A Groote Schuur Hospital employee testified that a colleague had told her the complainant’s senior manager had shared her HIV status with a colleague but “in good faith”. Picture: BHEKI RADEBE
Cape Town - A Groote Schuur employee who appeared before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) this week testified that her employer had shown little regard for her situation after a senior manager disclosed her HIV status without her consent.

The arbitration case, brought to the CCMA by the National, Health and Education Workers’ Union on her behalf, challenges the efficacy of policies on the treatment of people living with HIV/Aids and the disclosure of their status at work.

The woman alleged that the disclosure of her HIV status without her consent violated her dignity and her constitutional right to privacy and confidentiality.

Among other things, she told the CCMA hearing that:

* A senior manager refused to deal with the matter saying he had no time to discuss it and there was nothing serious about HIV as his wife also lived with the virus

* Another senior manager said his domestic worker was also living with the virus and was on anti-retroviral treatment and that she could do the same.

* The most senior official at the hospital alleged that it appeared she was in denial about her status, but recommended that she be referred for professional support.

The woman said she shared her HIV status with the senior manager in confidence and in an attempt to explain her absenteeism from work, which had allegedly been a matter of concern.

In addition, she had an asthmatic child who would take ill and needed to be hospitalised.

She said she also submitted evidence in the form of sick notes.

She also alleged that although the implicated senior manager had been given a final written warning, she had not been given an opportunity to state her side of the story, including the grave effect of the disclosure on her mental and psychological health.

She also testified that she only heard of the news of the outcome when she enquired from the most senior official after being kept in the dark for “too long”.

“I was hospitalised at the time due to depression. The case was dragging on and I was kept in the dark on developments and this had taken its toll on me. I called the most senior official only to be told that an outcome had been reached,” she said.

She had tried to commit suicide and was prevented by a colleague from physically assaulting the manager who had disclosed her HIV status .

She also told the hearing that she received different treatment as a result of her HIV status.

When restructuring took place which affected the placement of staff, the manager allegedly told her where she would be placed while others were given an opportunity to choose for themselves.

“He told me that I would be placed at a certain ward and when I asked what that particular section dealt with he told me that it was for people living with HIV/Aids.

"And he said I was better placed to work there as I would understand the patients better. And this was said openly in front of other staff.”

Another employee, who worked in the hospital’s labour relations department, testified that it was the first time the hospital had had to deal with a a complaint of this nature and after preliminary investigations it referred the matter to the head office.

She also testified that another colleague had told her the complainant’s senior manager had shared her HIV status with a colleague but “in good faith”. The hearing was also told the matter was brought to the attention of the Health MEC by the complainant after numerous attempts to get feedback from Groote Schuur Hospital failed.

The department, through its lawyers, had previously argued that no discrimination took place against the woman employee and that action was taken against the manager in the form of a transfer to another department.

The hearing was postponed to August 10.

Weekend Argus