HIV-positive nanny?

Whether it’s for one morning or 7 days a week, many parents are reliant on a domestic worker in some capacity or other. Often these women are responsible for cleaning our homes, preparing our food and watching our children. It’s the most intimate relationship most of us will ever have with an employee.

Previously, domestic workers weren’t protected by labour laws, and exploitation was rife. But now they are entitled to a minimum wage and basic working conditions; and they are protected against HIV-related discrimination in the work place.

If your domestic worker’s primary role is as a child minder, you might feel that as a parent you should have certain rights as well. One of them being the right to know your nanny’s HIV status. 

It is not impossible to know your nanny’s HIV status, but what is important is why you want to find out, how you intend to find out, and what you intend to do with the information.

I want to know my nanny’s HIV status, what do I do?

‘Look there is no law saying you cannot ask your nanny her HIV status,’ says Karin Thomsen of Super Nannies nanny placement agency, ‘but she is not obliged to reveal it to you and you cannot dismiss her based on her status if she does reveal it to you.’

Some parents feel uncomfortable leaving their children with a nanny who either won’t reveal her status, or one who doesn’t even know her HIV status.

But the law also protects the nanny’s rights when it comes to being tested for HIV, ‘The law states that you must get permission from the Labour Court first before you can ask your nanny to test for HIV,’ says Karin.

My nanny is HIV positive, can I dismiss her?

If you have followed proper procedure and your nanny has of her own freewill revealed to you that she is HIV positive, your first reaction might be to dismiss her. Don’t.

This course of action would be completely against labour laws, and your nanny could take you to the CCMA (Commission on Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).

‘You cannot be dismissed just because you have HIV,’ says Karin, ‘this is automatically called an unfair dismissal because you have been dismissed only because of your HIV status, not because you cannot do the work.’ But obviously as a parent, your first thought and main priority is your child’s safety.

So, what exactly are the risks to my child?

Strangely enough, HIV is actually not an easy virus to catch. ‘The virus is primarily contracted via sexual intercourse and can be transmitted from mother to child through birth and breast feeding,’ says Dr Limakatso Lebina of the Zuzimpilo HIV and AIDS Clinic in Johannesburg, ‘as long as your nanny isn’t breastfeeding your child, your child is almost certainly 99.9% safe.’

Fears of the virus spreading from the nanny to the child via a cut or a rash are very unrealistic. ‘Education is key: if your nanny knows to stop any bleeding straight away and cover any cuts with a plaster, there is minimal risk of infection,’ says Dr Lebina.

What changes do I need to make if my nanny is HIV-Positive?

Being HIV-Positive doesn’t need to be a barrier between domestic worker and employer. In fact, it can be an opportunity for your relationship with your domestic worker to grow in respect and trust.

Karin says: ‘The best thing to do is to educate your nanny on HIV treatment and transmission. Education takes away the fearful assumptions about the disease, for both you and your nanny.’
‘If you know your nanny is HIV positive, you could encourage her to take antiretroviral medication. This reduces the viral load to almost a minimal in the blood, and will also reduce the chances of transmission to other people,’ Dr Lebina adds.

All decisions about her treatment are hers to make, though.

Whether your nanny is HIV positive or not, the most important thing is to respect her rights, educate her about the disease, and of course make sure you agree on a course of action in all situations to protect both her health and the health of your children.

Read more about labour laws around HIV in the work place.

Does the law protect both domestic workers and employers adequately?

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