I was fired for having HIV - Woman struggling to care for son after being dismissed
Three months into her pregnancy with her first and only child in 2004, Paulette Grant* discovered that she had contracted HIV.
Afraid that she would face discrimination, Grant never told her superiors at the government agency, where she had been working since 2002, about the disease.
But when her body started to deteriorate, she was forced to tell her bosses why she was missing from work so often or why she would just have to leave work in the middle of the day.
"I found that I was HIV-positive from 2004, when I was pregnant with my son and was going through a lot of illnesses. They (superiors at work) were saying to me why I'm not coming to work and why I was coming late. I was trying to explain to them that I was not OK," Grant said. "I did not indicate to them that I was HIV-positive."
She disclosed her secret to her supervisor at work in 2010, and she claims that after that everything went south.
"I offered to tell them. I took them to my doctor and he explained everything to them why I was coming to work late and missing work. And this was in 2011," Grant said.
Grant said that after she revealed that she was HIV-positive, her colleagues and superior started to shun her.
"I was a good worker, and they stopped giving me things to do. They transferred me to two other locations where I was just sitting looking at the ceiling," Grant said. "They started to label the cups there to ensure that I wasn't using the same cup that they were using. My supervisor told me that is only one seat that I can sit in."
According to Grant, it was mere months of that when it was alleged that she took $12,000 to process documents.
Placed on interdiction
"I wasn't even working as a cashier at the time because I worked as a cashier from 2002 to 2007, and in 2012, I was begging to do work so I wasn't working as a cashier then," Grant said.
Grant was placed on interdiction immediately after the allegation. She was advised that an investigation would follow shortly.
"I wasn't getting any pay and that was from 2012," Grant said.
The 39-year-old said that she was called into a hearing in August of 2016, but after the meeting she was not told whether she was found guilty of what she was accused of.
"In November of 2016, I got a letter stating that I was dismissed," Grant said.
The Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), which Grant has been part of since its inception, filed an appeal on her behalf.
In its appeal, the JCSA stated that misconduct arising from an allegation of fraudulent conversion is a criminal matter and ought to be tried in a court of law.
"We have sent the appeal to them and they haven't replied. They haven't given me a final pay, and I have my son to send to school. It's hard," Grant said.
She said that since she has been unemployed, she has been evicted twice.
"It's really hard for me. I have to be begging people. I want back my job, not for me but for my son," Grant said.
Interestingly, at a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, Patrick Lalor, policy and advocacy officer at the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), called for legislation to address the discrimination that persons living with HIV face.
"As the law stands now, there is nothing specific in legislation that speaks to discrimination on the basis of HIV status. We have a national workplace policy which is optional. We have a National [Workplace] Policy on HIV and AIDS that speaks to that, but companies have to decide that they want to sign on to the policy, and then they would have to set up an area in their office or set up procedures to deal with that. It is not mandatory," Lalor said.