An article in the latest SHRM on HIV and AIDS in the workplace got me thinking. It made me think about a scenario where someone might be selected to go on an international assignment who later was discovered was HIV positive.
The article states that people with HIV and AIDS are living longer and capable of making valuable contributions as any other employee would, though it's true that their life expectancy is shortened by as much as 21 year's according to some reports.
Does your company do pre-assignment health screenings?
I worked for a company that offered pre-assignment health screenings overseas, but they weren't mandatory and I never saw someone refused an assignment due to the results. We didn't request or require them for U.S. employees due to avoid issues with entering conversations to do with a person's medical records.
I would encourage assignees to, once selected for assignment, visit their doctor for a full physical. This would enable the employee to get up-to-date medical records and obtain any maintenance prescriptions before the assignment's start.
I'm not sure if this is something that companies may want to revisit, though. Issues of discrimination due to disability might be raised if not handled well. Issues of confidentiality and the employee's future might perceived to be unavoidably damaged due to the stigma.
Some issues I've faced:
- An assignee has a heart attack;
- Serious car accident landing the transferee in ICU;
- An adult family member with mental retardation in the care of the assignee or in a group home requiring frequent visits;
- An accompanying child with severe autism;
- An accompanying spouse with mental illness;
There was nothing in our policy to require that persons going on assignment be physically fit to carry out the assignment.
It's a worthwhile exercise to discuss how your organization would handle this issue. Perhaps involving the person charged with fulfilling the companies diversity and inclusion program.
Facts to consider:
- Some countries (such as Russia and others) have travel restrictions pertaining to persons visiting or working who have HIV or AIDS.
- A visit to certain countries may increase exposure to deadly illnesses and adds risk for people with compromised immune systems.
- If symptoms become acute, this could force a premature end to the assignment.
- There may be reduced access to appropriate medical care.
- Consider how comprehensive your medical coverage for AIDS is...
Points for discussion:
- Should there be a stated policy to address, or could it be in an 'implementation guide' that would be accessible to Expatriate Managers only?
- What if it's a family member who has contracted HIV or AIDS? Should there be a policy to address liability issues if the family decides that they should still accompany.
- Would you rule out a prospective assignee who informs you of a chronic illness?
- How would you a chronic illness of an assignee discovered pre-assignment?
- How would you handle a chronic illness that is contracted or becomes acute during the assignment?
- Have you had an assignee, or accompanying family member with chronic illness?
- Is it possible to limit the companies liability if a person contracts a serious illness during the assignment?
- Are you equipped to handle a death during the assignment?
- Develop a policy to address persons with chronic illness, or persons that become ill or disabled during their assignment.
- Ensure that your insurance coverage (both life and welfare) is adequate for assignees needs.
- Work with your legal counsel and plan ahead for such instances.