The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination towards individuals with disabilities. It was designed to those with disabilities the same level of opportunity as everyone else. It affords similar protections against discrimination as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics unconstitutional.
The term “disability” has three definitions under the ADA:
- A physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity
- A history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission)
- A person believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).
Lately, the courts have ruled that these definitions only apply after any mitigating measures are taken. What this means is that if you have terrible vision, which would normally qualify you as disabled, but you can wear glasses that correct the problem and do not, the court will NOT recognize you as disabled.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. When a claim for discrimination has been brought on the basis of diabetes, the courts are required to do an individual assessment of each person. Primarily, the courts look at how diabetes affects a person after the impact of treatments, like insulin and oral medication, are administered.
Diabetes generally qualifies as a disability under the ADA, even after treatment, since it often interferes with your “major life activities” like eating, the metabolism of food, sleeping, reproduction, and elimination of waste. Should your diabetes substantially interfere with any of these things, it will almost certainly be found to be a disability. However, if your diabetes is mostly symptom-less or doesn’t really affect your day to day life, then it will probably not be found to be a disability.
An employer may not ask questions about an applicant’s medical condition or require an applicant to have a medical examination. An employer may ask about an applicant’s medical condition if the condition poses a direct threat to safety of you and/or others. This means that an employer cannot ask you any of the following questions:
- Whether you have diabetes
- What medications you take
- Whether you have ever taken leave for surgery or medical treatment
- How much sick leave you have taken in the past year (at your prior employment)
However, an employer may ask you how you are feeling if you appear to be sick, or he may ask you questions pertaining to your ability to do the duties required by the position.
- Whether you are physically able to lift a certain weight
- Whether you are physically able to stay awake for certain shifts
- Whether you are physically able to travel
If, based on your condition, you require reasonable accommodations to be provided by your place of employment, then you may have to disclose information about your condition and why the accommodations are necessary. Examples of reasonable accommodations that may be required by a person with diabetes include a refrigerated place to store insulin or being allowed to eat on the job. You are only required to give necessary information sufficient to explain the accommodation, however, making such statements will not “open the floodgates” and allow an employer to ask otherwise impermissible questions.
If you qualify as disabled based on your diabetic condition, your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations that allow you to work. The accommodation must be provided unless doing so would cause “undue hardship” to the place of employment. “Undue hardship” is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations may result in the employer being charged with disease discrimination.
Diabetes typical require short breaks to check blood glucose levels, to be permitted to eat to prevent blood sugar levels from dropping, to administer insulin, and to store diabetes-related supplies at the workplace. An employer will likely not be able to argue that the required accommodations would suffer undue hardship.
However, even when extensive modifications are needed (examples include alteration of work schedules or permitting transfers to different departments) the employer still must provide these accommodations unless the employer can prove that the accommodation would constitute “undue hardship.”
Consulting with an employment discrimination attorney will help you realize what remedies are available to you, and how best to proceed. If you have any reason to suspect that discrimination was behind your employer’s employment action, or if he has leaked information about your condition to anyone, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.