Diabetes in the Workplace
Is diabetes a disability?
Yes, diabetes is a disability. A person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is “disabled” and protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A person with a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity is “disabled” and protected by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are physical impairments that substantially limit major life activities, including bodily function of the endocrine system, eating, and caring for oneself.
What laws protect people with diabetes in the workplace?
Both federal and California state law protect people with disabilities in the workplace. Under the ADA, employers with fifteen or more employees cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. The FEHA bars discrimination by employers with five or more employees. This means that if you have a disability and can do the basic duties of the job, you cannot be harassed, demoted, terminated, paid less, or treated more poorly because of your disability.
Can a potential employer refuse to hire me simply because I have diabetes?
No. An employer cannot refuse to hire you just because you have diabetes. However, you do need to be able to perform the “essential functions” of the job you are applying for with or without a reasonable accommodation. More information on reasonable accommodations is available below.
Am I required to disclose that I have diabetes before accepting a job offer?
You are not required to disclose that you have or had diabetes unless you need a reasonable accommodation for the application process (for example, a break to eat a snack or monitor your glucose levels). You can still request reasonable accommodations after you become an employee. See below for more information on reasonable accommodations.
Can my potential employer ask any follow-up questions if I volunteer that I have diabetes?
No. An employer generally may not ask you any questions about your diabetes or treatment even if you tell them that you have diabetes. However, if you disclose that you have diabetes before you receive a job offer, an employer may ask you whether you will need an accommodation to perform the job and what accommodation you will need.
What may an employer do when they learn that I am a diabetic after they offer me the job but before I start working?
If you have received an offer but you have not started work yet, your employer can ask questions that are more detailed about your diabetes. For example, your employer may ask how long you have had diabetes, if you are using insulin or oral medications, if and how often you experience episodes of hypoglycemia, and/or if you will need help if your blood sugar drops at work. The employer may also require you to for a follow-up medical examination or ask you to present documents from your doctor answering questions specifically designed to assess your ability to perform your job duties safely.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications made to a job or workplace to enable an employee or job applicant to successfully perform the basic duties of a position. A reasonable accommodation does not change the basic duties of the job. Whether a particular accommodation request is reasonable depends upon the situation and type of job. The accommodation, however, may not be unduly costly or disruptive for the employer (undue hardship).
For more information about reasonable accommodations, see:
When is my employer required to accommodate me?
Your employer is required to accommodate only known disabilities. There is no one specific way to notify your employer. However, to ensure your legal rights, you should tell your employer that you have a disability and need accommodation.
While a request for accommodations does not need to be in writing, you may use our sample letter for requesting reasonable accommodations, available here: https://legalaidatwork.org/our-programs/disability-access-rights/
What are examples of reasonable accommodations for people with diabetes?
Some examples of reasonable accommodations for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:
|Accommodation Type||Explanation and Example(s)|
|Additional breaks||Some employees with diabetes may require additional breaks to check blood glucose levels, eat a snack, take medication, or go to the bathroom.|
|Resting area||Some employees with diabetes may require a place to rest until their blood sugar levels become normal.|
|Private place to test blood glucose or administer insulin||While employers are not required to provide a private location for individuals with diabetes to test their blood glucose and/or administer insulin, employees can request a private location as a reasonable accommodation.|
|The ability to keep diabetes supplies and food nearby||Some employees with diabetes may need immediate access to food and diabetes supplies.|
|Modified work schedule||Some employees with diabetes may require a modified work schedule or a schedule that allows them to work standard shifts as opposed to swing shifts.|
|Access to technology||Individuals with diabetes often monitor their blood glucose levels using different technologies, including on their smartphones. Employees with diabetes may request access to these technologies as a reasonable accommodation.|
|Unpaid leaves of absence||Employees with diabetes may need to take a leave of absence for treatment, recovery, or training on managing diabetes.
An employee who is changing to a new diabetes management system could request an unpaid leave of absence to give them time to adjust to the new system before returning to work.
|Modification to uniforms||Although employers may require employees to wear protective equipment, like steel-toed boots, some protective equipment may pose a risk to individuals with diabetes.
For some individuals with diabetic neuropathy (a nerve disorder caused by diabetes), steel-toed boots can be dangerous. Employees with diabetic neuropathy may request that their employer provide alternative protective footwear that is suitable for individuals with diabetes.
|Modifications of facilities or furniture||An individual with diabetic neuropathy might request permission to use a chair or stool as a reasonable accommodation.
For individuals with diabetic retinopathy (a vision disorder caused by diabetes), a reasonable accommodation might be a large screen computer monitor or other assistive devices.
For more information and examples of reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, visit the Job Accommodation Network page on diabetes at https://askjan.org/disabilities/Diabetes.cfm#spy-scroll-heading-1
Can I request more than one accommodation for my diabetes?
Yes. You may request more than one accommodation.
What do I do if my employer is unwilling to accommodate my needs?
While your employer is not required to grant your preferred reasonable accommodation, your employer is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations that allow you to do your job effectively. If you have requested accommodations and your employer has refused to grant these accommodations, you can ask your employer if there are other accommodations which would allow you to manage your diabetes and perform the essential functions of your position.
If your employer refuses to grant you any accommodations or only provides ineffective accommodations, you can call Legal Aid at Work’s Disability Rights Helpline at 877-350-5441.
Can my employer tell anyone that I have diabetes?
As a general matter, your employer must keep your medical information confidential. However, your employer may tell certain individuals about your diabetes under very limited circumstances. Your employer may disclose your diabetes:
• To supervisors or managers in order to implement reasonable accommodations;
• To emergency and safety personnel;
• Where necessary for insurance or workers’ compensation purposes; and
• To individuals investigating compliance with anti-discrimination laws
Can my employer tell my co-workers that I have diabetes if I have an insulin reaction at work?
No. Your employer cannot tell your co-workers that you have diabetes, even if they witness you have an insulin reaction at work.
I think my employer is discriminating against me because of my type one diabetes. What do I do? Who can I talk to?
If you believe your employer is denying you reasonable accommodations or discriminating against you because of your diabetes, you can call Legal Aid at Work’s Disability Rights Helpline at 877-350-5441.