Diabetes in the Workplace

diabetes in the workplaceWith nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population having diabetes, the disease has proliferated much of American society, including the workplace.

But with so little understood about the disease and its various effects on the people who have it, there are many problems that can arise for people with diabetes at their jobs.

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act were amended to include endocrine functions as one of the major life activities that could be limited by a disability. Because diabetes is an endocrine-system related disease, people with diabetes are covered by the Americans with Disabilities and Rehabilitation Acts.

What Does Disability Coverage Mean?

Coverage in these acts means that people with diabetes (and other disabilities) are safe from discrimination at their workplace. This means your employer cannot take your diabetes into account during the initial hiring or during promotions, nor can you be fired because of your diabetes. There is one exception to that rule, which is if you pose a “direct threat” to yourself or others because of your diabetes-related conditions in the workplace. An example of this is if you operate heavy machinery and are prone to extreme low blood sugars which cause you to become disoriented.

Employers also cannot discriminate against people with diabetes with health insurance. The 2008 update prevented one level, and the Affordable Care Act prevented all pre-existing condition exclusions for people with diabetes. Finally, employers must make what the laws call “reasonable accommodation” for people with diabetes to be able to perform their jobs.

What is “Reasonable Accommodation”?

This phrase is a bit loose and open to some interpretations. In order to be qualified for coverage, though, a person must first be shown to be “a qualified person with a disability.” This means the employee must establish with a health care professional and her employer that she has diabetes, and with her employer that she is fit to do the job.

Once that has been established, the employer can be expected to make accommodations for the employee, as long as they don’t cause an “undue hardship” on the employer, such as excessive costs or complex implementation.

With diabetes, reasonable accommodations are often inexpensive and easy to implement. Some examples include taking breaks throughout the day to test blood glucose, administer insulin, or access food and drink to treat a low blood sugar. Employees with diabetes may also need to take leave or have a flexible schedule for doctor’s appointments. For most employers, these accommodations should not present a problem.

What if I Do Face Discrimination?

If for any reason you feel you’ve been discriminated against, or that there is cause for legal action. You do have some recourse. The American Diabetes Association has a Center for Information and Community Support that you can call at 1.800.342.2383 for an information packet and form to request legal assistance, and check out this page about filing complaints.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, American Disabilities Act, Affordable Care Act

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