The term “discrimination” refers to the unlawful act of treating certain categories of people differently from others due to a characteristic that is afforded legal protection under the law. For example, gender, age, race, and religion are all traits that qualify for legal protection under the law. A person who discriminates against a person on the basis of a legally protected trait can be sued for discrimination.

Claims for discrimination often arise in the workplace. One recurring form of unlawful discrimination is when an employer terminates and/or refuses to hire or promote a person who has a disability that is recognized by law. An example of such discrimination may occur when an employee is inexplicably treated differently than their colleagues because they have a medical condition, such as diabetes.

Diabetes discrimination at work is considered illegal under a federal law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In particular, a worker who is treated poorly and discriminated against by an employer for having diabetes can file a lawsuit against their employer for employment discrimination.

To learn more about diabetes discrimination in the workplace and whether you have a right to sue your employer, you should speak to a local employment law attorney immediately for further legal advice on the matter.

What Is a Disability under the ADA?

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discriminating against individuals who have medical disabilities. The provisions of the ADA generally define the term “disability” in one of three ways:

  • A person who has a mental or a physical impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities, such as reading or walking;
  • A person who has a history of a medical condition that has been classified or is considered a disability under the law (e.g., lupus, cancer, or other diseases that go into periods of remission); and/or
  • A person who is believed to have a substantial mental or physical impairment that is expected to last for longer than six months (possibly a person who has a disability that has not yet been clinically diagnosed by a medical professional).

Although the terms of the ADA do not explicitly state all of the medical conditions that may or may not qualify as a disability, some examples of disabilities that are mentioned in the text of the ADA include the following:

  • Psychological disorders;
  • Certain learning disabilities;
  • Muscular dystrophy;
  • Multiple sclerosis;
  • HIV;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Neurological disorders; and
  • Various other kinds of physical and mental impairments.

Does Diabetes Qualify as a Disability?

According to the ADA, diabetes does in fact qualify as a medical disability under the law. As mentioned, diabetes is a medical condition that must be managed for the entirety of a person’s life. Due to its symptoms, diabetes tends to interfere with a person’s major life activities, such as being able to properly digest food, eliminate waste, sleep, and eat food. Thus, this would meet two of the three definitions of a disability as defined by the ADA.

The one exception as to when diabetes may not qualify as a disability under the ADA is if a person’s major life activities are not impacted on a daily basis or if they have minor or no symptoms of diabetes despite being diagnosed.

Can an Employer Ask about Whether I Have Diabetes?

The ADA and other laws make it illegal for an employer to ask questions about a job candidate or an employee’s medical conditions. An employer also cannot usually require a job candidate or an employee to undergo a medical examination. However, an employer may inquire about an individual’s medical condition if it would pose a direct threat to the safety of others in the workplace.

In other words, an employer cannot directly ask whether a person has diabetes, what medications they are prescribed to manage their symptoms, or how many sick days they tend to take per year due to being diagnosed with diabetes.

On the other hand, an employer may ask whether a person’s symptoms would prevent them from doing their work on a regular basis or whether they are feeling ill if they appear to be exhibiting serious symptoms (e.g., fainting from not eating).

Thus, a job candidate or an employee will have certain privacy rights in regard to their diabetes, but only insofar as it does not impact their job performance or is not a detail that an employer needs to know in order to provide them with reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA requires an employer who hires a person with diabetes to provide them reasonable accommodations that would assist them in doing their job, so long as the accommodation would not cause the employer to suffer undue hardship. If an employer fails to supply a diabetic employee with the reasonable accommodations they requested, then the employer can be sued for employment discrimination.

One example of a reasonable accommodation for a worker who has diabetes is allowing them to eat while performing their job or letting them take a quick break to check their glucose levels. Some other examples of reasonable accommodations for diabetic workers would be allowing a diabetic worker to store insulin in a breakroom refrigerator, permitting them to keep other medical supplies in their desk, and giving them permission to take insulin shots at work.

In addition, an employer may also need to accommodate a diabetic employee’s work schedule or allow them to transfer to a department that would better suit their needs. Again, an employer will only be required to provide such accommodations if they would not cause them to suffer undue hardship or an unnecessary and exorbitant expense.

What Should I Do If I am Discriminated Due to My Diabetes Condition?

If a worker has been discriminated against due to having diabetes, then there may be a few steps they can take in order to recover monetary damages and/or other legal remedies. The first thing they should do is discuss the problem with a supervisor or a manager in their HR department. If this does not resolve the issue, then they should file a complaint with their local EEOC or a similar workers’ rights agency.

The agency will review their complaint and open an investigation. If the agency finds that diabetes discrimination did occur, then they will issue their decision along with the appropriate remedies. If a worker does not feel that these actions sufficiently remedied the problem, then they may hire a lawyer to help them file a private employment lawsuit against their employer in civil court.

Some examples of legal remedies that may be available in diabetes discrimination cases if a worker is successful can include:

  • Reinstatement of their salary and any benefits that they lost as a result of an employer’s discrimination;
  • Reinstatement to their job position if they were fired by an employer for simply having diabetes;
  • A monetary damages award for any financial losses that a worker suffered due to being discriminated against (e.g., back pay, lost wages, a promotion, etc.);
  • A punitive damages award if the law in the jurisdiction permits one to be issued; and/or
  • Having their employer sanctioned for committing discriminatory actions in the workplace.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

You may want to consider consulting with and hiring a local discrimination attorney if you believe your employer has acted in a discriminatory manner towards you due to having diabetes or another related medical condition. An experienced employment law attorney can provide advice on how you should proceed, what your legal options are, and whether you have any rights or protections available under the employment and labor laws in your state.

Your lawyer can also discuss the types of legal remedies that you may be able to recover if you choose to sue your employer for discrimination and the lawsuit is successful. In addition, your lawyer can assist you in negotiating, drafting, and filing the necessary legal documents in court, as well as can provide legal representation before a judge.