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 about civil rights and diabetes for employers
1. I am concerned that an employee with diabetes may be unable to safely perform his/her job. Can I ask the employee questions about his/her diabetes or send him/her for a medical exam?
If an employer has reason to believe that a person’s diabetes (or other medical condition) is contributing to, or the cause of, poor job performance, or whose condition may pose a “direct threat” to him/herself or others in the work place, an employer may ask questions about the condition (including diabetes) or even request a medical evaluation. The employer may even have the right send the employee to a company designated physician for evaluation.
2. I have an employee who misses a lot of work for diabetes (or other medical reason). Can I ask the employee to submit proof of the reason for his/her absenteeism?
3. If an employee has missed work due to diabetes problems, can an employer request a medical exam or documentation before allowing him/her to return to work?
Yes, but only if the employer has a valid, objective reason to believe that the employee may be unable to perform his/her job or poses a “direct threat” to him/herself or others in the work place.
Any inquiries made by the employer must be limited to obtaining only information needed to make an assessment of the employee's present ability to safely perform his/her job. This limitation also extends to medical evaluations. Only information relative to an employee’s ability to perform a job safely can be requested.
An example would be if a change in a person’s insulin schedule, or perhaps going from shots to an insulin pump, had led to episodes of hypoglycemia on the job. If the employee was unable to safely perform the job, or required time off for recuperation, the employer can require the employee to submit to a medical exam or provide medical documentation that he/she can safely perform the job without posing a direct threat before allowing him/her to return to work.
However, if a person has been newly diagnosed with diabetes and had to take time off from work for recuperation or training, an employer may not require a doctor’s note before the employee may return to work. The reason why is that no incident on the job has taken place and there is no reason to indicate that the employee will no longer be able to perform the job. However, if it is the policy of the company to require proof of why the absence took place for any employee, the employer may ask for a doctor’s note stating that the person was in fact absent, for medical reasons.
4. Does the ADA apply when another federal law prohibits an employer from hiring anyone who takes insulin for a particular position?
Some federal laws prohibit an employer from hiring a person who takes insulin for certain positions. In this case, the employer would not be liable under the ADA. However, since some laws have certain exceptions, waivers, or may be voluntary, the employer should be certain, that compliance with the law restricting hiring a person who takes insulin is actually is required, not voluntary, without exceptions.
5. Does everyone with diabetes have a disability covered under the ADA?
No. While “endocrine diseases” are specifically listed in the ADA, not all persons with diabetes have an impairment that qualifies. The impairment or disability must also substantially limit one or more major life activities and for many persons with diabetes this is often the case.
6. Can we refuse to hire a qualified job applicant because they have a child or spouse with diabetes and we are concerned about the applicant missing work?
No. This is a form of discrimination called "discrimination by association." In this case the applicant, even one who does not have a disability, would have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) an could potentially seek legal recourse. However, an employee who fails to show up for work or is habitually late due to personal problems can be fired.
7. Does the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) apply to persons who need time off to care for diabetic family members?
In some cases yes, in others no. The determining factors is not diabetes but whether or not the employee is entitled to any FMLA benefits. For more information about the FMLA visit the U.S. Department of Labor.
Page Updated 08/15/2007