Your Rights on the Job

There are several laws that protect you from discrimination on the job, and several rights afforded to you by these laws.

This page provides you with an overview of your rights.

To read the Association's clinical practice recommendation on employment of people with diabetes, see the position statement Diabetes and Employment.

What Are My Rights on the Job?

As a person with a disability, you are protected from discrimination because of your diabetes.

This means that an employer:

  • Cannot fail to hire or promote you because of your diabetes
  • Cannot terminate you because of your diabetes (unless you pose a “direct threat”)
  • Must provide you with reasonable accommodations that help you perform the essential functions of your job
  • Must not discriminate with regard to employer-provided health insurance.

What Laws Protect Me From Discrimination at Work?

Both federal and state laws offer protection from workplace discrimination.

The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to private employers, labor unions, and employment agencies with 15 or more employees, and to state and local government.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 generally covers employees who work for the executive branch of the federal government, or for any employer that receives federal money.

The Congressional Accountability Act covers employees of Congress and most legislative branch agencies.

All states have their own anti-discrimination laws and agencies responsible for enforcing those laws. Some state anti-discrimination laws provide more comprehensive protection than do the federal laws.

What is a 'Qualified Person With a Disability?'

In order to be protected by federal anti-discrimination laws, a worker must show that he or she is a "qualified individual with a disability."

The first step is establishing that the worker has a disability, "a record of" a disability, or is "regarded as having" a disability.

A disability is defined in these laws as a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Diabetes is a disability because it substantially limits major life activities such as the functioning of the endocrine system, among others. (Click here for more information on how the Americans with Disabilities Act covers diabetes.)

In addition, you must establish that you are qualified for the job in question.

A qualified worker is one who satisfies the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position, and who—if given reasonable accommodation—can perform the essential functions of that position.

What are 'Reasonable Accommodations'?

An accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables a person with a disability to do the job.

Employers are required to make "reasonable accommodation" if requested by an employee with a disability, unless the accommodation would cause an "undue hardship" on the employer because of significant difficulty or expense.

The accommodations that people with diabetes need are usually easy and inexpensive.

Do I Have a Right to Medical Leave to Take Care of My Diabetes?

Yes. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires most private employers with over 50 employees and most government employers to provide up to 12 weeks of leave per year because of the worker's, or an immediate family member’s, serious health condition.

This leave can be taken in small blocks of time to deal with such things as short term problems caused by managing blood glucose levels or for doctor's appointments.

Can My Employer Require Me to Undergo a Medical Examination Because of My Diabetes?

In certain situations, employers are permitted to inquire about an employee’s disability and can require that the worker undergo a medical examination.

Generally, these situations are limited to employment physicals, requests for reasonable accommodation, when a worker returns to work following an extended medical leave, or when a worker has experienced a problem on the job – like severe hypoglycemia – that raises safety issues for the employer.

Can I be Disciplined for Having Diabetes?

If your employer has workplace conduct rules that are applied uniformly to all employees, you can be disciplined if your conduct violates these rules – even if that conduct was because of diabetes (for example, your behavior was caused by hypoglycemia).

Can I Be Fired Because My Employer Believes I am a Safety Risk?

A common problem in diabetes discrimination cases is that the employer claims that the person with diabetes creates a safety risk to other employees.

Sometimes this is due to the worker experiencing hypoglycemia on the job – but sometimes it is based in the employer's ignorance about diabetes. You may need to dispel myths and stereotypes about diabetes and educate your employer or a court about your ability to be a safe and responsible worker.

What are My Rights if I am Terminated From My Job Because of my Diabetes?

If you are fired from your job because of your diabetes, the first thing to do is to contact us so we can help you understand your rights and the legal processes available to you.

You have a right to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state fair employment agency.

You also may have other options available, depending on the situation, such as filing a union grievance or negotiating a return to work with your employer.