HIV ‘not a legal ground’ to terminate employees

DAVAO. In this file photo, the Davao City Government, in partnership with Alliance Against AIDS in Mindanao Inc. (Alagad-Mindanao Inc.), join the 40th International Aids Candlelight Memorial commemoration on Sunday, May 21, 2023 at Marfori Botanical Park.
DAVAO. In this file photo, the Davao City Government, in partnership with Alliance Against AIDS in Mindanao Inc. (Alagad-Mindanao Inc.), join the 40th International Aids Candlelight Memorial commemoration on Sunday, May 21, 2023 at Marfori Botanical Park.File photo/Dawaw Mindanao Advocates Association Inc.

TERMINATING an employee for testing positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is “illegal,” the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, the SC’s Third Division found the dismissal of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) due to HIV invalid for being discriminatory.

The OFW tagged as “AAA” was deployed for employment in Saudi Arabia in October 2017 under a two-year contract.

AAA underwent a routine medical exam in January 2019 and was found positive for HIV, prompting his foreign employer to terminate his employment, citing Saudi Arabian laws that consider an HIV-positive individual unfit to work.

The OFW was repatriated to the Philippines in February 2019 and filed a complaint for illegal dismissal, which was dismissed by the Labor Arbiter.

The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) reversed the decision and found the recruitment agency liable for illegal dismissal.

The NLRC decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, which ruled that AAA was illegally dismissed and thus entitled to salaries for the unexpired portion of his employment contract and moral and exemplary damages, among others.

The concerned recruitment agency elevated the case to the SC, but the High Court cited Section 49(a) of Republic Act (RA) 11166, or the Philippine HIV and Aids Policy Act, which states that “it is unlawful for employees to be terminated from work on the sole basis of their HIV status.”

“Since Philippine law prohibits the use of a person’s HIV-positive condition as a ground for dismissal, there was no valid cause to terminate AAA,” the SC said.

“Further, if the foreign law stated in the employment contract contradicts Philippine law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy, then Philippine law shall apply. In this case, even if it is proven that Saudi Arabian law prohibits workers who test positive for HIV, RA 11166 takes precedence over it for being against Philippine law,” it added. (TPM/SunStar Philippines)

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