Diabetes is a regrettably widespread disability with equally widespread implications on the health of the people who suffer from it. There are fundamental differences between Type 1 diabetes, a strongly genetic condition, and Type 2 diabetes, which can arise due to diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices, but they have one thing in common: discrimination. Although it is unquestionably illegal to discriminate against diabetics in the workplace, it happens every day; you cannot see diabetes, after all, it manifests in different ways, and some employers mistakenly believe that every diabetic has the power to “cure themselves.”
If You Can’t See It, It’s Not There
Often a complete lack of understanding rears its head when diabetic employees face discrimination in the workplace. Citing that no one can “see” diabetes, some employers claim that they’re not even sure diabetes is a disability. Despite its inclusion under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers don’t understand diabetes. They don’t necessarily understand how it affects sufferers, and may not even recognize the differences between Type 1 and Type 2.
Imagine having your diabetes under control, but going through a traumatic event, such as an accident. Imagine stress taking its toll while you’re at work, causing your blood sugar to crash. Your co-workers know to call for help and you’re able to quickly stabilize your blood sugar, but your superiors make derogatory and even threatening comments. Think about being told that you need to quit your job and take disability because you’re a danger to the workplace, and facing the threat that any mistakes can cost you your job.
That’s just one example of the very real discrimination diabetics face at work every day.
Diabetes Is “Curable,” Not “Treatable”
Image via Flickr by Victor
Going back to the belief that all types of diabetes are the same, the idea that anyone with diabetes can simply change his or her diet, start exercising, and make lifestyle changes to “cure” diabetes is a hurtful and even dangerous stereotype. While it’s true that a stable, healthy diet, regular physical activity, and cutting down or abstaining from drinking or smoking can all have positive effects on diabetes, those things are not cures.
Diabetics can stabilize their disease. They can check their blood sugar regularly, take insulin when necessary, buy Sitagliptin and take their medication at work, eat or drink to keep their insulin levels stable, and rest. The problem occurs, however, when employers are reluctant or outright refuse to give their employees the opportunities to do such things.
Misplaced Fairness in the Workplace
Image via Flickr by Erin Kohlenberg
That brings up misplaced fairness in the workplace. Specifically, employers hesitate to allow diabetic employees to take time out for breaks or eat at their desks because they fear that other employees will see these acts as unfair. They worry that “healthy” employees will feel like their diabetic colleagues are somehow receiving preferential treatment—because, again, no one can “see” the effect of diabetes. Unless they witness someone giving themselves insulin or, worse, dealing with the loss of a limb or damaged eyesight, they don’t think anything is wrong.
Whether an employee has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, employers must make certain accommodations. As a diabetic, you are fully entitled to:
- Breaks for rest, checking your blood sugar, taking your medicine, testing or administering insulin, and even eating
- A place to recover
- Adequate time off to take care, recover, or manage your diabetes
- And access to shortcuts or other means of comfort that can help you cope
Worst Case Scenarios Abound
Employers cite worst case scenarios to keep from hiring or employing diabetics. A longtime mechanic who does his job well could receive a diagnosis, then lose his job based on a technicality. A woman who has successfully managed her diabetes for years may have her job threatened because she takes a shortcut through the office, and her employers fear she could fall and get hurt.
The fear of a blood sugar crash, a faint, or a black-out is somewhat relevant, but only in diabetics who don’t closely monitor their health. They should, in no way, receive punishment because of a what-if contingency.
Discriminating against diabetics is illegal, point-blank, but it happens every day. If it’s happened to you, there are many resources that will help you fight back.