Discrimination in employment because of diabetes is more common than you might think. It can occur in hiring, pay, training, promotions, and in employee benefits. If you experience discrimination because of your diabetes, you may feel there is nothing you can do about the situation, or that the issue may simply “go away” on its own. This is a natural reaction to a situation like this, but it is a response you should not be content rest upon. There are laws that protect your rights in the workplace, put in place to help resolve issues of discrimination and to protect you and others who have conditions such as diabetes.
Here’s what you should know.
Your Rights and Protections
As mentioned, there are laws that protect you from discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit private employers, labor unions, employment agencies with 15 or more employees, as well as state and local government employers from practicing any form of discrimination that is a result of a person’s disability. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects federal employees of the executive branch of the U.S. government and those who work for employers that receive federal money. Each state also has specific anti-discrimination laws.
Diabetes qualifies as a disability. This means that an employer cannot discriminate against you as it relates to hiring, firing, discipline, pay, promotion, job training or fringe benefits. An employer is also not permitted to retaliate against an employee for speaking up or raising questions regarding his or her rights.
Disclosure of Diabetes
In most cases, an employee is not required to disclose to their employer that they have diabetes, but you are only protected by the anti-discrimination laws if your employer is aware of your diabetes. There are some instances where liability issues will require disclosure, such as concerns that diabetes may pose a safety risk to themselves or others. In these cases, you may need to educate the employer about your condition and precautions you take to avoid these risk factors.
If you make your diabetes known to your employer and you request modifications to your job, your employer is required to make “reasonable accommodation” unless the accommodation would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer because it would entail significant difficulty or expense.
Examples of accommodations for a person with diabetes might include:
- The ability to take breaks when needed to check blood sugar or to eat
- Freedom to eat while working to stave off low blood sugar
- Adjusting the work schedule for doctor’s appointments
What to Do If You Are Discriminated Against
Document the discrimination by writing down everything that is relevant, including names, dates, and events. Resolving the situation may be as easy as approaching your employer with your concerns. Many employers may not be aware of the discrimination because diabetes is not well understood by the general public. Take it upon yourself to educate the employer and explain how the situation could be resolved.
In some cases, you might need to take legal action. You can file a charge with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or with your state anti-discrimination agency.