‘Please confirm your HIV-positive status by email to the following government address’: Protection of ‘vulnerable employees’ under COVID-19

D T Hagemeister, M R Mpeli, B E Shabangu


COVID-19 has significantly changed the lives of people world-wide. After one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world, South Africa prepares to allow increasing numbers of workers to return to their workplaces. Employees have received several requests to disclose health conditions to their employers that might put them at higher risk for COVID-19, as some of the regulations issued under the ‘state of disaster’ setting by the South African government oblige employers to make special provisions for ‘vulnerable employees’. Despite their benevolent intention, such requests constitute a massive infringement of the employees’ rights, and some of the medical, legal and ethical considerations relevant in this context are discussed. Given the relative scarcity of medical evidence, the constitutional protection of employees’ rights and ethical concerns, a cautious and well-administrated approach within the legally permissible space is necessary.

Authors' affiliations

D T Hagemeister, University of the Free State, Faculty of Health Sciences

M R Mpeli, University of the Free State, Faculty of Health Sciences

B E Shabangu, South African Medical Association

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Cite this article

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2020;13(2):91. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2020.v13i2.00736

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-12-15
Date published: 2020-12-15

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