Employees with Diabetes
Focus on Wellness and Safety
Employees with diabetes live with the disease all day, everyday -including at work. Although people with diabetes face additional challenges on the job, they can overcome these and be successful in any field of endeavor. People with diabetes are Olympic and professional athletes, entertainers, politicians and warriors. It is likely there are people with diabetes working in your company who do quality work every day. Workers with diabetes are an asset in the workplace - be sure your hiring and management policies avoid discrimination and support the employee with diabetes.
The following are just a few of the issues employees with diabetes consider:
At work, do I reveal my condition or conceal it from others? My boss? My co-workers?
If I reveal that I have diabetes, could I lose my job or be denied a promotion?
Meetings are often scheduled at lunchtime, but no food is served. I have to eat; what should I do?
I have to travel a lot for my job and entertain clients; it’s hard enough trying to have a “healthy diet” when at home.
How do I eat right and get enough exercise on the road?
Times are tight at work. A lot of people have been laid off and that makes more work and more pressure for the rest of us. I like the work and am good at it but with all the deadlines and long hours my diabetes management is suffering. I don’t have time to eat right or exercise and even sometimes get too busy to do blood checks or take my medication. How can I fit managing my diabetes into my crazy hectic life?
My boss won’t let me check my blood glucose at work; he says it’s "unsanitary" and "freaks out my co-workers" and isn’t even "necessary" for someone with diabetes.
Reasonable Accommodations help employees work and advance while managing diabetes. These may be very simple things such as allowing an employee to monitor blood sugars at work or providing a larger sized computer monitor.
When it comes to safety concerns, an employer should be careful not to act on the basis of myths, fears, or stereotypes about diabetes. Instead, the employer should evaluate each individual on her or his skills, knowledge, experience and how having diabetes affects them. In other words, an employer should determine whether a specific applicant or employee would pose a "direct threat" or significant risk of substantial harm to himself or others that cannot be reduced or eliminated through reasonable accommodation. This assessment must be on the basis of objective, factual evidence, including the best recent medical evidence and advances to treat and control diabetes.
May an employer ask an employee questions about his diabetes or send him for a medical exam if it has safety concerns?
An employer may ask an employee about his diabetes when it has a reason to believe that the employee may pose a "direct threat" to himself or others. An employer should make sure that its safety concerns are based on objective evidence and not general assumptions.
Example: An ironworker works at construction sites hoisting iron beams weighing several tons. A rigger on the ground helps him load the beams and several other workers help him to position them. During a break, the supervisor becomes concerned because the ironworker is sweating and shaking. The employee explains that he has diabetes and that his blood sugar has dropped too low. The supervisor may require the ironworker to have a medical exam or submit documentation from his doctor indicating that he can safely perform his job.
Aids & Tools
- The EEOC provides resources for employers and employees about diabetes and the American’s with Disabilities Act and reasonable accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title I of the ADA covers employment by private employers with 15 or more employees as well as state and local government employers. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. This guide explains how the ADA might apply to job applicants and employees with diabetes. In particular, this guide explains
- When diabetes is a disability under the ADA.
- When an employer may ask an applicant or employee questions about her diabetes.
- What types of reasonable accommodations employees with diabetes may need.
- How an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with diabetes.
Employees can also find resources at the American Diabetes Association.
- We have supervisors in our workplace who will not allow employees to test their blood glucose. What can we do?
Sometimes people simply do not know enough about diabetes. Offer a class for supervisors about diabetes. You can use the Diabetes at Work lesson "Understanding Diabetes?".
Review workplace policies and be sure company policies provide for blood glucose testing in your workplace and are clear about how supervisors should accommodate this behavior.
- I feel that I have been discriminated against by my employer. Where can I turn for help?
Link to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission at www.eeoc.gov or the American Diabetes Association.
- Review company policies and procedures to be sure they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to diabetes. Employers also should avoid policies or practices that categorically exclude people with diabetes from certain jobs and, instead, should assess each applicant's and employee's ability to perform a particular job with or without reasonable accommodation. Resources can be found at US Equal Opportunity Commission.
- Train supervisory staff about diabetes and the Americans with Disabilities Act and how they can be part of providing reasonable accommodations. Resources can be found at the American Diabetes Association.
- Page last reviewed: December 29, 2016
- Page last updated: December 29, 2016
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