Disability Discrimination Based on Diabetes in the Workplace
Workplace discrimination against those diagnosed with diabetes can affect the hiring process, pay rate, training programs, availability of promotions, and other employee benefits for workers. Those facing employment issues due to their diabetes often are unaware it’s happening, since there is little information regarding the topic. More frustratingly, those aware of the discrimination they face can often feel it is an inevitable evil they are forced to deal with on the job. However, there are also city and state protections against disability, whether or not the specific disease is covered by the ADA.
For many of these situations, employees assume the problem will naturally fade away or improve without standing up for your rights. However, it is much more likely the problems will only increase. Without intervention and proper solutions, it is more likely an employer will push discrimination further, as there appears to be no consequence for the poor treatment of staff. Instead, bringing the issues to light and demanding equal treatment in the workplace is imperative for those with diabetes to have the same treatment as workers without mental or physical limitations.
Rights and Protections for Diabetes
Workers with diabetes have as much a right to comfortable work environments as any other worker. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees that work for private employers with 15 or more employees along with employees that work for employment agencies, labor unions, along with all state and federal government employees. The Act specifically targets discrimination that is based on an employee’s disability, unlike other laws that offer protection against discrimination such as age, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and more. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 furthers these protections for federal employees of the executive branch of the government and all employees whose employer receives federal money.
State and City laws usually do not have the 15 employee minimum requirement. Each state has its own set of protections for those with disabilities in addition to the federal protections for employees. Depending on the state, there are different levels of protection but every state has laws that limit or prohibit an employer’s ability to discriminate against employees based on disability. This includes wages, promotions, job training, fringe benefits, and others, along with the right to speak up if the employee feels they are a victim to discrimination at the workplace. More simply put, every employee in the country has the right to work without discrimination and the right to raise questions in regards to the treatment of employees based on disability.
Regardless of whether the laws are federal or state-level, an employer cannot do the following:
- Decide to not hire or promote a worker based on their diabetes diagnosis.
- Refuse to provide reasonable accommodations during the workday.
- Revoke or modify employer-provided health insurance due to diabetes.
- Terminate an employee due to diabetes if the person does not pose a direct threat of safety.
- Terminate an employee for requesting reasonable accommodation or complaining that they were not given one.
It is rare that a candidate is required to disclose their medical diagnosis to a potential employer. The only time it is required is when the disability prevents the employee from performing their duties or there is a risk of safety. In other words, if your diagnosis does not impede your ability to perform the tasks of the job with reasonable accommodation and does not affect the safety of those around you, it is not required that you disclose the information.
However, providing the information is a key component to receiving the protections allotted by anti-discrimination laws. If an employer has not been made aware of a medical condition, they cannot be held liable for not providing reasonable accommodations for the employee. For instance, if someone has diabetes and must eat something small every two hours to keep their blood sugar up but a manager is not aware, the manager cannot be expected to provide a five-minute break every two hours. Once the manager is aware of those conditions, they are required to provide reasonable accommodation.
Once an employer has been made aware of a disability, they are required to make reasonable accommodations for the employee unless the accommodation would cause undue hardship on the employer, such as significant difficulty in operations or an unreasonable expense. Using the example above, letting someone eat every two hours to keep their blood sugar up does not cause undue hardship. The rest of the crew can either continue to complete the job or wait a few minutes for the person to eat a snack. This accommodation does not cause difficulty for the job to be completed, nor does it accrue a large cost. If a person were to ask for four half-hours, paid breaks each day, that could lead to a large cost for the employer and could lead to tasks taking much longer.
Qualified Person with a Disability
For a worker to be protected by anti-discrimination laws, they must be a qualified person with a disability. In order to qualify, a worker must have a record of disability or be regarded as having a disability. In other words, there must be documented proof that the person has the disability to begin with, such as medical records. By definition, a disability includes mental or physical impairment that causes one or more limitations in major life activities. Under this definition, diabetes is protected due to the limited function of the endocrine system.
After establishing the disability exists, the person must prove they are qualified for the position. Legally, a qualified worker is a person who has all of the skills, education requirements, experience, and other job-related qualifications of a position. Further, the worker must be able to perform all essential functions of the position with reasonable accommodation. For instance, a person with diabetes with over five years of experience should have the same opportunity for employment as someone without diabetes that also has five years of experience. However, if someone who does not have diabetes has twice the experience as the person with diabetes, the worker without diabetes being given the job does not qualify as discrimination.
What to do if You are Discriminated Against
If you have diabetes and you have been a victim of discrimination, the first step is to start documenting the discriminatory acts. Taking the simple step of writing down the names of persons present for the act, a description of the events, noting the dates, and other relevant information is important when pursuing a lawsuit. In some cases, the discrimination can be resolved without legal intervention. Employers may not realize they are being discriminatory, and they may not be aware that diabetes is a disability. However, there are times when legal action is necessary.
Charges can be filed either with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or with your state anti-discrimination agency. In discrimination cases, it makes good sense to consult with a lawyer who focuses on employment law in your state. Since each state has its own anti-discrimination laws, and discrimination lawsuits are inherently complex, it is helpful to have someone educated and experienced in your corner.
The Derek Smith Law Group has over 25 years of experience and holds the largest emotional distress verdict to ever be sustained on the appeal in the entire country for an employment law case. If you feel you are being discriminated against, we can help. Contact our team today for a free consultation.