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?

Persons 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 get 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 the AIDS Law Project’s Legal InfoLine in order to strategize about ways to address any 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, which include:

  • 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.

An employer only has an obligation to grant the reasonable accommodation if, as a result of the accommodation, the employee is then qualified to perform the essential job duties. An employer does not have to hire or retain an employee who cannot perform the essential functions of the job, even with a reasonable accommodation.

Do Vermont laws provide for access to clean needles for injection drug users to prevent HIV transmission?

Yes.  In light of the clear scientific evidence that programs offering access to clean needles: (1) decrease new HIV and hepatitis B and C infections; and (2) increase the number of injection drug users referred to substance abuse treatment, the Vermont Legislature in 1999 passed a law permitting community-based needle exchange programs (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, §§ 4475, 4476 & 4478).

Under this law, an AIDS service organization, substance abuse provider, or licensed health care provider or facility may apply to the department of health to operate a needle exchange program.  Importantly, a person who possesses needles obtained through such a program is not in violation of the laws making it a crime to possess drug paraphernalia.

How does a person show that he or she lawfully obtained needles through an authorized exchange program?

Needle exchange programs provide identification cards for consumers who are enrolled in the program.  Regulations of the department of health mandate that the cards shall not identify the consumer by name, but rather use a confidential identifier system (see Vermont Department of Health, Operating Guidelines for Organized Community-Based Needle Exchange Programs, July 2010).

Am I able to purchase a syringe over-the-counter at a pharmacy?

Yes. Vermont has no legal barrier to the purchase of a syringe at a pharmacy.