In the workplace
Diabetes and employment
Know your rights in the workplace
When diagnosed with diabetes people often have questions about their employment:
- Should I disclose my diabetes to my employer?
- What if my job requires me to drive?
- Do l have to disclose my diabetes to my superannuation fund or insurance company?
- Do l have a right to reasonable adjustments at the workplace?
- How do I manage diabetes at work?
Diabetes Queensland has produced a comprehensive guide for employees: An Employee’s Guide to Diabetes in the Workplace – which was developed to overcome misconceptions and ignorance around diabetes in the workplace. The booklet contains in depth information about your rights and responsibilities as an employee.
Your individual diabetes management plan should include a section on work. It is recommended that you discuss the detail of your work with the members of your diabetes healthcare team.
On this page we highlight some of the common issues that surround diabetes in the workplace.
Your rights and responsibilities in the workplace
Most people with diabetes have fulfilling and productive careers until retirement. After retiring from the paid workforce many continue to remain active and contribute to their communities in many ways.
As a person living with diabetes, whether newly diagnosed or for some time, if you face difficulties at any stage of your working life, be assured you are not alone. Diabetes Queensland is here to support you.
There are laws to ensure that a medical condition cannot be used as unfair grounds for refusing you a job or promotion, or for dismissal.
Direct discrimination is when someone is treated less favourably because of their diabetes. Examples of direct discrimination include if an employer:
- Refuses to employ you after an employment medical identifies you have diabetes, or fires you.
- Limits your job responsibilities.
- Refuses promotions and training.
Indirect discrimination occurs when a workplace has requirements or practices that may appear fair but in fact discriminate against people on the basis of a particular characteristic. Examples of indirect discrimination include if an employer is unwilling to:
- Accommodate your need for regular meal or snack breaks.
- Provide a private location where you can check blood glucose levels.
- Provide a private location where you can administer insulin.
What is not discrimination?
If you are unable to perform the reasonable requirements of your job, or your performance is questioned separately from your diabetes, your employer is allowed to take action. If you are not treated differently from your colleagues because of your diabetes, it would be difficult to establish any grounds for discrimination.
If your diabetes affects the safety of your colleagues, your employer can remove you from duties, or the job altogether if the duties are an inherent part of it.
There are some exemptions to discrimination, including allowing particular employers to impose medical requirements on their employees for safety reasons, meaning restrictions for people living with diabetes.
Do I have a right to reasonable adjustments at the workplace?
A reasonable adjustment is any change or modification that is made at a workplace that enables people with diabetes to work safely. Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace unless this results in an ‘unjustifiable hardship’ (usually cost) to their business.
Some examples of reasonable adjustments in the workplace include:
- Maintaining confidentiality about your medical condition.
- Flexibility with breaks, meeting times, medical appointments and shifts.
- Regular scheduled breaks in addition to the minimum award provisions to meet the requirements for snacks.
- Provision of a private and clean place to monitor blood glucose levels and administer insulin.
- Installation of emergency ‘hypo’ prevention and treatment provisions at your work station and a first aid kit.
- Installation of a sharps disposal container for the safe disposal of medical waste.
- Enlarged computer screen for those with impaired vision.
The federal government provides funds for employers to help with costs for eligible workplace adjustments under the Employment Assistance Fund.
What should I do if I face discrimination?
And what are your obligations?
1. What should I do if I face discrimination?
In the first instance, use internal processes at your place of employment. Speak to a manager or employee representative.
If this does not resolve the complaint, discrimination complaints can be lodged with the Queensland Human Rights Commission at www.qhrc.qld.gov.au. These must be lodged within twelve months.
Unfair dismissal cases can be heard by Fair Work Australia, but must be lodged within 21 days. Find more information at www.fairwork.gov.au/ending-employment/unfair-dismissal.
It is a legal obligation that drivers who have been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes notify the Department of Roads and Maritime Services or Access Canberra of their diabetes. In addition, if you drive a company car, you must also let your employer know of your diabetes.
If you are driving at work without having notified Roads and Maritime Services or Access Canberra and you are involved in a crash, you could be sued under common law and/or charged with driving offences. In addition, your employer’s insurance company may not provide cover. More about driving & travel.
3. Disclosing diabetes
It is a matter of personal choice whether you disclose your diabetes in most cases. You should tell your employer of your diabetes if:
- You are driving a company vehicle
- You are operating heavy machinery or working in situations with risk
- The side effects of your medication can impact your work
- You are seeking reasonable adjustments to your work conditions
- WorkCover and insurance require your disclosure.
Note that if you have an accident/injury at work and your diabetes was a contributing factor and you have not disclosed your diabetes in writing to your employer prior to the accident/injury, a claim for WorkCover may not be approved.
If you are applying for a job, you do not have to disclose your diabetes, but it is advisable to do so if it will affect your ability to undertake core roles in your jobs, or if your diabetes could create a safety risk for you or your coworkers.
Another consideration in disclosing your diabetes within a work place is to discuss with some managers or colleagues what to do if you have a hypoglycaemic episode at work. If you do have an episode and they are not aware of your diabetes, they will not be able to react appropriately or immediately.