Protest Against Benetton Store in Greece for Firing HIV Positive Employee

The “Reworkers” activist group, on Wednesday, demonstrated against a Benetton store in central Athens for the firing of an employee who is HIV positive.

According to a Press Project report, the man was employed by the clothing company in 2013. Knowing that he would likely be discriminated against if he declared that he was HIV positive, he kept his condition a secret.

Two years later, he developed a sarcoma that often appears in persons who are HIV positive. When a colleague of his was inadvertently pierced by a clothing anti-theft device pin, she expressed concern that she might get AIDS if her colleague was previously pierced by the same device.

Understanding her concern, the HIV positive employee reassured her that she is in no danger and offered to take her to his doctor so he could explain to her that she is not at risk. The company management showed an intention to dismiss the employee, but the store manager argued that he is a good employee and does not deserve to be let go. According to the report, Benetton Greece dismissed the store manager a few months later.

After the employee’s health condition became widely known, the company transferred him to the warehouse so as to avoid contact with customers and other employees.

According to his lawyer, Hara Papageorgiou, “This was the first direct discrimination against him”. “Seeing that their attempt to force him to resign by transferring him to the warehouse, they moved him to another, busier store with a lot more work. A few months later, in March 2017, his official dismissal finally came in,” the lawyer told The Press Project.

The dismissed employee then filed a complaint with labor inspection claiming that his dismissal was illegal and contrary to the provisions of Law 4443/2016, prohibiting discrimination against a worker due to a chronic illness. Benetton Greece, however, “argued that they had no knowledge of the matter and that the man was fired because he was a “bad employee”, the company’s lawyer said.

According to Papageorgiou, when the issue was discussed with the labor inspection and both parties involved, Benetton Greece “due to its social responsibility corporate profile and the status of its former employee”, proposed to re-employ him and settle the issue out of court.

However, the company did not recognize that the dismissal was contrary to the law.  In addition, they did not agree to take any action to compensate for the discrimination and psychological damage suffered by the employee, nor did they agree to restore his reputation in the work environment as, because of the company’s actions, his co-workers were skeptical, if not hostile towards him, the report says.

The Ombudsman found that the worker has indeed been fired illegally, while at the same time he rejected the employer’s claims that they “were not aware of his health condition” and suggested imposing administrative sanctions on the employer company.

The case finally ended in the courtroom on October 30, as the dismissed employee asks for the company to officially announce that he was wrongly dismissed because he is HIV positive and reinstated him at work after officially informing all staff that no one is at risk, because HIV can not transmitted by a handshake, a kiss, handling of the same objects, or using the same bathroom. The court has yet to decide on the issue.

In their protest outside the Ermou street store that the employee used to work at, Reworkers said that the employee’s firing is contrary to the laws on equal treatment at the workplace, racism and discrimination.

“It is noteworthy that the multinational Benetton has for decades adopted a strategy of aggressive marketing, which is supposedly based on the promotion of “world love” and “respect for those who are different”, one of the protesters said.