Diabetes Discrimination: It is Real, and Here is What You Can Do
People with diabetes face discrimination in various settings, including the workplace and in school. If you have diabetes, learn what constitutes discriminatory behavior and learn what rights you have and how to take action.
Employment discrimination is any adverse employment action because of a person’s disability. This means that your employer cannot discriminate in hiring, firing, discipline, pay, promotion, job training, fringe benefits or in any other term or condition of your employment.
There are several laws that protect workers from discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers private employers and labor unions with 15 or more employees. This law protects people with disabilities from unfair treatment at work. Individuals with diabetes are considered to have a disability because their endocrine system is substantially limited.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees who miss work because of a serious health condition and allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Remember that the leave does not have to be taken all at once – it can be used an hour at a time if that is what is needed. This is called intermittent leave.
Use this checklist created by the American Diabetes Association to identify any problems you might be having at your workplace:
• Are you prevented from taking breaks at work to check your blood glucose levels, eat and take insulin?
• Is your employer not providing reasonable accommodations? These include breaks (as described above), permission to keep diabetes supplies and food nearby, leave for treatment, a standard work schedule instead of a rotating shift, permission to use a chair or stool (if you have diabetic neuropathy), or accommodations for diabetic retinopathy (a larger computer monitor, for example).
• Was your job (or promotion) offer taken back when you said you had diabetes?
• Have you been told you can never have a certain job, like bus driver or police officer, because you use insulin?
• Do you have to have specific blood glucose levels in order to keep your job?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, or you are having similar problems, you may be experiencing unlawful discrimination because of your diabetes.
As soon as you believe you are not being treated fairly, begin keeping a log of actions, copies of important documents, such as emails and letters from your employer or performance reviews. Obtain a copy of your company’s employee handbook and leave policy.
The ADA offers resources on many diabetic issues, including information on reasonable accommodations, safety issues, medical leave, etc. Use this information to educate your employer. Keep in mind that he or she may simply be unaware of the issues you face. If education is not enough, then you can take further action.
Remember that more children today are being diagnosed with diabetes. Schools in the past may not have dealt much with this medical issue so it is important to be an effective advocate for your child.
The ADA’s Safe at School initiative promotes safety and fairness for children with diabetes. An overview of the Association’s campaign can be found at www.diabetes.org. You can also call 1-800-DIABETES (342-2383) for free resources or to speak to an ADA advocate.
Watch closely also for signs that your child might be experiencing bullying due to his or her diabetes. These include a change in grades, a depressed mood, a change in sleep patterns, school avoidance, or an increase in physical complaints such as headaches stomach aches, etc.
The American Diabetes Association is committed to ending the discrimination faced by people with diabetes in every aspect of life.
American Diabetes Association: Living with Diabetes