Diabetes and the workplace

Having a fulfilling and rewarding job is important to most people. In fact, our work helps us to define who we are, and gives us independence, economic stability, and a sense of belonging in our communities.

If you have diabetes, with a few exceptions, you can have almost any career you want. If you are insulin-dependent, you are restricted from entering the armed forces. However, some people who are diagnosed with diabetes while they are serving in the military are allowed to remain enlisted. Additionally, the US Federal Aviation Administration does not allow people with diabetes who take insulin to work as commercial airline pilots.

Besides these exceptions, a person with diabetes can work in any career for which they are qualified. In 2003, the American Diabetes Association was successful in getting the US Department of Transportation to lift a ban that kept people with diabetes who were insulin dependent from operating large trucks or buses that travel on interstate routes. In some cases, such as with operating heavy machinery or occupations requiring use of motor vehicles, a person with diabetes must be careful to monitor and keep their blood glucose well controlled. However, with some reasonable care and precautions, there are very few occupations that are restricted for people with diabetes.

If you think think you are a victim of workplace discrimination, contact American Diabetes Association Call 1-800-DIABETES and ask for the ADA employment discrimination packet Your State’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or your State’s anti-discrimination agency) Your union representative if you are a member of a union.

Knowing your workplace rights

Even though diabetes and related complications can interfere with the ability to work, it is important to know your rights in the workplace and your options in case you find it too difficult to continue to work. The good news about diabetes and employment in the US is that there are more legal protections and provisions now than at any time in history to help keep people with diabetes and other medical conditions in the workforce and to protect them from workplace discrimination.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 and amendments to the ADA were made in 2008. These federal laws provide legal protection to people with disabilities who work for private-sector companies with 15 or more employees, as well as employees of state and local governments. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state laws, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a person with a disability who is qualified for a given job, as long as they can carry out the required activities of the job with or without reasonable accommodations on the part of the employer.

In order to use the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person with diabetes must demonstrate that he or she has a record of disability or has been regarded as having a disability. In diabetes, impairment or limitation of endocrine function qualifies as such a disability and must be proved for the law to apply.

If you think that you have been denied employment or discriminated on the job due to your diabetes, you must demonstrate in a court of law that you are qualified for the job in question and that you were treated unfairly due to your diabetes.

If you are applying for a job, it is illegal for an employer to ask for medical information until a job offer has been made, and a job offer may be withdrawn only if a person proves unable to carry out tasks required by the job. Once an employee is on the job, the employer may only ask medical questions of an employee if they are directly related to performing activities related to the job.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that an employer must make “reasonable accommodations” to allow a disabled person to continue to perform job duties. For a person with diabetes, accommodations may include providing regular breaks for blood glucose monitoring and insulin injections during the workday or provision of special computer equipment to accommodate for retinopathy or special workplace seating to accommodate for neuropathy.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

In addition to the ADA, another important law to be aware of is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies to the majority of public employees and employees of private-sector companies with 50 or more local employees. This law requires employers to grant 12 weeks of job-protected, un-paid leave to employees during any year-long period to attend to a serious health condition or to provide care to a family member with such as condition. Under the FMLA, you can take leaves for a single 12-week period or for shorter periods. Health insurance premiums paid by employers must continue to be paid during FMLA leave. FMLA leave is available for any employee who has been employed by a qualifying company for at least 1 year and has worked at least 1,250 hours during the year before the start of the leave. Employees must provide notice 30 days in advance of taking leave, in cases where the requirement is foreseeable.

Employment services to keep you on the job

There are several employment services and resources that can help you continue to work if you are affected by a health condition like diabetes. These services include vocational rehabilitation (VR), occupational therapy, job retention programs, and advocacy programs. The US Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is one resource that you can take advantage of to learn about your legal rights and accommodation strategies and options.

VR in the US is type of government program run by individual states (how the program is run varies from state to state) set up in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a law stipulating that services must be provided to help disabled persons become or remain employed. If you want to take advantage of VR in your state, you must demonstrate that you are eligible to participate in the program, which means that you have to show that you have a physical or mental impairment that constitutes a substantial impediment to working. You must also stand a reasonable chance of becoming employable by using the services offered to you through your VR program.

These services typically include:

  • An assessment of the extent of your disability and need to correct or compensate for your disability
  • Vocational counseling and guidance
  • Vocational training to help you find gainful employment
  • Job placement services
  • Services that follow-up on your program after you find a job

Learn about workplace legal protections for persons with disabilities Visit the US Department of Labor Job Accommodation Network at http://askJAN.org or call 1-800-526-7234 For information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) visit http://www.adata.org or contact your regional ADA center at 1-800-949-4232

Diabetes and disability

If you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes and diabetes-related health complications, it can affect your ability to work. The US Health and Retirement Study, a large household survey of adults 51 to 61 years of age, found that people with diabetes were significantly more likely to have impairments that forced them to leave the workforce than people in the same age range without diabetes. Adults with diabetes who took part in the study experienced increased numbers of sick days and health impairments, with a cost to society in lost productivity estimated in the billions of dollars.1

If you find that you can no longer carryout your work activities because of complications or symptoms associated with diabetes, you might want to consider applying for disability insurance benefits. Eligibility for disability insurance, as determined by the US Social Security Administration (SSA), is defined as:

  • No longer being able to engage in the work that you have been accustomed to or trained for, and
  • Not being able to engage in any other type of “substantial gainful activity” (this is defined as employment that provides compensation of at least $740 per month)

To get the ball rolling in applying for disability, you need to obtain a claim form from your local employment development department office, your doctor, or a hospital. You will need your doctor to fill in part of the form, stating the nature of your disability and that you are no longer able to work at your present occupation.

If you want to continue to work in some capacity, you may be interested in a program offered by the SSA, in which you still qualify for disability benefits, but the SSA helps you find a job that you can perform even with your disabilities.

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: May 2014.
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