Rights for Workers with Diabetes During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The answer to this question depends on many things—both related to your health and your particular job. In short, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you consult with your treating provider to make an individualized determination.
Early studies are finding connections between COVID-19 outcomes and a patient’s glucose management, BMI, other conditions, and age. Consult with your physician about your condition to better understand your risk. If your treating provider has questions about COVID-19 and diabetes, they can review our COVID-19 resources for professionals.
The nature of your job and whether you are able to reduce risk by things such as wearing PPE, working behind a plexiglass shield, working outside or far away from others will all factor into your risk of exposure.
- As a person with diabetes, you qualify for protection by the Americans with Disabilities Act. That federal law requires covered employers to provide employees with disabilities, such as diabetes, reasonable accommodations so that they can perform their job functions.
- In addition, employees who have worked more than 1,250 hours in 12 months for companies with more than 50 people are entitled to protection under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law provides 12 weeks of leave for employees who themselves have, or have a family member with, a serious health condition.
- The Families First Coronavirus Response Act—which includes the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA)—provided paid leave, but expired Dec. 31, 2020. New laws may be passed in the future to extend paid leave protections.
A reasonable accommodation is any change to the application or hiring process, to the job, to the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job or enjoy equal employment opportunities. Reasonable accommodations, as their name implies, must be reasonable. This means they cannot pose an undue hardship on your employer.
For more information on reasonable accommodations, refer to the American Diabetes Association’s fact sheet here: http://main.diabetes.org/dorg/PDFs/Advocacy/Discrimination/fact-sheet-reasonable-accommodations.pdf
They will vary based on an individual’s job functions. The most common accommodations that people with diabetes are requesting are:
- Temporary reassignment of certain job functions to allow for physical distancing
- Temporary reassignment to another position that is vacant
- Provision of parking so that employee may avoid public transit
- Permission to use personal protective equipment such as gloves/masks
Example: Whether your request to wear a mask is a reasonable accommodation may depend on several factors. Some of those factors could include: if you are providing your own mask or requesting that the employer provide one; what your particular condition and attendant risks are; whether your job functions pose additional risks (e.g. health care workers); and more.
If you are not able to telework, you can explore the remaining options above with your employer, and ask if they have any suggestions for accommodations.
Leave may be considered a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Specifying an end date (or projected end date) and providing support in the form of a letter from your treating health care provider can help your employer understand your need for leave.
Yes. There is no “limit” on how many accommodations a person may request.
Check to see if your company has a policy, sometimes in the employee handbook, that directs you how to make a request. If your company has an HR department, you can make your request to a person in HR, otherwise you can make a request directly to your supervisor. It is best to provide as much information as possible to the employer up front explaining what accommodation you are requesting and why you need that accommodation. While you are not required to provide supporting information up front, doing so will help your employer understand your needs and may speed up the process. You can share the American Diabetes Association’s resources with your employer to help explain how COVID-19 affects people with diabetes, available here: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/treatment-care/planning-sick-days/coronavirus
No. The Americans with Disabilities Act only provides the right to reasonable accommodations for the person with a disability themselves; it does not provide the right to reasonable accommodations for persons who are associated with people with disabilities. However, you can request leave under FMLA to care for your loved one, if you qualify.
First, you may want to continue the conversation with your employer to understand why your request was denied. The law requires that employers participate in an interactive process with employees to determine whether any reasonable accommodations can be made, so speak with your employer to understand whether other options exist.
If you did not supply a letter from your physician or informational materials to support your request and explain your legal rights, you can repeat your request with these additional documents.
If you believe you have been denied an accommodation that was, in fact, reasonable, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Yes. An employer may request reasonable documentation where a disability or the need for reasonable accommodation is not known or obvious. But, an employer can only request documentation necessary to establish that the employee has diabetes and to explain why an accommodation is needed. In addition, if you have been sick, if your employer has a reasonable belief that you may be unable to perform your job or may pose a direct threat to herself or others, the employer may ask for medical information to make an assessment of your present ability to perform your job and to do so safely.
Some treating providers are extremely busy, especially now. The American Diabetes Association has a sample physician letter that your provider can use to reduce the time it takes to write a letter supporting your request. It also contains information for your physician that should help them understand the need for the letter, and the seriousness of COVID-19. Share this letter with them.
If they still refuse, ask why. Some patients have higher risk than others, and your treating provider may think that you have a relatively low risk of serious illness, so a request for leave may not be clinically indicated, but a request for other accommodations might be.
If your provider makes a blanket statement that diabetes is not a sufficient reason to take leave, not based on your individual condition and job risks, encourage your provider to review the American Diabetes Association’s materials for professionals, which will help explain the serious outcomes patients with diabetes and COVID-19 are seeing in many cases.
The EEOC guides that supporting documentation can come from your “treating physician (or other health care professional)” but that they must have the expertise to give an opinion about your medical condition and the limitations imposed by it. A nurse and/or certified diabetes educator is likely to meet this requirement, provided they are familiar with your condition and treatment.
This law was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president on March 18, 2020. The law temporarily expanded FMLA (with the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act) and temporarily provided additional paid, short-term leave benefits to certain employees (with the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act). Both laws provided paid leave benefits but only related to COVID-19. The law took effect April 2, 2020, but expired December 31, 2020.
Note: An employer may exclude any employee working for a health care provider or emergency responders from the protections under the FMLA Expansion and Paid Sick Leave portions of the law.
Thank you for your service. You are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and have the right to reasonable accommodations. Whether a requested accommodation is reasonable will be judged in light of the pandemic and whatever demands it is putting on your particular employer. For example, in some hospitals it might be a reasonable accommodation for a nurse with diabetes not to care for COVID patients, and in other hospitals or at other times, it might not be. In any event, your employer must engage in the interactive process with you to determine whether any reasonable accommodation can be made.
December 31, 2020.
An employee with diabetes may be able to take leave to avoid contracting coronavirus under the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) if the employee works for a covered employer and is otherwise eligible. One way in which an employee may be eligible under the EPSLA is if the employee cannot telework and is subject to a local, state or federal quarantine order. Included in this are employees who are part of a category of citizens (e.g., with certain medical conditions) who have been advised by a government authority to shelter in place, stay at home, isolate or quarantine. At this time, the CDC has advised people with diabetes to stay home, so employees with diabetes (or those caring for someone with diabetes) would be eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act on these grounds. In addition, employees can also take leave under the EPSLA if their physician has advised them to self-quarantine on the belief that the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
It is against the law for an employer to fire an employee because of a request for FMLA leave and under the new Families First law. If you request leave as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the employer must determine whether leave is a reasonable accommodation. If it is not, it must determine whether there are any other accommodations it can offer that would be an effective accommodation.