Diabetes And Workplace Discrimination: 5 Situations You Should Be Prepared For

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Almost one in five people have been disciplined at work because of their diabetes, according to a British survey. In addition to facing discipline for taking time off, about one in four people said they were unfairly questioned about time they had taken off, and some had been denied time off altogether.

There are occasions when employers can ask you about diabetes, and even occasions when they are legally allowed to deny a request for accommodation. But where exactly an employer’s behavior crosses the line into discrimination territory is not always clear, especially when an employee is nervous about keeping their job. But in the US, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is very detailed about what is and isn’t discrimination, so employers have no excuse for not knowing.

Below are five workplace situations that people with diabetes should be prepared for.

1. Can my employer ask me about diabetes during the interview process?

No. In the United States, employers are not allowed to ask about medical conditions during any part of the interview process. Employers cannot ask about past or present insulin or prescription drug use, and they may not ask about past medical leave.

Employers may ask questions relating to a candidate’s ability to do the job, such as ability to work long hours or use equipment. A job applicant may choose to disclose that they have diabetes, but employers may not ask follow-up questions unless they have a reason to think the person may require an accommodation, in which case employers can only ask about the type of accommodation needed, if any.

After a job offer is made, employers may ask questions about the applicants health, and even require a medical examination, so long as all applicants are treated in the same way.

2. What if I’m hassled about taking time off from work to care for myself?

Taking time off for diabetes care is often what causes employees to experience discrimination. They may be disciplined, passed up for promotions, or even denied time off. But the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires private employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of leave a year due to serious health conditions, and that leave can be taken in small blocks of time if needed for things like managing blood sugar and medical appointments.

Employees may still be discriminated against, and in such a case they can try educating their employers and HR departments. Diabetes discrimination is often due to ignorance about the condition and what it requires. If that doesn’t work, an employee may have grounds to file charges of discrimination.

3. What if coworkers make comments about my diabetes?

To be clear, it is never appropriate for an employer to disclose your medical information to another employee, even if you have to leave work because of a diabetic episode. If someone knows that you have diabetes and you haven’t told them yourself, there’s been a breach in confidentiality.

It’s not appropriate for coworkers to make rude or ignorant comments about diabetes, even if they don’t know you have it. The ADA says, “Although the law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents… harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment…” Any offensive comments should be addressed by either talking directly to the person in question or speaking with your HR department. If comments create a hostile work environment, they qualify as harassment.

Employers aren’t allowed to permit harassment, and most have an anti-harassment policy in place. Employees who violate the policy should be disciplined according to the policy.

“NEXT” for more discrimination situations

Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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