Feature story

Seeking justice for HIV-related discrimination in the workplace in Guatemala

18 December 2023

In the heart of the bustling Guatemala City, Juan used to face the daily grind of life with an unwavering spirit. He had been diagnosed with HIV several years ago and had learned to manage his health effectively. As a dedicated employee at a marketing firm, he poured creativity into every project he touched.

Life seemed to be on an upswing for him until an unexpected turn of events unfolded at the workplace. A colleague stumbled upon Juan's medical records and, in a breach of privacy, discovered his HIV status. Soon, whispers spread through the office, and Juan began to feel the cold stares and hushed conversations whenever he walked by. Ultimately, he was dismissed from his company for "restructuring reasons."

As the discrimination became more blatant, Juan decided it was time to take action. He sought advice from Líderes Profesionales, a network of lawyers specializing in discrimination cases for people living with HIV. With UNAIDS's support, this network is committed to fighting for justice and equality for marginalized communities.

Upon hearing Juan's story, the lawyers at Líderes Profesionales were appalled by the flagrant violation of privacy and the subsequent discrimination. They quickly assembled a legal team dedicated to ensuring justice for Juan. The lawyers explained the legal protections in place for individuals with HIV, emphasizing that workplace discrimination based on health status is a clear violation of the law.

Together with Juan, the legal team initiated a lawsuit against the firm. They filed a complaint citing violations of privacy, discrimination, and failure to provide a safe and inclusive work environment and asked for payment of benefits and compensation for unjustified dismissal.

Líderes Profesionales worked tirelessly to expose Juan's unjust treatment, seeking justice for him and advocating for broader change in workplace policies. They organized workshops to sensitize companies, urging them to implement comprehensive diversity and inclusion training and policy.

As of December 2023, the case is still ongoing. The legal team's goal is to seek compensation for Juan and foster an environment where such discrimination would not be tolerated in the future.

"Juan's experience and five other discrimination-related workplace cases this year inspire us to continue our advocacy work," says Julio Rodríguez, Director of Líderes Profesionales. "We redouble our efforts to support individuals facing discrimination, using each case as an opportunity to raise awareness and push for systemic change."

In Guatemala, 31,000 people are estimated to be living with HIV. HIV-related stigma and discrimination are still pervasive. According to the latest National Stigma Index (2017), 14% of people living with HIV reported losing their job or source of income due to their positive status for HIV, and 13% of people living with HIV reported being denied employment or opportunity to work because of HIV.

 "Having access to legal support really represented a turning point for Juan. Empowered by it, he is a more vocal advocate for HIV awareness and anti-discrimination efforts," says Marie Engel, UNAIDS Country Director for Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. "Through his journey, Juan contributes to a more just and inclusive society for all."