Ali is a 29 year old man doing seasonal fruit picking work in regional Victoria. Ali also has chronic hepatitis C. He has been living in unstable accommodation (a caravan park with no lease) for six months. Prior to moving to the caravan park, he had experienced great difficulty securing affordable accommodation as a young single man with only a casual income.
He had been accessing a housing support service for about 14 months, and had a good relationship with his worker. In conversation, he had confided in this worker that he had hepatitis C. When the worker moved on and was replaced, Ali began to experience some difficulty accessing the service and the new worker. Ali didn’t know at the time, but his hepatitis C status had been noted in his case file so the new worker knew this information before she even met Ali.
During their first meeting she asked Ali how he got hep C, which made him very uncomfortable. Ali is very worried that his hep C status has had a negative impact on his relationship with the new worker, and therefore his chances of finding secure accommodation.
Ali did not consent to this personal health information, that is, his hepatitis c status, being passed on or written in his case file. It had no relevance to Ali’s housing issues so the housing support workers had no right to ask about or record his hepatitis status.
Ali may have a right to pursue a discrimination claim against his new case worker on the basis that she had treated him less favourably in providing him with services than someone without his medical condition. This is shown in her questions to him about how he got hep C and in her attitude to him. He should take careful note of when she made the comments and her words used. He should also make notes of any further comments or behaviour from her that he felt was discriminatory. In relation to the use of his private medical information, the Victorian government department may be in breach of the Health Privacy Principles and Ali should contact the Victorian Health Services Commissioner and lodge a complaint about the collection and use of his personal information.
Jim had been working for several years as a casual despatch clerk for a large employer. He was very keen to have a more secure employment situation and after four years an opportunity came up for Jim to turn his casual position into an ongoing permanent position.
One of the requirements for this was that Jim had to undergo a pre employment medical examination where he was going to be asked about his blood borne virus status. Jim is HIV positive but his condition is well controlled with medication and he is otherwise healthy.
Jim was concerned that what he disclosed in the medical examination would not remain private as he remembered a case where another employee’s medical condition became common knowledge after the man in question had gone through a medical examination for work purposes.
Not confident that his privacy would be respected, Jim decided not to disclose his HIV status. A pre-employment medical is only able to look into medical matters that are directly related to the job and he knew that he was not required to reveal any medical condition unless it was absolutely necessary. His HIV hadn’t been a risk to his fellow workers in the past and he didn’t see how it could be in the future. His health did not affect his ability to do the job so there was no need to disclose his condition.
Donna has Type 1 diabetes and needs to inject insulin daily but is otherwise well. She travels often for work including regular air travel to Sydney.
She was advised by her doctor that she must carry her injections with her on the plane and not put them through with her luggage where they might be subject to uncontrolled temperatures. She normally carries a letter from her doctor explaining her medical condition and noting that she is required to carry her medication in her hand luggage. The letter was slightly more than a year old.
On arriving at the airport for one of her regular Sydney trips, Donna advised the check-in staff member that she was carrying sharps. The woman asked to see her medical authority, which Donna provided. The woman noticed the date was over 12 months old and refused to allow Donna to board the flight carrying her injections. Donna explained patiently that she had frequently flown on the same airline and had never before been told that she could not carry her medication on board explaining why it must be carried on as hand luggage. Getting nowhere with the staff member, Donna asked to see a supervisor.
The supervisor arrived, examined the letter and agreed with the staff member that the letter was too old. Donna pointed out that this had never been a problem before and as her condition was not curable the letter was still relevant to her care regardless of the date.
Donna was also becoming conscious that her predicament was being witnessed by all the other passengers waiting to be processed. The supervisor then consulted with other staff and eventually returned stating that Donna could take her medication on board with her.
Donna was very relieved but she was also very embarrassed and felt the whole episode was humiliating in front of so many people. She wrote a letter of complaint to the airline outlining her belief that she had been discriminated against on the grounds that she was treated less favourably than a person who did not have her condition. She also pointed out that her privacy had been breached as the airline staff made no effort to keep the discussion confidential. She received a written apology in return promising to investigate the matter further, but did not hear from the airline again.
Donna decided to pursue the matter with the Health Services Commissioner and sent them a full explanation her complaint including copies of her letter to the airline and their reply. Unfortunately there was very little that the Commissioner could do in this situation. While Donna had felt humiliated, the airline staff had not actually breached any of the health privacy principles so action could not be taken. Donna was advised that privacy is not an absolute right, and that she also had a responsibility to be informed about and to follow airline regulations.
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