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People with diabetes can face workplace discrimination

Most of us in Los Angeles know someone with diabetes or have it ourselves. The number is growing at an alarming rate. The latest government estimate is that 29 million Americans are living with the disease. We don't think of diabetes as something that would cause problems in the workplace. However people with diabetes may face discrimination by employers and co-workers. One endocrinologist says that many people with diabetes hesitate to take the daily steps required to control the disease, such as checking their blood sugar levels, because they fear being stigmatized. Failure to properly manage the disease can be particularly dangerous for people who work in industries like transportation and construction where safety is paramount.

The fear that a person could lose their job or fail to get one if they disclose their diabetes is not unfounded. Some employers don’t want to make the accommodations required, such as perhaps extra snack breaks to let employees keep their blood sugar up or allowing them to check their blood sugar at specific intervals. They may also fear that the employee will have a diabetes-related medical emergency. An attorney who works for the American Diabetes Association is striving to combat workplace discrimination. He says that it’s illegal to refuse to hire someone because they are diabetic and that those with the disease are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also points out that fears of a medical emergency are largely unfounded. While employers are required to make accommodations for diabetic workers, the attorney also notes that “the vast majority of people with diabetes are able to work without any accommodations.” However, many people still harbor stereotypes about the disease. Diabetics may face juvenile taunts from co-workers. One man who used to work for a car dealership says that because of the insulin pump he wore, he was called “Pump Boy” by fellow employees. He said his boss didn’t understand why he had to check his blood sugar. He says he can’t prove that his eventual termination was because of his diabetes because employers “can find some other way to rationalize somebody being laid off.” While employers aren’t likely to tell people they’re being fired due to their diabetes, employees who believe that was the case may want to consider taking legal action -- not just for themselves but for others in the same situation.

Source: Newsworks, "Avoiding diabetes discrimination and stigma at work," July 10, 2014

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