Islets of Hope Is diabetes a disability?
Edited Lahle Wolfe
Source: Publication PA-04-2006; Revised 12/06; Published by Islets of Hope, Diabetes and civil rights law: "An overview of your legal right to equal access to programs, benefits, opportunity, accommodations, education, and employment" Read full publication (.pdf)"
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Diabetes and Civil Rights Laws
FAQs employees may have about disability civil rights
1. What questions can an employer ask during the application process?
A potential employer may questions about your employment history and qualifications to do the job. They may not ask you questions about your medical history or prescription drug use but they may ask if you use illegal drugs or have a criminal history.
Diabetes is not obvious unless you wear an insulin pump during an interview. Even if a potential employer notices that you are wearing an insulin pump they may not ask you questions about your medical history or condition. They may, however, ask if you require special accommodations in the work place and what those accommodations are.
After employment, an employer may ask an employee about diabetes when an employee has asked for a reasonable accommodation because of his diabetes, or is participating in a voluntary wellness program that focuses on early detection, screening, and management of diseases such as diabetes.
2. Do I need to provide a doctor’s note about my diabetes to my employer?
No, not as part of the application process, but an employer may ask for doctor’s note or medical examination that you are able to do a job as part of a conditional employment offer. However, an employer can only make this request if it is the usual policy or practice that applies to other applicants as well (i.e., an applicant is given a conditional offer of employment as a fire fighter pending passing a physical examination that s/he can do the job, if this is required of all applicants for the same or similar positions).
If an employee’s work performance has suffered due to diabetes, or the employer has justifiable reason to believe that diabetes could have contributed to, or could cause a work-related accident, the employer may require a doctor’s note stating that the employee is able to meet the demands of the job. (Example: an employee appears shaky, confused, or sweaty and drops a heavy box or loses consciousness while on the job from low blood sugars. An employer may require a medical examination and doctor’s note clearing the employee for work.)
Additionally, an employer may request a medical examination or doctor’s note when an employee:
An employer may also require an employee who has been hired to provide a doctor's note or other explanation to justify his use of sick leave for diabetes-related causes, as long as the employer’s policy or practice requires all employees who use sick leave to do so.
3. What information is a person with diabetes required by law to disclose during the application process?
None. You may however, voluntarily offer information. If you do disclose that you have diabetes during the application process you cannot be disqualified simply on the basis of having diabetes. If you tell an employer that you have diabetes, they can only ask if you require special accommodations in the work place and what those accommodations are.
4. What can an employer do after a person with diabetes has been offered a job and then discovers that the person has diabetes?
In most cases, even after employment is offered without prior knowledge of a person’s diabetes, an employer may not ask for or obtain medical information from an employee unless there is a valid reason to believe that a suspected or known medical condition (including diabetes) has lead to changes in the employee's job performance. Additionally, if the employer believes that the employee may pose a direct threat to safety standards on the job because of a medical condition the employer may ask for medical information or evaluation.
If an employer finds out an employee has diabetes after the employee has been hired they may not fire, demote, or transfer the employee simply on the basis of having discovered the person has diabetes.
5. When can an employer ask if medical problems, including diabetes are affecting work my performance?
If an employer has a legitimate reason to believe that diabetes (or any medical condition) is affecting an employee's ability to do their job, the employer may ask questions about the employees medical history or condition.
An example would be if a person has to make frequent trips to the rest room and their job performance (i.e., having to be at a desk to answer phones or perform tasks on an assembly line) is compromised. An employer then has the right to ask if the employee has diabetes because s/he suspects that diabetes is affecting work performance. The employer may also request a medical evaluation to determine if the employee can safely and adequately perform the requirements of the job.
6. Is poor job performance for any reason enough cause for my employer to ask for or obtain medical information about me?
7. What information can my employer share about my diabetes?
Generally, with few exceptions, an employer may not share any medical information it learns about an applicant or employee.
Some exceptions include:
8. Do I have to tell other employees I have diabetes? Can my employer tell my co-workers about my diabetes?
9. What if a co-worker asks why I am getting certain accommodations?
You do not have to answer if another employee asks why you are receiving what they might consider “special treatment, “ (i.e., breaks for snacks when others don’t get breaks) and your employer may respond only in a general manner. For example, an employer may legally offer that it is the company policy that reasonable accommodations are sometimes made but if and when such accommodations are made they are confidential. An employer may be able to better reassure the questioning employee stating that their privacy too, would be respected if s/he ever had to ask the employer for some kind of workplace change for personal reasons.
10. Can I use the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take time off to care for diabetic family member?
In some cases yes, in others no. The determining factors is not diabetes but whether or not you are entitled to any FMLA benefits. For more information about the FMLA visit the U.S. Department of Labor.
11. How do I file a complaint against my employer for disability-related job descrimination?
See our section on Filing a Civil Rights Complaint.
Page Updated 08/15/2007