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Employer Success Story:  Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.) has been at the forefront in the employer response to HIV/AIDS since 1982, when its leadership team laid the groundwork for effectively addressing the epidemic within the workplace context.

That year, several concerned employees wanted to distribute educational materials to co-workers about HIV in the lobby, but feared discrimination if they did so. To stem this concern, senior company leaders — spearheaded by then CEO Robert Haas — worked shoulder to shoulder with employees to deliver the much-needed HIV/AIDS educational information.

Soon after, LS&Co. started a workplace and community outreach effort to increase understanding of the issue, reduce HIV infections, and address stigma and discrimination. Thirty years later, LS&Co. is still setting the standard for addressing HIV/AIDS as an employment issue.

To revitalize and sharpen its focus on employees, in 2006 the company, through the Clinton Global Initiative, set a goal to provide all of its employees — not just in the U.S., but worldwide — and their families with HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care. In addition, the company committed to share best practices in workplace HIV/AIDS programs.

A Focus on Education

LS&Co.'s aim of addressing this issue comprehensively and globally includes having its own worldwide HIV/AIDS workplace policy. The company's Business Code of Conduct serves as the anchor for this policy.

As part of this policy, LS&Co. offers workplace HIV education for each work setting — whether the office, factory, distribution center or store — and customizes the approach for each. For example, store managers reach retail employees by leading an activity delivered in five minutes per shift, per day, for one week. The core HIV/AIDS in the workplace education format to reach employees in offices, distribution centers, factories and retail stores uses various media from web-based training, activities, comic books and interactive scenarios to focus on:

  • Stigma
  • Discrimination
  • Confidentiality
  • Why it's safe to be supportive at work
  • Understanding HIV/AIDS basics
  • Where to get HIV/AIDS services

Manager education also reinforces commitment to confidentiality, teaching managers how to negotiate reasonable accommodations and support productivity in the spirit of working together in a safe environment. In carrying out HIV/AIDS workplace education, the company partners with more than 30 local AIDS organizations worldwide.

Taking a leadership role in an industry that has been proactive in social issues for many years, LS&Co. also addresses HIV/AIDS with its suppliers. For instance, the company links HIV/AIDS nondiscrimination to its Terms of Engagement with suppliers and supports worker rights and HIV education for suppliers. The company's philanthropic arm, the Levi Strauss Foundation, also supports nonprofit organizations that deliver HIV/AIDS education and worker rights information to suppliers and fight stigma and discrimination.

A Culture of Sharing and Learning

When it comes to its HIV/AIDS efforts, LS&Co.'s wider goal is to share best practices in workplace education and approaches to improve access, particularly in the apparel industry. Expressed guiding principles offer excellent guidance to any company seeking to excel in its response to HIV/AIDS:

  • Focus on affordability, availability and/or acceptability to improve access of HIV/AIDS services.
  • Ensure equity, based on program outcomes for all employees and dependents in all locations.
  • Deliver locally adaptable program offerings.
  • Address HIV/AIDS uniquely while integrating with wellness initiatives, as relevant and feasible.
  • Proactively manage expansion with keen focus on program results, financial implications and sustainability.
  • Enforce progressive workplace policies and work practices that support a workplace free from stigma and discrimination, and ensure confidentiality in use of personal and health information.
  • Deliver employee education and benefits that serve employees infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
  • Leverage partnerships to strengthen the local infrastructure needed to deliver program outcomes.
  • Capture lessons for use across LS&Co. and with contractors and suppliers.
  • Determine best practices to contribute to advancements in HIV/AIDS in the workplace.

Access Without Disclosure

LS&Co. offers voluntary HIV/AIDS benefits for employees in countries where HIV/AIDS services are not adequate, reimbursing employees for the cost of HIV-related health services if local health insurance does not cover those charges, or when public health systems are inadequate.

HIV Connect: A Model for Confidential Access to Services

In the U.S., LS&Co. offers HIVConnect, created in partnership with Ceridian. The program is modeled on an employee assistance program (EAP), but tailored to HIV. Employees can use a toll-free phone number to reach counselors for direct phone counseling, assistance in navigating HIV-related resources, and referral to the HIV-related social and health services they need. HIVConnect counselors draw upon a wide range of best practice health and social service resources to assist employees with managing HIV at work and in their lives. Ceridian confidentially supports employees through direct counseling and research to help refer employees to HIV-related health, social support services and disability services, no matter where employees live and work in the U.S. In addition to the resources and professionals already included in their extensive network, Ceridian, via HIVConnect, also draws on, AIDS United, the POZ Directory, and updated provider and non-profit organization information.

Is this costly for the company?  Total startup costs are low, with a high projected return on investment as a result of sustaining the health of loyal, productive employees.

An employer of any size can emulate LS&Co.'s clear leadership — starting from the top — on HIV/AIDS issues and its commitment to employees' well-being through effective policy and outreach.

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of LS&Co.'s leadership in the HIV/AIDS response. Every day around the world, company employees demonstrate their courage and empathy in supporting each other and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS.