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Know your rights

The Human Rights Act states that you do not have to tell anyone you have hepatitis, including your employer. However you should tell your employer if you work in an environment that may put others at risk, such as healthcare. Hepatitis is an innocent disease and workplace discrimination against someone who has it is illegal. 

You may choose to share your diagnosis with people you trust for support, and/or those directly affected, such as household members or sexual partners. Telling health care workers such as a doctor or nurse is also a good idea, e.g. so your GP can prescribe any necessary medication.

You should also take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of the virus to others.

Stigma and discrimination

Helen Purcell, a long-standing hepatitis community nurse, recalls days when children were banned from attending a school camp because they had hepatitis B. 

“I have an adult patient now who says he was made to feel dirty and terrible, and actually remembers being told exactly that. People were told it was a dirty disease, a sexual disease. It put people off getting tested.” 

This happened in the 1980s, when Helen was involved in a study that tested 93 per cent of Kawerau’s population to assess the prevalence of hepatitis B in the area. “Kawerau got a terrible name as the worst infectious place in New Zealand,” Helen says. 

That might have been decades ago, but the stigma is still an issue for many people with hepatitis B. 

Often, our nurses say, stigma is more of a problem for older patients, who have come from a world with less technology and therefore haven’t been able to access advice and support that can reduce feelings of discrimination.  

“I think the younger population know a lot more about their conditions, perhaps because they have information at their fingertips through Google and so on, older people often haven’t had that.” 

While it can be more of a problem for older patients, stigma and discrimination can affect people of all ages and cultures, including Maori and Pacific Islanders. 

About 100,000 New Zealanders are living with hepatitis B. Related stigma and discrimination can cause stress and anxiety and can be a major cause of social isolation and reduced intimacy in relationships. If you’re living with hepatitis B and need support or advice please contact us.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the unjust treatment of someone because of their race, age, gender, health condition or on other grounds. It is discrimination if an employer:

  • won’t or doesn’t give an employee the same terms of employment, work conditions, fringe benefits and opportunities for training and promotion as other employees with similar or the same qualifications, experience or skills and who are working in the same or similar roles

  • dismisses an employee or does something that has a negative effect on their employment, job performance or job satisfaction when they are not treating other employees doing the same type of work in the same way

  • retires an employee or makes the employee retire or resign (e.g by creating unfavourable working conditions to make the person resign).

The reasons for the above must be directly or indirectly a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Prohibited grounds of discrimination

Prohibited grounds of discrimination, as outlined in Section 21 of the Human Rights Act 1993, include:

  • Physical disability or impairment

  • Physical or psychiatric illness

  • Intellectual or psychological disability or impairment

  • Any other loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function

  • The presence in the body of organisms capable of causing illness.

I think I've been discriminated against. Where can I go for help?

If you think an employer is discriminating against you on the grounds listed above, your first step should be trying to resolve the issues with them. you can have a support person with you, such as a union representative or lawyer. If you can't resolve things this way, there are other options depending on whether the issue arose before or during employment.

If the discrimination was before employment

The Human Rights Act 1993 applies to discrimination in most aspects of employment, including job advertisements, application forms, interviews and job offers (before the employee has a job and after employment has started). The Act also applies to unpaid workers and independent contractors.

If the discrimination was during employment

Do I have to take a hepatitis B test for a potential employer?

Under the Human Rights Act 1993 it is illegal to ask questions of (or about) a job applicant that indicate an intention to discriminate on one of the grounds covered by the Act. An employer or potential employer can not make you take a test. If you think an employer or potential employer has done this, you can make a complaint under section 21 of the Act.

For more information phone 0800 496 877, email the Human Rights Commission or visit their website.


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