Managing Diabetes At Work

If you have diabetes, it is not necessarily an impediment to working. A lot depends on the type of job you do, and the number of hours you are required to work. You have the right to work without discrimination due to your disease. The law guarantees this. The law also protects you against discrimination when applying for a job.

Diabetes and the Law

In North America, legislation has been enacted to protect the rights of diabetics. In the United States diabetics are protected by three separate acts, depending upon their employer. They are:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (all Americans)
  2. The Congressional Accountabilities Act (if they are federal employees)
  3. The  Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (if they’re employed by contractors to work for the federal government)

In Canada the corresponding legislation is bundled together in one act: The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In addition to being protected from being dismissed from employment because you have diabetes, measures are also place to ensure a diabetic does not put the public at risk. Understandably, no one wishes to harm other individuals because of a problem related to their disease. Yet, no one should be prevented from taking a job if they have a health issue such as diabetes. In the past, employment was denied based not on legitimate criteria but on health, race, religion and gender. Human rights agencies, as well as determined diabetics and their lawyers, pushed legislators to make it an offense to refuse an individual employment on these grounds alone.

If you are diabetic, and have it under control, you should be eligible for the job you want. Your employer does not need to know about your diabetes. He or she cannot ask about your health in an interview. Nor can a potential employer force you to have a physical before hiring.[1] This does not mean discrimination does not exist. It does help, however, to know your rights. As long as you ensure that your performance at work will not put anyone at risk, then there is no legal reason to deny you or fire you from a job. This applies to a variety of different types of employment, including commercial trucking.

Commercial Driver’s License

At one time, diabetics were prohibited from driving heavy vehicles, trucks and buses, on federal highways. The Federal legislation has been changed, however, and it is now up to each state to determine whether it is permitted or not. The only Federal intervention allowed occurs when the issue is inter-state commerce. However, employers are not allowed to discriminate as long as safety issues can be appropriately addressed.

Diabetes organizations have diligently followed the legislation and laws. They provide specific directions to help your physician in the legalities and the requirements for employment.[2] It is necessary to prove you can safely drive a commercial vehicle and should be issued a commercial license. You need to assemble the following:

  • Documentation of evidence of blood sugar levels
  • Supporting substantiation through the A1C reports
  • Computer logs of blood glucose levels
  • A full and complete recent examination by the diabetic specialist
  • Perhaps the collaborating evidence of an independent specialist
  • A report of an extensive eye examination performed “with drops,” to dilate the pupil

Do be aware that any medical advisor will not provide you with needed medical documentation for your application to be a commercial driver or heavy equipment operator if you suffer from certain diabetic complications. These consist of, but are not limited to, the following:

  • If you have suffered significant incidents of hypoglycemia in the previous year
  • If you are currently experiencing an unawareness of hypoglycemia
  • If you are not on a stable treatment program
  • If you are undergoing eye or peripheral nerve complications from your diabetes.

The same would apply to other jobs like commercial pilot. You need to be realistic in your goals and aspirations, but it does not mean you have to give them up if they are compatible with your diabetes. Sometimes, it means you have to work a little harder and plan ahead to assure that you, in the working environment, and the working environment itself are safe. This requires being conscious of your diabetes and taking precautions to make certain it does not affect your work.

Precautions to Take When at Work

When you plan a day at work, or are planning on taking a job, there are certain factors you must take into consideration.

  • Working hours – If the job has regular hours, predictable lunch breaks and so on, then the meal and insulin schedules are not difficult to arrange. If, however, the hours are erratic and not under your control, particular care needs to be taken to ensure against incidents of hypoglycemia or inappropriate timing of injections. If there are issues, arrange to have a system in place to make sure you meet your insulin targets and meal plan.
  • Shift work – Shift work is hard on many people. The hours and the lack of regular sleep patterns are inconvenient to more than diabetics. Fire, police, nurses, doctors and factory workers – all experience shift work of some type or another. It may require moving some shifts around. It definitely requires you pay more attention and more often to your blood sugar levels.
  • Driving equipment or heavy machinery at work demands that you take scrupulous care of your diabetes, particularly your blood sugar control. It is imperative you avoid hypoglycemia episodes.

Do not be afraid to ask for certain accommodations that will help make your job easier. That is also your right under the Americans with Disabilities Act.[3] If your employer is concerned about the welfare of the employees, your supervisor will be willing to be accommodating within reason.

Don’t forget to take along an emergency pack when you go to work. Be prepared with a water bottle, a glucose blood meter, test strips, lancet device and lancets, a glucose kit, any medications you may require, and a snack for stabilizing hypoglycemia and/or if you are required to work late.[4

Conclusion

The law protects you from being discriminated against at work and at play. It is up to you to have the sense and the wisdom to ensure your lack of control over your diabetes does not get in the way of you performing your job. Be sure to talk it over with your specialist if you have any questions or concerns about your employment.

References

[1] American Diabetes Association (2009). Type 2 Diabetes. Your Healthy Living Guide. Alexandria, VA: ADA.

[2] Thomas, VL; and Lorber, D. (2011). “Diabetes Goes to Work: Helping Your Patients Access the Protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Clinical Diabetes, 28 (2): 72-7.

[3] American Diabetes Association (2011). “Diabetes and Employment.” Diabetes Care, 34 (Supplement 1): S82-S86.

[4] Stanley, K (2009). 50 Things You Need To Know About Diabetes. Alexandria, VA: ADA.

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.