Diabetes in the Workplace - dummies

By American Diabetes Association

Whether you’re starting a new job or you’ve been at your company for years, you’ll want to consider your diabetes management at your workplace. Some things to think about include who (if anyone) to tell about your diabetes and how to communicate and educate others. You’ll want to know your rights and responsibilities as someone with diabetes.

Deciding whether to tell others

Your first question about diabetes at work is probably: Should I tell anyone? Well, it’s generally up to you.

You may want to tell people about your diabetes for various reasons. For example, you may have a rigorous job that makes it difficult to take sudden breaks for blood glucose checks or to give an insulin injection. Telling your co-workers and boss could make those self-care breaks go more smoothly. Or you may be concerned about low blood glucose emergencies. In this case, you can tell co-workers how to help in an emergency if they volunteer, including information about where you keep your glucagon and the importance of calling 911.

Some people with diabetes don’t feel comfortable sharing personal information about their health. Others may work from home or have a flexible environment that makes self-care more private and relaxed.

Sometimes a potential employer will make a conditional job offer that requires the employee to complete a pre-employment physical. In this situation, you’d be required to disclose that you have diabetes. And the employer could withdraw the offer if you don’t comply. It’s important to note that an employer may not request any disability-related information or give any medical examinations prior to making a job offer to the applicant.

Talking about your diabetes in the workplace really is a personal decision that’s up to you. In the following section, find out about your rights so you can make an informed decision about talking about diabetes on the job.

Knowing your rights

People with diabetes are protected against discrimination by disability laws. It may seem strange to think of yourself as someone with a disability, but your diabetes is a disability because it limits the endocrine system. You probably manage your diabetes with medications or lifestyle changes or both. However, your diabetes still qualifies as a disability because the law considers how a person would be if he stopped managing or treating his diabetes.

Several federal, state, and local laws protect people with disabilities, including people with diabetes. Usually federal and state protections are similar, but in states where disability laws are stronger, those state protections supersede any federal protections. And in states where the federal law is stronger than the state law, the federal law applies. Call 800-DIABETES (800-342-2383) for more information on your state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Here’s a rundown of the federal anti-discrimination laws you should be aware of:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act: Protects employees against discrimination by private employers, labor unions, employment agencies, and state and local governments.
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Protects employees against discrimination in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors and employers that receive federal money.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008: Amends the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by expanding the definition of the term disability, making it clear that people with diabetes are protected from discrimination in the workplace.
  • Congressional Accountability Act: Protects employees of Congress and its Legislative Branch agencies.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you up to 12 weeks of time off work (unpaid) to care for your own serious health condition, such as diabetes, or to care for a family member with diabetes. You can take this leave in small blocks of time such as 1-hour increments.

Not all employers are covered under the FMLA. The act applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. Also, it can only be used to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent).

What are my protections?

Under disability laws (see the preceding section), your employer can’t discriminate against you because of your diabetes. You may experience discrimination in any number of circumstances such as hiring, while on the job, in training, promotions, tenure, and leaves of absence. If you have questions or think you may have experienced discrimination, call the American Diabetes Association at 800-DIABETES (800-342-2383). The American Diabetes Association can provide information and assistance to better understand your rights.

Some key protections under the law:

  • Your employer can’t refuse to hire or promote you because of your diabetes.
  • Your employer can’t fire you because of your diabetes unless you pose a “direct threat” or can no longer perform the essential functions of your job with reasonable accommodations.
  • Your employer must provide reasonable accommodations that help you perform the essential functions of the job.
  • Your employer must not discriminate against you for health insurance offered in the workplace because of your diabetes.

For more specifics about these protections, visit Diabetes.org or call the American Diabetes Association advocacy team at 800-DIABETES (800-342-2383).

Educating and communicating with others

If you decide to tell others about your diabetes, take a moment beforehand to think about what you want to say. You may want to be fairly succinct and straightforward, telling people that you have diabetes and that you manage it on your own. However, in an emergency during hypoglycemia, you may need their help finding your glucagon or calling 911.

Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s program Diabetes at Work. It has resources about the prevention and management of diabetes in the workplace, including wellness programs, fact sheets, and best practices for helping employees manage their diabetes at work.

Consider keeping an extra supply of glucagon at your desk or workplace so you’ll have it on hand if you have a low.

Staying healthy on the job

Many companies now offer wellness programs for employees, so take advantage of these benefits. Your employer may offer discounts for gym memberships or offer in-house exercise programs such as yoga classes. Some health insurance plans reward policyholders for exercise if they meet fitness goals while wearing their fitness trackers.

Stress is an all too common component of the workplace, and stress can affect blood glucose. Check your blood glucose if you’re concerned about it for any reason, and keep in mind that your mental health is important on the job, too.

If you have a desk job, remember to stand up and take breaks throughout the day. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with type 2 diabetes get up every 30 minutes for 3–4 minutes of activity such as arm stretches or walking in place. Take a walk down the hall, or better yet, take the stairs down and walk around the building before taking the stairs back up to your desk.