You’ve called in sick six days this year already and it’s only February. Last week you passed out in the lunchroom, because you had to wait in line for the microwave. Your blood sugar took a tumble. There is no doubt this is all getting overwhelming for you. First, the diagnosis. Next, you need to deal with checking blood sugars. Taking medicine. Eating on time. Now, you need to learn to balance work and diabetes.
With all of these factors, no one told you how diabetes can affect your job. This article outlines some of the things you may face at work.
Before we look at some of the hurdles you may need to jump, let’s take a look at your rights as an employee with diabetes.
As long as your employer as 15 or more employees, they need to adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act. Unless your health condition “threatens” the safety of you or others, your employer must give you all the same benefits as other employees and you cannot be fired. They also must make reasonable accommodations for your health like; breaks to check your blood sugar and eat. They also have to give you adequate time off for doctor’s appointments and they must offer sick leave under the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). Keep in mind that each individual state in the U.S. may have other laws, and other countries may have different laws.
Also, there are some jobs you may be restricted from doing if you take insulin. These include; truck drivers on long haul, and airline pilots to name a few.
Diabetes in the Workplace
It was concerning to hear how some diabetics deal with the issue. I was doing diabetic teaching and asked one of my regular patients, “How do you get through your work day with diabetes?”
Her answer terrified me!
“Well, I rarely eat breakfast because I’m always late. I take my meds and head for the door with a granola bar. At work, I check my blood sugar whenever I can. We grab lunch out, and lately I’ve been stressed. We don’t get much time for anything but work.” I explained to her that she needed to take time out of her workday to take care of her diabetes.
Her next answer scared me even more!
“My boss understands that I am allowed to take time to check my blood sugar and eat. But last week, I asked for a day off to go see my nutritionist and his answer was, “you eat fine and it seems like your playing the diabetes card again for time off.”
This is a huge issue that needs addressed. You have to become one with diabetes in all areas of your life. It has to be fluid. It goes with you wherever you go. Here are some of the issues you may find:
A Boss That Doesn’t Get It
Whether you work for a company of hundreds of employees or five employees, you need to have a boss that understands. Your boss needs to understand that in order for you to stay healthy and be at work, you need to manage your diabetes properly while you are on the clock. That may mean allowing you to:
- Take break periods to check your blood sugar and eat
- Take time off to visit the doctor or diabetic education appointments
- Use sick days to manage your diabetes or rest when you are ill
- Have a private and quiet space to check blood sugar and take medications
- Have a right to your privacy about your health (need to know basis)
When you are diagnosed, make sure you check your company policy on disability in the workplace. Know your state and federal laws on this and print up information for your boss if necessary.
No Time For Breaks
Things get busy. It’s totally understandable. Two workers called in sick, your boss is in meetings all day. You seem to be the only person in your department that can do most of the work. How are you supposed to fit breaks in?
When you have diabetes 24/7 and you work 8, 10, 12 hours of that time, diabetes goes with you. This means you will need to figure out a way to still check your blood sugar, take your medication and most important, eat.
This can be tricky if the whole office is “out-of-commission.” Unfortunately, diabetes doesn’t take breaks, so you have to. While you are plugging away doing all these tasks, your blood sugar could secretly be higher than it should be. Or, missing a snack or meal could crash your sugar levels.
This is one very serious issue you need to be prepared for at work. It depends on how much you want to share with your boss and co-workers, but this is really important. You may have a diabetic emergency at work, and people need to know how to handle this. Here is a scenario:
You start feeling dizzy at your desk, so you take your kit and go into the bathroom to check your blood sugar. As soon as you walk through the bathroom door, everything fades. You just passed out from low blood sugar. Now what?
A) The next person to come in has no idea what is going on. Still, they call 911 and it takes 15 minutes for help to get to you. You have no medical alert bracelet identifying your condition. It takes another 15 minutes to get you to ER and the doctor’s to figure out that your blood sugar was B) Your wearing a medical alert bracelet.
Your co-worker walks through the door and sees you passed out on the floor. They take a look at the bracelet and see that you are diabetic. They see the kit on the floor. In it you have an emergency glucose rescue pen. Your boss has all the information on using it and your co-worker quickly finds them to give you the shot.
Prepare yourself and your co-workers for diabetic emergencies that can happen during the workday.
Restricted Types of Work
One downfall of how diabetes can affect your job, is what type of job that you do. Certain occupations have restrictions on diabetics that take insulin or do not have their blood sugar under good control. Occupations that may be restricted include:
- Active Duty Military
- Long Haul Truck Drivers
- Police Officer
- Ambulance Drivers
- Air Traffic Control
- Public Transportation Drivers
- Railway Workers (near the track)
There have been advances for diabetics in some of these job positions. It depends on the city, town, state. It also depends on the employer. Some companies or government agencies have adopted, “blanket policies,” regarding diabetics.
Advances in rights for diabetics are making breakthroughs everyday. Some areas are allowing public servants to work as police or fire with physical clearance from a doctor, and strict blood sugar control.
This post was written by Nadia Kim from NYC. She is a certified diabetes educator and a Registered Nurse at Bronx. Nadia has contributed for various websites such as ADA, WebMD, HealthLine, HowStuffWorks and you can find her recent post which was featured on diabetes community website. You can find more about Nadia on her facebook or her twitter profile here.