Employment discrimination and HIV stigma: survey results from civil society organisations and people living with HIV in Africa

  • Laurel Sprague
  • Sara Simon
  • Courtenay Sprague


The article presents findings from three surveys of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and civil society organisations about the experience of employment discrimination and stigma in the workplace. The work seeks to contribute to efforts by businesses and other organisations to effectively respond to the HIV epidemic within the world of work, and to deepen our understanding of the ways in which HIV stigma and employment discrimination persist in the workplace. The findings of global and regional surveys indicate the existence of high levels of employment discrimination based on HIV status worldwide, including forced disclosure of HIV status, exclusion in the workplace, refusals to hire or promote, and terminations of people known to be living with HIV. The survey findings show that employment discrimination based on HIV status is experienced in all African subregions. Country-level surveys conducted in Kenya and Zambia indicated that PLHIV face marked barriers to employment, including discrimination in hiring, loss of promotions, and termination because of HIV status. Additionally, large variances were found in the degree of support versus discrimination that employees living with HIV in those two countries received following their disclosure. The discussion emphasises the importance of the workplace as a site for intervention and behaviour change. To address this, we introduce a conceptual framework — the employment continuum — that maps multiple points of entry within the workplace to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Additional recommendations include: actions to ensure equal opportunity in hiring for PLHIV; ensuring that HIV testing is voluntary, never mandatory, and that disclosure is not necessary for employment; ensuring confidentiality of HIV status; communicating and enforcing HIV-related antidiscrimination policies; establishing support groups in the workplace; providing safe and confidential processes for resolving complaints of employment discrimination; and taking affirmative responsibility to verify that any job terminations are not the result of mistreatment or bias.

Keywords: attitudes, disclosure, HIV/AIDS, Kenya, social stigma, workplace, Zambia

African Journal of AIDS Research 2011, 10(supplement): 311–324

Author Biographies

Laurel Sprague
Wayne State University, Department of Political Science, 2040 Faculty/Administration Building, Detroit, Michigan 48202, United States
Sara Simon
Communication Facility of the NGO Delegation to the UNAIDS Board, Avenue de l’Opale 51, 1030 Brussels, Belgium
Courtenay Sprague
University of the Witwatersrand, Graduate School of Business Administration, 2 St David’s Place, Parktown 2193, Johannesburg, South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445