Diabetes in the Workplace | Employees Rights + How To Manage

BY Stephanie Toomey  |  June 8th, 2021  |  No Comments
Stephanie Toomey
Stephanie thrives on getting to know someone to understand what makes them tick, so it’s no surprise that she has spent her entire career in retail and marketing – putting the customer first. While at work, you’ll often hear her telling ..

Diabetes is a chronic, long-lasting disease requiring daily tracking, maintenance, and medication. Because it’s such a large part of people’s lives, there’s a higher probability that it can at some point affect them in the workplace, which is where employee rights and the ADA come into play.

The ADA, or the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibits discrimination against anyone with a qualifying disability. Diabetes was officially considered a disability in terms of the ADA in 2009 due to its large impact on the body’s endocrine system. Diabetes is often called an “invisible” disability because it is not immediately apparent that someone has it by looking at them. Some other prominent invisible disabilities include Asthma, mental illness, Lyme disease, chronic pain, and even wearing contact lenses.

There are three ways in which Diabetes meets the criteria as defined by the ADA:

  1. “Individuals have an impairment that substantially limits any major life activity.” For example, because diabetes drastically affects one’s endocrine function, they are absolutely limited in major life activities.
  2. “Individuals have a history or outstanding record of a substantially limiting impairment.” Even if someone’s diabetes is well controlled with the use of medication and therapy, it still falls under this compliance. And as it is defined, this includes individuals who had suffered from gestation diabetes or are in remission from type 2 diabetes.
  3. “Individuals are regarded as having a disability.” This measure protects employees with diabetes who may have been wrongfully terminated or not hired due to their diabetes. If they are regarded as having this disability, then they fall under the ADA.

How to Disclose Medical Information Regarding Diabetes.

It’s pretty clear that medical information is a private matter. Employers cannot outright ask about or reprimand anyone for discussing or not discussing medical matters at any stage of the hiring process. But there are some vital guidelines for both employees and employers to follow to keep the information confidential and avoid any lawsuits or unlawful hiring practices.

Do People With Diabetes Have to Disclose That to Their Employer?

Short answer: NO. There is no reason that anyone with diabetes should need to disclose that information to their employer. Neither during the interview process, after they’ve been offered the job, or once they work at the job, do they need to deliver that detail. The ADA also does not require job applicants to voluntarily disclose that they have diabetes or any other disability for that matter.

May Employers Ask Any Questions if They Know the Employee Has Diabetes?

No. If an employee or potential employee voluntarily discloses their diagnosis, the employer cannot ask any questions regarding when or how they were diagnosed or any other specifics about the disease itself. However, they may ask if the employee would need extra accommodations related to their diabetes. An example would be, how often will insulin need to be administered? And if that requires extra or split breaks throughout the day. That’s a fair question as it directly correlates to their job.

If the person has accepted the job and then shares that they have diabetes, the employer may ask questions regarding their health as a precaution to ensure they are able to carry out all duties of the job. However, an employer cannot legally withdraw an application or start date strictly because of someone having diabetes.

However, valid questions could be ‘how long have you had diabetes?’ Also, ‘have you ever had a hypoglycemic episode?’ ‘How well managed is your insulin, and are you able to administer the proper dose or emergency dosage throughout the day if necessary?’ These questions are especially important if the job entails lifting things, moving things around, or any sort of complications from their diabetes could result in an on-the-job accident or injury.

To reiterate, the ADA greatly restricts how many, if any, questions an employer can ask about an employee’s diabetes, particularly after they’ve already started the job.

If An Employee’s Diabetes is Affecting Their Ability to Work, What Can the Employer Do?

Now, if down the road, the employee cannot carry out all duties of the job safely due to complications with their diabetes, the employer may step in. Only until the employer has witnessed a lack of performance in job duties and reasonably believes, with evidence, that diabetes is affecting someone’s work can they ask any disability-related questions. They may also request the employee get a medical exam and report back the findings to show that they can still safely carry out their job.

A good example of this would be if someone’s diabetes was not well controlled and they were showing symptoms of extreme fatigue and increased urination, but they are expected to be ready and alert at a receptionist desk; this is an issue. When the disease is drastically interfering with their ability to greet people and answer phone calls, that’s a time when the employer can approach them to both ensure their safety and to replace them or move them to another role if necessary.

In conclusion, here are the appropriate times (source: ADA) for an employer to ask an employee any diabetes-related questions:

In addition to all of the above, an employer cannot do any of the following either, which does not directly include the employee with diabetes.

  1. They must keep all medical information confidential, even if it’s mentioned in passing to someone in the workplace. They must be cautious not to let anything like that slip, which leads to the next rule.
  2. Employers cannot tell other employees why one is getting extra accommodations that others aren’t getting. If it’s is acknowledged that they have a disability, that is subject to a lawsuit as it goes against the employee’s rights as defined by the ADA.
  3. And lastly, if the employee has a blood sugar drop or insulin reaction while at the workplace, the employee cannot explain the reason to others who ask. It must still remain confidential information.

What Rights do People with Diabetes Have in the Workplace?

We’ve laid out quite a few rights as they pertain to specific employer and employee discussions regarding diabetes, but let’s dive into what rights people with diabetes, and disabilities in general, have in the workplace.

According to The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with diabetes has the right to the following reasonable accommodations within the workplace:

Tips for Managing Diabetes at Work

Once you’ve been able to get your reasonable accommodations in the workplace, you are still left to manage your diabetes safely and efficiently while at work. Depending on the job you have, there are a few things that you should make sure you do, like get up and walk if you work a desk job, and ensure you take the proper breaks if you work a high-paced time-intensive job. Here are some helpful tips on effectively managing your diabetes at work without sacrificing your ability to do your job.

woman dealing with diabetes in the workplace

Nail Down Your Schedule

The last thing you want to do is introduce unnecessary stress while you’re at work. When it comes to managing your diabetes, maintaining a solid schedule is essential to keeping on top of things. It would help if you had a planner but also utilize a digital calendar, specifically one through work. If you can accurately mark all doctor’s appointments, when to test, when to administer insulin, and any other timely matters concerning your diabetes, you can always be two steps ahead.

Plus, indicating appointments on your work calendar (without sharing the details) can alert coworkers that you are unavailable at certain times, and it will alleviate so much stress trying to manage your diabetes management secretly.

Plan for Emergencies

Always plan for an emergency. They can happen at any moment, so always have your emergency insulin pen and the proper emergency contacts on you at all times so if something were to happen in the workplace, you and your coworkers would be able to navigate the situation with ease.

Know Your Triggers

Does stress affect your blood sugar levels? Do you always feel ill after lunchtime? Does your job have busy seasons that cause your schedule to fill up and make it hard to take your necessary breaks?

Get ahead of any of these triggers that can lead to a blood sugar drop or anything more serious. Alert your manager and ensure the proper accommodations are in place for you.

Make Time for Physical Activity

If you have a sedentary role like a desk job, you must take the time to get up from your desk and walk for at least 30 minutes a day. Or take shorter, 10 minute breaks every few hours to get the blood flowing. People with diabetes need to get their necessary physical activity each day to stay healthy. A desk job should be no exception to that.

Bring a Cooler or Small Mini Fridge

If your workplace does not have a break room with a fridge, or if you don’t feel comfortable keeping your insulin in the breakroom fridge, make your own accommodation. You can get tiny mini-fridges that sit on your desk that are large enough for one soda, and you could instead use it for your insulin! Or get yourself a nice cooler, like a small YETI brand cooler that will stay cool for days on end. You’ll never have to worry about keeping your insulin cool and in a safe space.

Get a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor)

Consider getting a portable and automated CGM or continuous glucose monitoring system. CGM’s insert a small monitor patch that measures your blood sugar levels all day and syncs it with an app on your phone to alert you of any low numbers, and can even remind you when to take your insulin, eat, or drink. It makes diabetes management super hands-free and worry-free, especially in the workplace. You never even have to think about it.

Staying on top of your diabetes management is essential to ensure you can maintain your career and job without adding more stress on top of it. But it’s nice to know that thanks to the ADA, you have a lot of protection in your role as an employee and carry rights that can provide a safety net for you in your daily work. For more tips and tricks for managing diabetes, plus awesome tools that can help make it even easier, check out the Pops blog here.

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Stephanie Toomey
Stephanie thrives on getting to know someone to understand what makes them tick, so it’s no surprise that she has spent her entire career in retail and marketing – putting the customer first. While at work, you’ll often hear her telling ..
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