Employees with diabetes are covered by the ADA. There is no dispute that diabetes is a diagnosed physical impairment that limits a major life activity and thus meets the ADA definition of disability. (Major life activities include the functioning of major bodily systems like the endocrine system; diabetes, by definition, substantially limits the endocrine function.)
Diabetes can also limit other major life activities, such as eating, caring for oneself, walking, seeing, and standing. In fact, both Congress and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have made it clear that diabetes should be a covered disability.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes and an estimated 79 million adults have prediabetes. With such a high likelihood of having employees with the disease, all employers need answers to questions about how to treat employees with diabetes while remaining ADA-compliant.
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Applying ADA to Employees with Diabetes
“People with diabetes can and should be able to hold any job for which they are qualified,” Katie Hathaway advised in a recent BLR® webinar.
However, some employers still have concerns over safety. They may fear that an employee with diabetes presents a safety concern due to the small risk of the employee being incapacitated by hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Can an employer deny a job or promotion to a safety-sensitive position if the employee being considered has diabetes? In short, probably not. To determine if there is any risk, an individualized assessment must occur.
“Probably the most fundamental concept under the ADA is what we call individual assessment.” Hathaway told us. “It’s the idea that you’re looking at a person’s current abilities and not relying on their medical history to make a determination of whether they can do the job or whether they are qualified for the job.”
Blanket bans are often the result of myths, unfounded fears, or stereotypes about diabetes—these have no place in an assessment and are not justifiable. They do not take into account advances in diabetes management and the variable impact that the condition can have. It’s important to not make assumptions about what happens to “all people with diabetes.” Everyone should be individually assessed, and diabetes alone should not be a disqualifier for most. People with diabetes should have any reasonable accommodations necessary to protect one’s health and to promote effective job performance.
For more information on meeting ADA guidelines and accommodating employees with diabetes, order the webinar recording of “Accommodating Diabetic Employees: Legal and Practical Answers for HR.” To register for a future webinar, visit http://store.blr.com/events.
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Katie Hathaway is the managing director of legal advocacy at the American Diabetes Association. She has spent the past 17 years working with the disability community in a legal, advocacy, and support capacity. She also works with a variety of governmental, civil rights, and advocacy organizations to help combat discrimination against persons with disabilities.
For more information on American Diabetes Month, visit www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/american-diabetes-month.html and www.healthfinder.gov/nho/NovemberToolkit.aspx.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll go over important information your managers need to know regarding ADA accommodations for diabetes.