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Handling diabetes in the workplace


14th November is World Diabetes Day, focussing attention on people living with this condition. It’s important for employers to bear in mind that diabetes can affect an employee’s performance so they will need support managing their condition. Failure to make those adjustments could be counted as disability discrimination.


Often people with diabetes will be covered by the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010, even if they do not consider themselves to have a disability. This is because diabetes is a life-long condition, and whilst many people can live full lives if they are supported to manage their diabetes well, it can seriously affect a person’s ability to do normal day-to-day things, particularly if someone has developed complications.


Employers should also be aware that diabetes can also cause related conditions and complications which in themselves may amount to a disability for which there will need to be further consideration as to reasonable adjustments. Further complications of diabetes can include heart disease, kidney disease or nerve damage.


Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments, as far as practicable, for disabled employees and job applicants whose disabilities place them at a substantial disadvantage. What is reasonable will depend on the precise circumstances of each case. Reasonable adjustments for someone with diabetes could include:

  • flexibility in the way the employee works and their working hours;

  • the provision of modified equipment where diabetes has caused physical problems for the employee such as visual defects;

  • regular breaks so the employee can eat food, take their insulin injections or do blood tests;

  • a private space in which to take their insulin injections or do blood tests; and

  • time off for medical appointments in relation to their diabetes and any associated conditions.


Employers should also consider whether it is necessary to make adjustments to absence management triggers or productivity bonuses in order to avoid direct or indirect disability discrimination.


It can also be helpful for other employees to have an awareness of a colleague’s diabetes. An employer should only let other colleagues know if the employee consents. With permission and input from the employee, training for the work force may be beneficial.


For example, it is important for colleagues to be able to recognise the symptoms of a hypoglycaemic episode, know what treatments are suitable and where they can be found such as in a person’s drawer or handbag. If necessary, it is important the colleagues know how to administer the treatments. It may also be helpful to have an emergency hypoglycaemic box containing the correct treatments within the workplace.


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