Contributor: Dr. Rita Kalyani, MD, MHS
People with diabetes may hesitate to discuss their specific needs in the workplace because of fears of discrimination. In this context, discrimination refers to the unjust treatment of people because they have diabetes. A casual conversation, a letter from the person’s health care provider, or even a copy of this guide can help supervisors understand what diabetes is, how it is treated, and how it can be supported in the workplace.
What You Need to Know
For both employees and supervisors, understanding the difference between myths and facts about diabetes in the workplace can be helpful.
MYTH: People with diabetes are always treated fairly in the workplace.
FACT: People with diabetes are sometimes overlooked for new jobs—or for promotions in their current jobs—because they have a chronic disease such as diabetes. This is known as employment discrimination, and it almost always happens when supervisors are unsure about what diabetes is and how it is treated. This type of discrimination occurs less often as supervisors learn more about diabetes and are educated on its treatment.
MYTH: People with diabetes receive fewer job offers than healthy people.
FACT: During a job search, people are not required to reveal they have diabetes until they’ve been offered the job. That said, some offers depend on a person’s ability to pass a physical exam. If this is the case, the employer and applicant should openly discuss the job duties so they can together determine if any complications of diabetes, such as severe eye disease, might make the work unsafe or unreasonably challenging.
MYTH: Some people with diabetes will be forced to quit their jobs if their supervisors find out they have diabetes.
FACT: It is true that having diabetes can make employment more difficult in a small number of professions without obtaining a waiver or exemption. But the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all other employers to generally support the needs of people with diabetes in the workplace. For example, people with diabetes should be allowed to carry a snack with them and take breaks to self-monitor their blood glucose levels or inject insulin as prescribed by their healthcare provider.
MYTH: People with diabetes perform poorly at work.
FACT: The truth is that most people with diabetes can be excellent employees. With support from their employers, people with diabetes will succeed in many different types of work, similar to people without diabetes.
MYTH: There is no legal protection for people with diabetes who face discrimination at work.
FACT: Laws against discrimination differ by state and by country. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with diabetes from unfair treatment in the workplace.
What Does It All Mean?
People with diabetes should have the same employment opportunities as other people, and reasonable accommodations should be made to help them treat and manage their blood glucose on the job. Many cases of discrimination may be resolved by educating someone’s supervisor about diabetes.
Dr. Rita Kalyani is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism. She is an active clinician in the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Diabetes Center. Dr. Kalyani directs the Diabetes Management Service for Johns Hopkins’ Total Pancreatectomy Islet Auto Transplant Program. She is a new member of the DiabetesSisters Board of Directors.
This excerpt is taken from “Diabetes Head to Toe: Everything You Need to Know about Diagnosis, Treatment, and Living with Diabetes” by Dr. Rita Kalyani, Dr. Mark Corriere, Dr. Thomas Donner, and Dr. Michael Quartuccio. This book is available for pre-order and will be published in November 2018. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press © 2018. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
** More information about dealing with employment discrimination can be found on the American Diabetes Association website: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights/discrimination/employment-discrimination/