Questions and Answers About Diabetes in the Workplace

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By : dLife Editors

Do you know what your rights are as a person with diabetes in the workplace? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.

The ADA strictly limits the circumstances under which an employer may ask questions about an employee’s medical condition or require the employee to have a medical examination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the provisions of the ADA. It offers a question-and-answer document addressing how the ADA applies to job applicants and employees who have or had diabetes. The following are a few of the topics covered in the document:

When an employer can ask an applicant/employee questions about diabetes and how it should treat voluntary disclosures.

What types of reasonable accommodations employees with diabetes may need.

How an employer should handle safety concerns about applicants and employees with diabetes.

How an employer can ensure that no employee is harassed because of diabetes or any other disability.

Below are a few common, but important questions you should know before starting a job or even if you are already employed. Title I of the ADA limits an employer’s ability to ask questions related to diabetes and other disabilities and to conduct medical examinations at three stages: pre-offer, post-offer, and during employment.

Information for Job Applicants

1. Can an employer ask a job applicant whether he/she has or had diabetes or about treatment related to diabetes before making a job offer?

No. An employer may not ask questions about an applicant’s medical condition or require an applicant to have a medical examination before it makes a conditional job offer. An employer cannot legally ask an applicant questions such as:

  • Whether he/she has diabetes or has been diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Whether he/she uses insulin or other prescription drugs.
  • If he/she has ever taken leave for medical treatment, or how much sick leave has been taken.

2. Does the ADA require an applicant to disclose that she has or had diabetes or some other disability before accepting a job offer?

No. The ADA does not require applicants to voluntarily disclose that they have or had diabetes or another disability unless they will need accommodation for taking breaks to have a snack or monitor glucose levels.

Some individuals, however, choose to disclose their condition because they want their co-workers or supervisors to know what to do if they experience symptoms of hypoglycemia.

3. Can an employer ask any follow-up questions if an applicant voluntarily reveals that she has or had diabetes?

No. An employer generally may not ask an applicant who has voluntarily disclosed that she has diabetes any questions about his/her diabetes, its treatment, or its prognosis.

However, if an applicant voluntarily discloses that she has diabetes and the employer believes he/she will require an accommodation to perform the job because of her diabetes or treatment, the employer may ask whether the applicant will need any accommodations. The employer must keep any information about an applicant’s medical condition confidential.

4. What can an employer do when it learns that an applicant has or had diabetes after a job has been offered but before employment begins?

When an applicant discloses after receiving a job offer that she has diabetes, an employer may ask the applicant additional questions such as how long he/she has had diabetes; whether insulin or oral medication is used; whether and how often she experiences hypoglycemic episodes; and/or whether she will need assistance if her blood sugar level drops while at work.

The employer also may send the applicant for a follow-up medical examination or ask her to submit documentation from her doctor answering questions specifically designed to assess her ability to perform the job’s functions safely. Follow-up questions that are allowed at this stage are different from before receiving an offer.

An employer can not withdraw an offer from an applicant with diabetes if the applicant is able to perform the essential functions of the job.

Information for Employees

The ADA strictly limits the circumstances under which an employer may ask questions about an employee’s medical condition or require the employee to have a medical examination.

1. When can an employer ask an employee whether diabetes or some other medical condition, may be causing her performance problems?

An employer may ask disability-related questions or require an employee to have a medical examination when they are aware of a particular employee’s medical condition, has observed performance problems, and reasonably believes that the problems are related to a medical condition.

2. Can an employer require an employee on leave because of diabetes to provide documentation or have a medical examination before allowing her to return to work?

Yes. If the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee may be unable to perform her job or may pose a direct threat to herself or others, the employer may ask for medical information.

3. Are there any other instances when an employer may ask an employee with diabetes about his condition?

Yes. An employer also may ask an employee about diabetes when it has a reasonable belief that the employee will be unable to safely perform the essential functions of his job because of diabetes. In addition, an employer may ask an employee about his diabetes to the extent the information is necessary.

More detailed information about diabetes in the workplace and the ADA can be found with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD. Updated by dLife Editors 8/18.