The Best Way to Manage Your Diabetes at Work

You have the right to ask for reasonable accommodations
The Best Way to Manage Your Diabetes at Work

Contributor: Gina Gavlak, RN, BSN

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Do you have what you need to manage your diabetes at work?

Are you able to check your blood sugar, eat, take medications or treat low blood sugar anywhere and at any time? Do you know you have the right to be able to do these important things without fear of penalty?

Have you ever been denied a job because you have diabetes?

Not long ago, people with diabetes could be denied certain jobs or lose their job simply because they had diabetes or used insulin. Asking for things needed to manage diabetes at work could result in loss of job or decrease in pay.

When an employment decision is based on whether a candidate has diabetes instead of their ability to perform the job, it is a form of discrimination.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act – a federal anti-discrimination law that protects qualified people with disabilities from unfair treatment – became law and things began to change.  Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act in 2008 strengthened the ADA.

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What qualifies as a disability?

A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Diabetes substantially limits the function of the endocrine system – a major life activity – and so is recognized as a disability.

What does this mean for people with diabetes? In addition to these laws, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and state laws have helped to provide equal employment opportunity by removing various forms of discrimination – or unfair treatment – in the workplace.

Common examples of discrimination include:

  • Not being allowed to take a break to check blood sugar, eat and/or take insulin.
  • Job offer being taken back, losing job or not being considered for promotion because you have diabetes.
  • Being told you can never have a job as a bus/truck driver, police officer or firefighter because you use insulin.
  • Needing to maintain a certain blood sugar level in order to keep your job.

Your rights

You have the right to ask your employer for reasonable accommodations. Accommodations are adjustments to a job or the work environment that allow employees with disabilities to perform required job functions.

Sometimes, people are afraid to speak with their employer about their diabetes needs because they fear they might lose their job. Laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations; they also are prohibited from taking any form of retaliation.

You are responsible for making the accommodation request to your employer. Although not required, it is highly recommended that you provide your request in writing. The request should describe how diabetes is a disability, list the accommodations needed and explain how they will assist with safe job performance.

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Common accommodations include:

  • Breaks to check blood sugar, eat, take medication or go to the bathroom.
  • Ability to keep diabetes supplies and food nearby.
  • Ability to test blood sugar and inject insulin anywhere at work. If preferred, a private area to perform these tasks.
  • Leave for treatment or training on diabetes management. No penalty for absences related to diabetes.
  • Opportunity to work a standard shift instead of a swing shift.
  • For individuals with diabetic neuropathy, a nerve disorder, permission to use a chair or stool instead of standing.
  • For individuals with diabetic retinopathy, a vision disorder, large screen computer monitors or other assistive devices.

Be sure to include a letter of support from your doctor. You can find sample letters for you and for your doctor to sign can be found on the American Diabetes Association website.

You deserve — and have a right — to have what you need to take care of your diabetes while at work.

This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.

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