicant takes PrEP for HIV prevention.

For more information, see: Doe v. Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company – GLAD.

Disability Insurance

If you are unable to work and are on SSDI or private disability insurance, it is important to work closely with your medical providers to make sure that the medical documentation supports your continuing need for disability insurance.