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

D T Hagemeister, R M Mpeli, B E Shabangu


COVID-19 has significantly changed the lives of people worldwide. After one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world, South Africa (SA) prepared to allow increasing numbers of workers to return to their workplaces. Employees 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 by the SA government oblige employers to make special provisions for ‘vulnerable employees’. Despite their benevolent intention, such requests constitute a massive infringement of 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 the ethical concerns, a cautious and well-administrated approach within the legally permissible space is necessary.

Authors' affiliations

D T Hagemeister, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; Free State Department of Health, Universitas Academic Hospital, Bloemfontein, South Africa

R M Mpeli, School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

B E Shabangu, Employee Relations Department, South African Medical Association, Pretoria, South Africa

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Cite this article

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2020;13(2):.

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-08-19
Date published: 2020-08-19

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