Diabetes and the Workplace: Rights and Laws to Protect You

Diabetes and the workplace don’t always mesh well. That’s why laws are in place to protect you from discrimination because of your condition.

Even though you’re legally protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), you may face problems at work. Understanding the laws can also help you better blend work and diabetes management.

This article discusses your rights regarding diabetes and the workplace, what reasonable accommodations might help, and what to do if you face discrimination.

Man checking his blood sugar at work

PixelsEffect / Getty Images

Meaning of “Qualified Individual With a Disability”

You’re protected from employment discrimination if you’re a “qualified individual with a disability.” This means you are qualified for the job you have or are applying for, can perform the required duties (with or without reasonable accommodation), and have a disability.

You’re considered a person with a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits you (seeing, hearing, speaking, caring for yourself, working, etc.). For example, you need extra breaks to check your blood sugar, or you have diabetic neuropathy in your feet and need to sit instead of stand.
  • You have a history and record of such impairment.
  • You’re regarded as having such an impairment (a disfigurement that may not impair your ability to function but causes others to see you as disabled).

Workplace Rights

At work, you have certain rights that are protected by the law. You have the right to:

  • Not be denied employment based on your disability
  • The same pay and treatment as someone without a disability
  • Not be treated differently or less favorably
  • Not be harassed at work

Laws Related to the Workplace

Laws offer you many kinds of protection in the workplace, whether you’re applying for a job or already working.

Applying for a Job

When you apply for a job, an employer cannot ask if you are disabled or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. They also cannot:

  • Require you to get a physical exam before you’re offered a job (unless it applies to everyone)
  • Refuse to hire you because of information revealed in a physical exam unless it would prohibit you from doing the job
  • Deny you a job because you need reasonable accommodation

Already Working

You don't need to tell your employer that you have a disability unless you ask for reasonable accommodation or apply for medical leave. The employer cannot:

  • Require a medical exam
  • Ask about your disability unless it is job-related
  • Reveal your medical information to employees
  • Pay you less because of your disability
  • Refuse requests for reasonable accommodation
  • Retaliate against you for requesting accommodation

What Employers Can Do

The employer can ask whether you're able to perform the job (with or without reasonable accommodation). They can also:

  • Ask you to show or tell them how you could complete the job's duties
  • Refuse requests for accommodation
  • Deny you employment if you are unable to perform the duties of the job even with reasonable accommodation
  • Deny you employment if your disability would harm you or other people

Examples of Reasonable Accommodation

Usually, people with diabetes only need minor changes that don’t inconvenience or cause significant expenses to the employer. Some examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • Extra breaks to check blood glucose levels, eat, or take medication
  • An appropriate place to rest when your blood sugars are especially high or low
  • A reasonable place to keep insulin, other medicines, and food close to you
  • A private place to use your glucometer and give yourself insulin injections
  • Time off for treatment, recovery, or training that pertains to your disability
  • A shift that works with your medication schedule
  • Permission to sit when necessary, if you have diabetic neuropathy
  • Special computer monitors or other assistive devices for vision, if you have diabetic retinopathy

Reasonable accommodation can require that your employer make an exception to workplace policies.

Requesting Reasonable Accommodations

You need to ask for reasonable accommodations. Some employers have a policy in place. If they don't, some ideas include:

  • Consider a written request. It gives them something concrete to discuss with their supervisor or human resources. It also creates a paper trail in case legal action becomes necessary.
  • Provide specific information on what you're asking for and how it will help you do your job. You can ask your healthcare provider to suggest accommodations and document why it's needed.
  • Meet with your supervisor. Your employer is required to meet with you to discuss your needs.
  • Be willing to negotiate and compromise when possible.

When you request reasonable accommodations, you may be required to provide evidence of your diagnosis. Your employer only needs documentation to prove that you're disabled and need accommodations. Legally, they can't ask for anything beyond that.

Medical Leave and Absenteeism 

If you need medical leave due to diabetes or complications, you may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It entitles you to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave yearly because of a serious health condition.

What’s Covered by FMLA?

You’re covered by FMLA if you’ve been with your company for at least a year (the 12 months do not need to be consecutive) and worked at least 1,250 hours the previous year. The company has to have at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your workplace.

FMLA applies to long absences (after having surgery or giving birth) and sporadic sick days—but only if they’re related to your chronic condition(s) that the ADA covers. 

Other Reasons for FMLA

You can also take FMLA when having or adopting a child, caring for a newborn, taking in a foster child, or caring for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.

Can You Be Fired for Calling in Sick?

You cannot be fired or face retaliation for time off under FMLA. But if you call in with something not diabetes-related, you don't have the same legal protection from being fired. Let your supervisor know if you are using one of your FMLA days.

Each state has labor laws that may or may not protect you from being fired for calling in sick. In some states, an employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all. You may have extra protections in place if you belong to a union.

You don't need to tell your employer about your illness or reasons for calling in sick. However, they may unknowingly take inappropriate actions against you if you don't fill out the FMLA paperwork.

What to Do If You Face Discrimination

If you believe you’ve been discriminated against because of your disability, you should file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Commission and/or the agency that oversees employment practices in your state. You should also contact an attorney.


Diabetes is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which means you can’t be denied employment or discriminated against because of your condition. You have the right to ask for reasonable accommodations to help you perform your job. You may need to negotiate with your employer about exactly what you need.

FMLA protects you from being fired or penalized for taking time off related to diabetes. It doesn’t protect you when you call in sick with other medical problems.

A Word From Verywell 

Navigating the working world with a disability like diabetes can be difficult. It can create uncomfortable situations for you and your employer. Document the conversation when discussing your condition, reasonable accommodation, leave requests, or sick days. It may seem unnecessary when things are going well, but if they take a turn for the worse, you’ll be happy to have that evidence on your side.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I have to tell my employer that I have diabetes?

    No, that is, unless you request reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Then, you have to let them know your limitations and how your job or workplace could be changed to help you.

  • Is diabetes considered a disability?

    Diabetes can be considered a disability if it impairs a major life activity (such working or eating), if it has previously caused such an impairment, or if it could cause someone to perceive you as impaired.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States Department of Justice. A guide to disability rights laws.

  2. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employee rights.

  3. American Diabetes Association. Reasonable accommodations.

  4. American Diabetes Association. Fact sheet - Diabetes and reasonable accommodation.

  5. American Diabetes Association. How to request reasonable accommodations.

  6. U.S. Department of Labor. Family and Medical Leave (FMLA).

Additional Reading

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.