Living with type 2 diabetes is hard enough. But what if your condition affects your work or the way people treat you there? Learn about your employment rights as someone with diabetes.
Diabetes is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law applies to any employer in the United States that has 15 employees or more. It also applies to:
- labor organizations
- joint labor-management committees
- employment agencies
- all state and local government employers
If you’re employed by or applying for a job with one of these organizations, the ADA protects you from discrimination. An employer can’t refuse to hire you based solely on your diabetes. In fact, you don’t even have a legal obligation to tell a prospective employer about your condition. Once you’ve been hired, the ADA also requires your employer to provide reasonable accommodations. These include changes to your workplace or routine that can help you to manage your condition.
You may also be protected under the Rehabilitation Act if you’re federally employed. Depending on where you live, additional state laws may cover smaller employers or offer broader protections.
In most cases, an employer can’t use your diabetes as a reason:
- not to hire you
- not to promote you
- to fire you
The only exception is if your condition poses a direct threat to your health or safety or those of others. For example, do you frequently experience hypoglycemic episodes that could interfere with your duties? These episodes might incapacitate you while you’re operating heavy machinery. This could put your life at risk. In this case, an employer has the right not to hire you for a role that requires you to operate that machinery.
Once you’ve received a job offer, you’re subject to the same medical requirements as people without diabetes. For example, some employers require new employees to undergo a medical examination. Or they might require you to provide your medical history. Questions might arise about whether you can do a job safely. Your job offer can only be withdrawn if a doctor with expertise in diabetes has examined you and determined that your condition poses a direct threat to health or safety. Even then, your employer needs to provide reasonable workplace accommodations to manage that threat, if possible, before withdrawing the offer.
Unless you’re applying for a job that requires a medical examination or history for all employees, you don’t need to tell your employer about your diabetes. But you can only receive protection under antidiscrimination laws if they know about your condition. If you’d like workplace accommodations, you will need to disclose your diabetes.
Depending on your condition and job, you might need some changes made to your work environment or routine. If you are covered by the ADA, your employer needs to make reasonable accommodations. These are changes designed to help you manage your diabetes while performing your job duties. For example, you might ask your employer to:
- allow you to keep food and diabetic supplies close at hand
- allow you to take regular breaks to check your blood sugar, eat a snack, take medications, or use the restroom
- provide a private place for you to test your blood sugar and give yourself insulin
- provide a safe place for you to rest until your blood sugar normalizes after a hypoglycemic episode
- give you time off to receive medical treatments for your diabetes or recuperate from complications related to your diabetes
- modify your work schedule, if your expected shifts interfere with your ability to manage your condition
- allow you to use a special chair or stool or take a shortcut if you have trouble standing or walking due to diabetic neuropathy
- provide you with a large-screen computer monitor or other assistive devices if you have visual impairments caused by diabetes
Your need for workplace accommodations should be assessed on an individual basis. Most reasonable accommodations pose little expense to employers and cause little disruption in the workplace. If granting an accommodation poses an undue hardship to your employer, they may not be required to make the change. This would include accommodations that are extremely expensive or disruptive to implement. Even then, your employer needs to try to come up with a workable compromise.
Have you ever heard of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? If your employer has more than 50 employees or is a government employer, you’re covered by the FMLA. This law requires your employer to grant you up to 12 weeks of medical leave per year to manage a serious health condition. This includes medical leave needed for diabetes-related conditions or complications. You can take all 12 weeks of leave at once. Or you can take it off in chunks to manage short-term issues.
If you treat your diabetes with insulin, you won’t be eligible for some jobs. For example, if you want to work as a pilot, you can attain FAA third-class airman medical certification. But you can’t attain the first class certification needed to fly large commercial planes. If you want to work in the military, your options may be limited. Your prospects will depend on the military branch you join, your expected duties, and your condition. Entry into other specific fields may also require you to meet certain criteria.
If you have questions, several agencies have answers. To learn more about your employment rights, visit these websites:
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- American Diabetes Association
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
You can help ensure your workplace success by managing your diabetes properly. Ask your doctor how you can manage your condition using diet, exercise, medication, and self-monitoring while on the job. This may be especially important if you work a rotating shift or long hours.
Then consider disclosing your condition to your employer. Ask for any accommodations you need to stay safe and healthy while working. If they have 15 employees or more, or they’re a government employer, they need to comply with the ADA.