The direct threat of good control

One of the most interesting sessions I went to at the Children with Diabetes conference was called “The Challenge of Employment Discrimination” and was hosted by John Griffin. I will admit that I missed the first ten or so few minutes of his talk because I was picking up swag in the exhibit hall, but the parts I caught – very interesting!

CWD: Exhibit HallCWD: Exhibit Hall
CWD: Exhibit Hall
CWD: Exhibit HallCWD: Exhibit Hall


I’ll admit that I approach the ADA with some skepticism – mostly considering their meal planning advice for diabetics. Due to the nature of my job, employer discrimination is something I am very interested in so I was curious to hear what the session was going to cover.

The presenter mostly focused on two court cases that he helped to litigate regarding employment discrimination. It is a delicate balance of choosing not to disclose, defining a diability (the limiting of life activities) and employment discrimination.

In one of the cases, the applicant faced the irony of being told that he did not have a disability because his control was so good, but that he could not be hired because he was a direct threat because of his diabetes.

Whether or not diabetes is a disability is something I have noticed to be hotly contested around the online community. Understanding that the definition of a disability is by law an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activites (defined here) and that the law even further mentions the endocrine system as one that may be affected, I do not see how diabetes cannot be considered a disability

Having diabetes affects the way I eat and my methods of self-care. That is a disability. Do I want to have a disability – absolutely not. But I am glad that the law (and the American Diabetes Association) is there to protect me if I need it. My car has air bags. I hate them; they scare me and I wish they weren’t there. But I am glad they will be there to protect me if I need it.

As Griffin stated in his closing remarks of the session, “Not everyone with diabetes needs an accommodation, but where there is a rule in place there must be an accommodation to provide a safe environment.”

At the end of the session, I was able to pick up a brochure entitled, “Your Job and Your Rights: Fighting Discrimination Based on Diabetes in the Workplace,” which does a great job of outlining the important facts about employment discrimination. It appears that you can order more from either 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-ADA-ORDER.

CWD: The Challenge of Employment Discrimination


Small aside: I was worried about disclosing my diabetes when applying for my current job. It was going to be a multi-day interview involving several meals so there was really no practical way to hide it. When I pulled out my pump to bolus during one of the meals, my (future) boss looks over and says, “MiniMed?” I guess it makes disclosure a bit easier when your potential employer is a parent of a diabetic.


Have you faced employment discrimination? What did you do?


  • Actually I did… the day i was dx… since i was dx during an employment medical checkup… i got the news that i no longer need to go back to work after my hospital stay… and based on the employment letter i signed… they were entitled to since i failed their clause…

    I could have fought the decision easily… as i could have easily got a fit for work letter from my doc… but i just let it go as it wasn’t worth the stress of fighting the decision…

    3 months later… I got another job… and at least one that i like :o)

  • I have put off telling my employers until after I am hired (and sometimes after my trial period is up, depending on whether I have any lows that affect my work before then or not). My least favorite thing is when I get sent home from an hourly wage job because I am recovering from a low (if you want me to clock off for the half hour it takes to feel better, that’s fine, but don’t make me miss the last 5 hours of my shift!).

  • I’m afraid I’ve only ever gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to discrimination. Only one employer (a university) was cool with it, but then again they weren’t providing me health insurance so it wasn’t a big deal on their end. I was politely walked out of more than one office when I was young and thought I’d mention it during the initial job interview. At another job I brought it up after getting hired, but my supervisor constantly threw it in my face and tried to force me onto FMLA to “deal with my problem” after one too many mornings when I had a low/high I had to treat. At another job my supervisor started asking his family doctor (who had NO direct experience treating me or any other PWD) about my “symptoms” and concluded I was in very poor control based on how he observed me acting (the guy rarely spent more than an hour or two in my office every week). He suggested I either see his doctor or get a letter from my own stating that I was on a “treatment plan” in order to keep my job. After I threatened to bring legal action he backed off…but I quit soon afterward because the whole thing made it so difficult for me to keep working there.

    I rarely inform anyone at work anymore, I’ve been at my current job for 3 years and so far have told no one. It may not be safe, but I can’t afford to lose my job or have additional stress from people doing/saying stupid things. My boss has already complained about having to pay higher PPO costs for me, I’m the only one who doesn’t have the cheaper HMO and she has even hinted that I should think about switching to save the company money (no way, my doctor doesn’t take HMOs and I’m not leaving her after 16 years to please someone else!). The irony is that I work in public health where you’d think there’d be some support. I just hope younger people will find it easier to surmount these issues nowadays.

  • I waited to tell my employers for a while, and I found that they looked upon me more sympathetically and like I was an invalid. I do HAVE to tell my employer because I’m a teacher, and often, I will need to take a shot in front of my students. It helps when I have a D-partner in a student in my class. All the kids in school know I’m the room to come for in case of snacks or to test. If you are D in my class, I don’t care if you pull out your meter right then and there.

    But I have found that my colleagues or administration acts as the D-police for me.

    Also, I have been subject to discrimination by a student’s parent. That student was also newly diagnosed. She saw me take a shot (I was hosting a pizza lunch for all those who had 4.0 GPA that quarter), and rather than think about what she was about to disclose, she blurted out her numbers at diagnosis in front of others – as an attempt to identify with me. I had to explain to the crowd of kids that she will be fine and that I will be fine. I thought I was doing a service to explain D to kids.

    But the mom thought I infringed upon her privacy, even though she was the one who said it. I suppose I should have ignored it and taken her out in the hall and explained that she needs to be more careful about talking, but why? Advocacy and awareness is my middle name!

    My principal at the time wrote a letter in my file about me breaking privacy rights, which I felt was inappropriate, given that I was focusing on my own diabetes as an example.

    Good post, Sara – and thank you so much for that info.

    Although I agree with you on the ADA diet, I am the Red Strider chair for St. Louis ADA based solely on this information. I became involved with this chapter shortly after this incident, and I am so glad I did.

  • good blog.anyone can handle their discloser however they feel the need self i have always told someone.i feel better that way for the just in case it happens times.

    concerning the law i have mixed feelings.i dont think im disabled.

    i guess the confusion stems from the fact that bosses who were above me accommodated my needs if i asked.i feel that being highly rated ,great reviews and doing whatever i could played a part in this.if i wasnt i dont know what would have happened.

    as a side note not disclosing your d pretty much severs the possibility that the law can protect you if you need it.i not trying to start a fight but if a majority of ds dont disclose the law is pointless

  • OOPS! I forgot to leave my comment! Very interesting. I have never told anyone on a job interview that I am a diabetic but I wear a medical I.D. bracelet and expect them to let me eat if I get low. I never keep it a secret and once I start working I always have a can of juice which goes down fast so it usually hasn’t been a big deal.for me to just pull the juice out and have a swig. If someone asks, out comes the truth.

    I have been a fashion designer for almost forty years but diabetic for only twenty-one of those years. I am one of those type1s who was diagnosed at forty after having been misdiagnosed as a type 2 first. It took losing twenty lbs.and contracting pneumonia to get a correct diagnosis but here I am, alive, relatively healthy, happy,employed, etc…

  • I was terminated from a job in 2009. I told them I was diabetic before they hired me, I had 1 bad reaction and 2 that I caught on my own and did not miss any time. My 6 month review was above average. I was then put in a situation I wasn’t prepared for and it cost me. My sugar dropped, I was still able to function but it took 15 minutes to get back to work. I stayed the extra time and the next day was brought to a meeting with the boss, the CEO and the HR manager. They had me sign a paper allowing them to speak to my md to see if I could do the job, he said yes yet I was fired for out right lies (poor attendance was 1) I worked 7 months and never missed a day. The claim is with the EEOC but I had to file for bankruptcy and I have no confidence. No lawyer will take the case because the employer doesn’t have to show and its not worth the lawyers time. I am basically sol. I could win this case without a lawyer they told so many lies, but I am told I can’t do this, any advice?

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