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Diabetes – Your Rights in the Workplace

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You would think since we’re in the 21st century that people wouldn’t discriminate because of illnesses. But, unfortunately, it still happens. In today’s society, the main problem usually is lack of communication and information. But this gap has clearly caused problems. Some have found this to be the case when managing their diabetes and their job.

But first, just what is employment discrimination? According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), employment discrimination is any adverse action because of a person’s disability. Discrimination is illegal in hiring, firing, disciplining, pay, promotion, job training, benefits and/or in any other area of employment due to your disability or illness. If you assert your rights, your employer would be breaking the law if he retaliated against you.

When trying to get a job, you are not required to tell your potential employer your medical history. Blanket bans – policies that restrict employment to a disabled person - are illegal as well. The exception to the rule is when the job specifically has medical qualifications and so disclosure of any current medical condition would be necessary to meet job standards. Due to improvements in law and medicine, even jobs that require a medical standard may not be totally out of range for people with certain medical problems like diabetes. This can include, commercial drivers, police officers, fire fighters - who now have improved guidelines to assess whether a person is able to do their job or not.

Some professions are restricted, however, especially when it comes to insulin use. Pilots, who are insulin dependent, may not obtain first-class certification. This certification allows a pilot to fly a large commercial plane. Neither does the military accept insulin-dependent individuals, although some concessions are made when diabetes is diagnosed after enlistment. Upon taking a required medical examination, an employer may decide not to hire you if your clearly would pose a threat to the health and safety of yourself and others. An examination can only be requested after a job offer has been accepted, but before your actually begin the job.

Add a Comment14 Comments

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 7, I am now 60. I have been a nurse for 32 years and even with highs and lows I had never been subjected to any negative comments regarding my diabetes...until I sustained a serious back injury and was listed with a 5# weight limit after a fusion and rods being put in my back. I am currently working as an administrative assistant with a new boss. He told me last week that I couldn't be trusted. Reason? He didn't know when I would have a reaction and have to be off work...gee I don't know when that is going to happen either. This really insulted me as I have a good work record. How odd it feels that after working on the floor for years I am suddenly considered a liability and not to be trusted. How sad for him that he is so ignorant. Hopefully no one close to him is ever diagnosed with this disease.

May 2, 2011 - 4:42am
(reply to SheilahRJ)

I am sorry that you have to work with such a person. It's hard to believe it's 2011 and there are still ignorant people out there like this. I'm glad you are informed and know your rights. Document his inappropriate statements of if you ever have to act, you can.


May 2, 2011 - 10:09am

Good points. Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, a lot of people are in your same situation. You SHOULD NOT have to chose your job over your health. If your health is not good, how will you work a job? It's unfair, I hear you. I will direct you also to the American Diabetes Association. They have a department of experts that specializes in treatment of diabetics on the job and such. Maybe they have some ideas - http://www.diabetes.org.


August 22, 2010 - 5:06pm
EmpowHER Guest

If only this was the case. Employers (Mine) can terminate employees for no reason. My wife has diabetes, disabled from back surgery, had 6 bypasses, and a stroke. My employer terminated me because of the cost of health insurance, but of course just told me not to come back. My wife had not even suffered from the diabetes, stroke, or bypasses at that point, only the back surgery and heart stents. I did not miss days because of my wife's illness, only cost them too much for health insurance. Now my wife and my family are wards of the state for insurance. We have to stay in poverty to keep my wife insured. I bring this up at interviews because I can't afford to accept a job and be terminated when the employer finds out about my baggage three months later and my wife no longer is covered thru Social Security Disability. Many of my friends have had this happen to them. No ones job should be determined by their health, but by their performance in that job. The same job did not give me a raise for two years because of the same rising health insurance costs. There was never a complaint about my work. These ideas are great in theory, but employers have the laws behind what they do, not the employee!!!!!!

August 21, 2010 - 8:49pm
EmpowHER Guest

I never thought about being let go at my last job as discrimination, but in a way perhaps it was after reading this article and comments. Back at the end of March I ended up in the hospital with Acid Ketosis, almost died. Then I incurred a staph infection and once that cleared up, about two weeks later I got MRSA. Needless to say I was in the Hospital in Idaho and had recently moved to Utah, therefore I had to get Doctor appointments as I could take them to get setup with new physicians. My appointments in the beginning were during work hours, which I tried to make up most of the hours, I had informed my employer of this and the days off were approved. Then I had an accident and fractured my leg, you would have thought I had planned it when I told the employer I had to take two days off (I even worked for 3 hours on one of those days). Yes, it was just a temporary job and I understand I had missed quite a few days during the short period I had been employed. But the temp agency knew about the appointments and my health situation before they sent me out on the job. There reason for letting me go before the job was complete was because I missed to many days, but my performance was excellent. So I ask myself, is this affecting me getting a job through them now, would that be considered discrimination? I am a good worker and I admit that I have missed more work than I care to in the last four years trying to get my diabetes under control and working with docs and employers. The temp service I work for now says if I get a job, I need to make appointments after work or on the weekend, well that is not always possible so where does that leave me in the future. I feel it leaves me with making a choice between the doc appts and the job, guess which one goes, yep docs, need a job. That leaves me going to clinics that may have doctors but not an internal medical doctor that specializes in Diabetes. Anyway, just felt the need to share. TC

August 21, 2010 - 3:34pm
EmpowHER Guest

About 14 years back, I worked as a technical recruiter. A person we had placed, who was diabetic, was fired because he fell asleep at his desk. His supervisor said, "I don't care!" when told about his condition. That has made me very cautious since then . I have been self-employed for many years, but if I were to seek employment, at what point do I reveal that I am insulin-dependent diabetic? Before hiring, or after? If before, chances are I would not get hired, and never know the real reason. Here in Virginia, one works "at will" - meaning one can be fired without cause. Do I have to work twice as hard to convince an employer that I am worth the trouble of keeping? Laura

August 21, 2010 - 12:45pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Good questions. I'm very careful about technical questions as yours because I want you to get the right information. Check the website American Diabetes Association - they have a department set up to answer such questions. http://www.diabetes.org/


August 22, 2010 - 5:02pm
EmpowHER Guest

I tend to doze off from time to time, but they know my conditions. I have a desk job. I dont know if my supervisor broke any rules by having me get a letter from my doctor on what he is treating me for. they said it would cover me if some seen me and complained. HR has a letter from my doctor stating that Im being treated for type 2 diabetes and severe sleep apnea. Did they break any rules?

August 21, 2010 - 9:33am
(reply to Anonymous)

In my article, I refer readers to the American Diabetes Association. They have a unit dedicated to checking into such matters as yours. Please check them out at http://www.diabetes.org.

Hope this helps!

August 22, 2010 - 4:59pm
EmpowHER Guest

Where I used to work, the company got me covered under the Famiy Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Regardless of the number of days I missed work, they could not discharge me. This was done shortly after my diagnosis of Diabetes, and what with getting used to the medicine (Metformin) and trying to adjust me diet, there were numerous days when I just DID NOT feel like going to the office. After several months of this, I went to HR and turned in my resignation and retired. Doctor changed my medicine and I've felt great ever since. Don't know if this is due to the new meds or retiring and not working, but who cares? :-))


August 21, 2010 - 9:30am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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