Despite anti-discrimination rules, HIV-positive man refused job

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/4 5:03:40

Hainan Medical University students hold activities to call for the elimination of discrimination against people living with HIV. Photo: CFP

Hainan Medical University students hold activities to call for the elimination of discrimination against people living with HIV. Photo: CFP

After working at a public institution in a county government in Shangrao, East China's Jiangxi Province, for several years, Wang Ke (pseudonym), aged 30, was ready for a career move from the county to the city, even though he was HIV positive - a secret he had kept from all but his family.

He applied for a post in a government institution in the city, scored top in the written test and interview, and was asked to take a health check this March as the last step before he can officially get the offer.

For most candidates, this is just a formality, but for Wang, it became the end of his dream to move up the career ladder. In April, he received a phone call from Shangrao's Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, which is in charge of employment in public institutions, telling him his job application had failed because he was tested positive for HIV.

Wang filed a lawsuit against the bureau in April, but the court in Shangrao's Xinzhou district ruled against him in October. Wang is now bringing the case to the court of second instance.

This is not the first case of discrimination against HIV carriers in the job market in China. In 2010, an HIV-positive man in Anhui Province sued the education department after being rejected for a teaching job, marking China's first HIV job discrimination case. But most cases of this nature ended up with the court ruling against the plaintiff.

Among these cases, Wang is the only plaintiff who showed up in court in person. "The fear surrounding HIV positive patients is still widespread in today's China, even though all laws and regulations clearly state that HIV positive patients should not be discriminated against. I want to change that attitude and fight for equal employment," he told the Global Times in a phone interview.

Devastating news

Wang first learned that he was HIV positive in early 2015. And just like most HIV positive patients, he had a hard time accepting it. "It was devastating. I was petrified when the doctors told me about it," he recalled when he first learned about his infection.

But after researching online and joining several chat groups formed by fellow patients, Wang managed to overcome his fear for the virus. "I found that many people managed to live on for two or three decades, and that the disease is actually pretty controllable," he said.

This prompted the aspiring young man to apply for a government post in the city of Shangrao at the end of last year. Before he applied, he made phone calls to the disease control authorities in his county, in Shangrao and in the province, and all of them assured him that employers are not allowed to screen prospective employees for HIV, and that he should not worry about it.

But that turned out to be just in theory. Days after the health check, Wang was ordered to do another blood test, and then two more times. "You should know what disease you have. You're at least morally inept," he recalled an officer at Shangrao's Human Resources and Social Security Bureau telling him in an argument. In April, he was officially denied the job.

Workplace discrimination 

It's a small world in Shangrao's public institution system, and news about Wang's failed job application and his HIV positive status soon reached his county and the public institution he currently works in. Soon, Wang found everyone in his workplace started to avoid him.

"My colleagues started to bring their own utensils during lunch, rather than using the public chopsticks and bowls in the canteen," Wang said. And it was not long before his employer completely forbade him to eat in the canteen, and told him, "It's healthier eating at home."

After media exposure, Wang is now allowed in the canteen, but he is still avoided by most colleagues. "If there is anything positive about getting AIDS, it is that it allows me to have a deeper understanding of human relationships," Wang said.

Ready for risks

Before filing the lawsuit, Wang had tried every means he had to get the job. He called the mayoral hotline, contacted legal aid centers, and even wrote to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, but all proved ineffective.

He also had a face-to-face talk with an  official at Shangrao's Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, who told him that hiring him would be "unfair to the runner up who applied for the job," and that this is not something the city of Shangrao could decide, but the provincial government.

"As a friend he wished me good health, and suggested that I should stay at my original institution," he said.

Having worked inside the government system for years, Wang's familiarity with the government makes him a shrewd plaintiff, or so he thinks. "I know how Chinese officials would rather make concessions to avoid trouble. So initially, I had hoped that the government would offer to transfer me to a public institution in Shangrao in order to appease me - for example, in a post in the city's healthcare department that deals with HIV positive patients."

But when that didn't happen - Wang said no one from the government had ever approached him for any possibility for a settlement - Wang is now prepared to risk it. "If the court of second instance still rules against me, I will petition and appeal to higher authorities, and try any means to make myself heard. In China, there's no way you can win such cases unless you attract public attention," he told the Global Times.

Newspaper headline: Fighting fear


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