Type 1 Diabetes in the Workplace: Your Protections

When people don’t understand type 1 diabetes (T1D), they sometimes make assumptions or resort to stereotypes they’ve heard in the past. This can be tiresome, frustrating and, when at work, downright illegal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to treat their employees fairly and equally to their coworkers. In 2008, diabetes was qualified as a disability in order to secure this law’s protections.

What Does This Law Mean for You at Work?

It’s your choice to share
Unless your diabetes could have safety implications for your colleagues or the general public (for example, if you drive public transportation or are a police officer), your medical information is confidential from your coworkers. It’s your decision whether to disclose it or not. An employer may ask questions about an applicant’s health or disability, but all applicants for the same type of job must be treated equally. However, this disclosure is private and it’s your choice who of your day-to-day colleagues you share with. If you do choose not to officially disclose your condition to your team or office, telling a trusted colleague is a good idea so there is someone at work that can respond to type 1 emergencies.

If I do choose to share, when should I talk to my boss?
Many people with T1D choose to share once they start the job, but some may want to open up during the initial hiring process. Disclosing your type 1 diabetes during a job interview can have both drawbacks and merits. While people with diabetes successfully perform all types of jobs, some employers may be reluctant to employ someone with diabetes in particular positions because of misconceptions about the disease. For example, they may wrongly assume that people with diabetes can’t hold a position that requires regular driving. If you choose to tell your potential employer about your diabetes, you need to be prepared to help dispel these myths.

Dealing with Discrimination

Employer discrimination can occur in many forms. The ADA is there to protect you, but that doesn’t mean discrimination doesn’t happen. An employer might refuse to hire you, limit your job responsibilities or promotions, or even fire you. They might also be unwilling to accommodate your need for scheduled meal or snack breaks, or to provide a private location where you can check your blood sugar or inject your insulin. Plus, there are the more covert signs of discrimination from coworkers and bosses alike.

Discrimination in the workplace often occurs because employers and co-workers don’t understand type 1 diabetes and how it is managed. Your coworkers may think you are asking for special treatment. Your employer may be concerned about loss of work time and productivity, and this may influence his or her willingness to hire or support you within the workplace. Use your judgment to decide if talking to them about your disease will help the situation. Find tips on how to have the conversation here.

If discrimination persists, remember your employer is required to take reasonable steps to accommodate your needs. It is the law. For instance, if you need to take a short break to have a snack or check your blood sugar, your employer would be legally obliged, in most cases, to allow it.

We can’t all work with others with type 1 diabetes, like at JDRF:

Know Your Limits

Despite all the advances in managing diabetes, there are some jobs that may no longer suit you or you may need reasonable accommodation. If you develop neuropathy or foot infections, for instance, working construction and wearing steel-toed boots on a cold concrete floor for 12 hours a day may not be for you. Similarly, if you have retinopathy or a heart condition, you should not be performing tasks such as heavy lifting. Speak with your doctor or diabetes educator if you have concerns about the possible health risks associated with the demands of your job.