Diabetes in the Workplace-Advocate Needed!

By MerGirl Latest Reply 2012-06-03 19:46:15 -0500
Started 2012-04-20 16:03:55 -0500

Ok, So I have been working at my job for the last 6+ years, and have Intermittent FMLA. Some co-workers have witnessed my first public insulin reaction at work (where they had to call the paramedics), so these who witnessed it, take it much more seriously. However, even though I've had Intermittent FMLA for the last few years, I have now been told that I can no longer check my sugars at my desk-because it is "unsanitary". I don't throw away my used strips in the trash can; I put them back in my One Touch Ultra Smart testing case, and discard when I get home. I don't think that testing my sugars at my desk is anymore unsanitary than blowing your nose at your desk, and leaving the rags in the trash can. I even have a Sharps Container at my desk (which is totally allowed). But I have also made it known that if I am running into more serious problems, then I will NOT leave the building to do this, I will do what I need to do-at my desk-to save my life. Having to leave the floor/building is a bit inconvenient. Sometimes when I get downstairs, my sugar is low, then have to waste more energy to go back upstairs to get the snack I didn't know I needed.
Can they tell me this is not allowed? I would think that this is in someway discriminatory?

32 replies

Controlled 2012-04-30 13:55:46 -0500 Report

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and companion state law, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to "disabled" employees, and/or others. Such accommodations include:

Some employees may need one or more of the following accommodations:

a private area to test blood sugar levels or to take insulin
a place to rest until blood sugar levels become normal
breaks to eat or drink, take medication, or test blood sugar levels

In simplest terms, based on what you describe, your employer is not accommodating your disability and is therefore engaging in unlawful discriminatory conduct.

Let me know if you would like additional information. Prepare yourself to discuss your concerns, and document that conversation, with them. Lastly, be prepared to file a claim to protect your right.

I honestly wish you the best with this.

Nick1962 2012-04-30 15:49:10 -0500 Report

That is true to a point. The word “reasonable” in reasonable accommodation when challenged has always meant that if the cost of accommodations is greater than the financial value of the employee to the company, then they need not necessarily have to be accommodated to. For example, a commercial kitchen is not required to be ADA compliant. If you are in a wheelchair, and have to transport a pot of boiling water from a stove, where do you rest the pot? At that point you are not physically qualified to do the job, and any accommodations (sufficient hot pads for your lap, lowered stove and sink heights which cause remaining employees to stoop, accessible freezers and coolers, etc.) would cost more than you would bring in as an employee. That said, if you were hired to work an 8 hour day, and 3 of those hours are spent resting, testing, or otherwise disposed of due to the disability, they may ask you to put in an 11 hour day to compensate for loss of revenue you are expected to bring in.
A private area to test covers the restroom in nearly every case. Reasonable accommodation here means the restroom is clean by health code standards, but is by no means required to be any cleaner than one’s car, or mall or restaurant restroom in this case if that’s where you test on occasion.
Required breaks vary state to state. In my state, only a 45 minute meal break is required for shifts over 6 hours. Again, you can be requested to make up time lost to testing and such.
I suspect her company is in the process of some form of ISO9000 review and certain compliances are being evaluated, and as in one of my previous responses, I strongly do not recommend playing the disability card unless absolutely necessary as it will label her for future employment.

Controlled 2012-04-30 18:44:27 -0500 Report

But you're arguing "facts that aren't in evidence." She's not asking for those things. It has noting to do with "playing a card", it is invoking the law(s). I can see there are several here who are familiar with many things. I also have managed hundred million dollar agencies and obtained a graduate business and law degree. After I became ill, I decided to be the patron saint of the disabled… There are many much worse off than I am and they deserve the dignity and respect the law requires. If you're comfortable arguing for reasons why you shouldn't invoke the law then I will respect your decision. I'll continue to pursue employee rights in the workplace and acknowledge that sometimes I will prevail and other times I won't.

It's interesting reading other peoples' experiences and responses…I really appreciate the differences in perspectives.

Nick1962 2012-04-30 20:27:19 -0500 Report

I've been here only about 6 months, and this topic has come up several times. First let me say thank you for your advocacy for the disabled. It is something way overlooked today.
The main problem is that the Americans with Disabilities Act is not a law, but merely a federal regulation (but that's another discussion there) and as such "reasonable accomodations" are subject to interpretation. Additionally, diabetes is not a recognized "without question" disability, so it's judged on a case-by-case basis.
Her basic request (by my understanding of the facts in her post) is that she be allowed to continue to test at her desk. This right had been granted to her, to my knowledge, without a disclaimer that it would be subject to review or condition of her employment. Nor was it granted that it wouldn't.
Unfortnately, "reasonable accomodation" may conflict with OSHA regulations governing the workplace, which her firm amy now have to comply with for what ever reason.
At this point, claiming it as a disability would subject her to claims that it had not been included in her employment disclosure (or subsequent notification when she became diabetic), her State status - some states require disclosing diabetes as a disability on their driver's license possibly restricting her driving priveledges. To add this label opens up a multitude of legal issues for both sides, and rarely works out to be positive.
I think it would be advantageous to work with management to find the compromise. Any legal battle would financially de-value her as an employee, as well as undermine future positions. Yes, it may mean she goes to the restroom with Chlorox wipes in hand, but that is where she needs to evaluate what her employment is worth.
Only my perspective, and I certainly hope there are others more productive for her.

Controlled 2012-04-30 21:24:28 -0500 Report

Let's just agree to disagree. In essence I am hearing, "don't speak up for your rights or else…"

Suffice is to say there is much we see differently regarding this subject. I hope that her employer gives it as much thought as we have.

Nick1962 2012-05-01 08:15:33 -0500 Report

Oh I don’t think we disagree. She does have rights whether being termed disabled or not, and I’m not suggesting that she not stand up for them.

I think that should it come to the point where she has to label herself as disabled to enjoy those rights, she may experience negative repercussions that are worse than the actual issue at hand.

From reading all the posts, I see this is also a two way street. I have no issue testing in restrooms. I have had testing “competitions” with a fellow diabetic on the tailgate of a pickup in the middle of a mud covered field. As long as we have the means to get a clean test site on our fingers, we’re good. I realize many wouldn’t do this, but expecting a perfectly sanitized area to test may be a bit more than realistic.

Yes, having to go to a restroom or sanitizing an area is an inconvenience, but this condition pretty much guarantees that life in general will be an inconvenience at the very least.
Many alternatives have been offered here, and yes, I agree with the hopes that her employer put as much thought into this as we have. I think this can be easily resolved without causing too much ill will. I hope MerGirl will update us on the issue.

Caroltoo 2012-04-30 16:09:21 -0500 Report

I would add my voice to Nick's recommendation. Having worked in upper administrative positions in a very large non-profit, I can tell you that there are many ways for companies to evade these laws! Should they? Of course not, but here we are dealing with practicality of what exists because we probably can't afford to take the company into court. It only takes one jerk somewhere in the chain of command, to make it an issue. Don't give them that power.

I have a 12.5% disability from an auto accident in which I broke my lumbar spine. I have never in 25 years acknowledged that disability rating because of potential consequences. I just made the adaptations that were needed. When I teach, I move around the room … I can't stand in one place without going into muscle spasms, so I move around.

When I test, no one even knows it. I can whip out my meter and test under the table and no one even knows what made the click cause the meter is already back in my big purse. If I had to use insulin, I'd probably do it in the car cause I don't like what I've read about the germ count in restrooms. In my business, accreditation standards require a room where employees can sit, eat, chat, read at break/lunchtime. That would be a more germ free environment.

I admire your advocacy and hope we get to the point were these laws/rules/standards are respected because they are humane, not because they are a law/rule/standard. It's just darned uncomfortable and inconvenient when you stand up for yourself and end up being the test case.

0tina0 2012-04-29 21:58:39 -0500 Report

NEVER test in the bathroom… OMG I can't think of anything more gross in world. I get that we need to be respectful of others…I get that we must follow the rules. But you are being treated awful and testing at your desk is the very best place to do it. I am super lucky, all my co-workers are on my side and the management is accomadating to my needs. I really don't have any advise but you are being treated like diabetes is a contageous virus or something. I wish you luck sweety! Tina

MerGirl 2012-05-03 23:22:10 -0500 Report

Thanks, Tina. I agree. They first told me to go out of the building, downstairs to my car to test (which ended up taking like 7-8 minutes). I have been with this company for just over 6 years , now and have always tested at my desk-used to take injections at my desk (now I am back on my pump), and it never used to be an issue. All of my co-workers have said that they do not mind at all-to just take care of myself to stay alive. The only thing I can think of, is that SOMEone must have made a complaint, but I don't understand? I'm in a cubicle that no one can see what I'm doing anyways. I ALWAYS bring my strips home with me to discard. But when others get sick in my office-they are expected to stay their shift, while leaving contaminated tissues in the trash at their desk…which I caught something that went around at the end of March and it almost out me in the hospital-out of work for two weeks, unpaid (burnt through my vacation time-4 days worth). I don't think it's fair at all. I wish that I could find an actual advocate that could come to my work and explain the legalities of this. I do feel like it's a little discriminating. =\

red flower lady
red flower lady 2012-04-22 18:22:57 -0500 Report

I would go to the bathroom and do my checking, I can certainly understand why they don't want you to do it at your desk. Others don't want to see it, as well as the thought of what is in your blood that maybe others could be exposed to. Blood is a hazardous waste so there are policies for it. We all worry that we might catch something from others, so they are trying to keep control in the work place. Chances are someone had a talk with your work as they were uncomfortable with it if you had not been told to stop before. I would keep a little snack kit together and take it with me when I do a bg check, so as not to go back for it. They have to allow you to do bg checks as long as it isn't interferring with your work, a couple of checks on the clock won't be an issue, if you can't wait for regular bathroom break or when you are on breaks/lunch. You can do what I did and get a drs note stating you need to do bg checks the number of times he specifies and also you need to eat snacks as needed. I had a college class where we were told under no circumstances could food be brought into the room and he said we needed to use bathroom before or after class (3hrs). My note allowed me to leave when needed and to eat at my desk.

Yes, you have rights, but so do your co-workers and employers so that all are safe. Just need to be flexible and work out a plan with your boss:)

MerGirl 2012-04-27 00:51:42 -0500 Report

I have considered testing in a bathroom, but when I am in the bathroom, I see so many people NOT wash their hands when they are done, and put their belongings on the counters, and lean on the counters, to do more of their make-up etc…my desk is MUCH more sanitary than I have seen most bathrooms. Granted, I have supervisors' Lysol spray to sanitize my own desk area, but why should I be so inconvenienced to even have to bring this with me to clean others' messes in a bathroom?

I have also brought in a doctor's note that I need my breaks and lunches at the same times every day about every two hours-sometimes every hour and a half. (this even continues when I get home, with alarms going off every 2 hours through the middle of the night). They also understand that I may not always be able to walk somewhere, as my sugars fluctuate up to 200-300 points in a half hour at times, and have gone into bad insulin reactions at work, where I started to seize. They actually had to call the paramedics for me at one point, when I didn't make it to the break room to get a sugar soda to fix it…

I have never left any strips behind at work or any other place I visit (even family's houses), as I always discard the strips in my own BG Monitoring zipper-pouch, and throw it in the trash or in a Sharps Container at home.
I don't mean to harp- I am just frustrated, so I do apologize.

red flower lady
red flower lady 2012-04-28 00:16:28 -0500 Report

I understand where you are comming from, but you have to see it from other's perspective. This IS blood we are talking about and it is a biohazard and the company can get fined, etc.. if someone reports it. They have asked you to do this in the bathroom in order to comply with OSHA as well as any employee who has complained. Just because I check myself, doesn't mean I want to watch or sit, lean or touch things from their area after they have checked their bg. By your company telling you to do this, they have actually covered themselves should you be caught not doing it in the bathroom and can fire you. Bring up the uncleanliness of the bathroom and report employees not washing hands. I take my purse with me and stand in the stall and hang purse from hook and test. That way my things stay in my purse and not on counters. You just have to be a little imaginative and flexible.

You should be able to keep glucose tabs or gel in your desk or keep in your pocket, these are fast acting carbs and will work quicker then a soda or candy, etc. If you are taking breaks every 1 1/2 to 2 hours then you could also go to your car and do the check. Also, I would think you should have good control checking that often. Are you following a good diabetic friendly meal and snack plan as well as correct portion control? I know we all slip at times, but I mean most of the time:) If not, then you may want to try it as it will help with the bg numbers. Good bg numbers means a better work environment. I have had people complain with my frequent breaks, but because I was good at my job and fast, I kept my work current, there was nothing that could be done. If our diabetes interfers with our production, attendence, etc then they do have rights against us. We are costing them money instead of making them money and this they don't like. I don't want you to lose your job, especially since another is hard to find with all the competition.

I know this is frustrating, and only onther diabetic understands.

jayabee52 2012-04-28 00:58:10 -0500 Report

As a certified Nurse aide I had to enter houses where the cleanliness factor was not up to snuff (putting it kindly) and we needed to carry paper "chucks" and put our blood pressure and thermometers on those in such situations.

Mergirl, could you go to a medical supply house and purchase some small "chucks" to spread out in the bathroom and keep your meter and strips clean? Then when you are done you can chuck them into the trash (that is why they are called chucks).

Actually if in a pinch, one can use a page of news print because it has been flame sterilized to dry the ink quickly so it is relatively sanitary if it is one of the inner pages and has not been handled.

MerGirl 2012-05-08 00:28:45 -0500 Report

My work actually has not told me to check in the bathroom. They have told me to go downstairs to my car, but this is where I argue the fact, that since my sugars typically fluctuate 200-300 points in even a half hours' time, it is unreasonable to have to leave my desk to check it, when it could already be in the 20's or 30's (and I don't always fell or show the symptoms at this reading). I have dealt with my sugars fluctuating like this [17-650+] since I was 6 years old). I have only recently kept myself from getting this high (unless I'm sick), since I've been on the Medtronic Pump in the last 4 years or so.
Working in a call center, the term "a private area to test blood sugar levels or to take insulin", would be at my own desk. This has always been the accommodation for the last 6 years, until a few months ago. They won't let me test in the break room, because this is where people eat. However, I have personally asked everyone who is on the "floor" if they are bothered by this, and everyone has stated to me how supportive they are of me, and agree that I should just do so, at my desk.
I know that this is blood we're talking about, but if you have very thin skin (that's under medical treatment) and scratch, it bleeds…or if someone has a chronic bloody nose-these people haven't been asked to leave their desks…my testing my sugars is something that my life depends on (and all of us with diabetes), not just an inconvenience like stopping a bloody nose.
I have also carried with me at least 24 glucose tabs in my purse along with cake gel, and glucose gel for the almost 30 years I've lived with this. But, when your sugar levels drop as low as in the 20's unexpectedly-obviously your brain cannot function in the sense that you have these right with you, and will get so confused that the only option you can think of, is to get to that vending machine, where the liquid sugar you know to get in your system that much faster is down the hall, well you do the best you can think of at the moment, or just stay at your desk and call someone else to run and get you something, if need be. This has only been going on for a couple months. So, not long. There are also 3 other diabetics on the floor; one a Type 2 who said she only checks her sugars or takes a shot when she "feels like it". I want to help and show them how to better care for themselves as well (although type 1 and 2 diabetes are on two totally different levels of the spectrum).
I do think I am safe at my job, as I know that with my FMLA- I have to stay on top of all other stats (I am currently the highest average seller in this department), and know my job well. I am accountable for my job performance, and diabetes does not interfere, when I am able to put myself on "unavailable", so that I do not get another call before I can fix a situation I feel arising. And this only takes 1/4 of a minute to 1.5 minutes to complete.
I have saved e-mails in folders on my computer, that I have copied and pasted on Diabetes in the Workplace and e-mailed them to all management. I still have them in case I need to remind them, but it seems to not be of much use anymore.
To be honest, I've been told that there are advocates that will come to your job location personally to sit with management and better explain the legalities of Diabetes in the Workplace and FMLA. this is what I am looking for and don't really know where to start. The advice on here is much appreciated, but I feel that it has come to the point, someone else may need to step in and help explain this to my company, as I have been told can be done; the Advocate I am in need of.
Sorry this was so long! =\

Nick1962 2012-05-08 08:12:17 -0500 Report

Now that I know more, this seems to be a case right on the edge. If they’re not preventing you from doing your job, or getting raises and such, it would be hard to prove you’re being discriminated against. However, check here to see if anything applies to you http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/... and especially under the “Reasonable Accommodations” tab.
If you think you are still being unfairly treated check the “How To Get Help” tab here
http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/... and contact the American Diabetes Assoc. to get something started. They may help, they may not, and I don’t know if they’ll give you a personal advocate like you’re looking for.

I do think your employer is being slightly less than accommodating, and it could be they’re just misinterpreting OSHA regs. Check the links above and see if something can’t be worked out.

Nick1962 2012-06-03 19:46:15 -0500 Report

Please, let me know how this works out (if it does). Sometimes thngs like this are a sign to move on to someplace with a more caring environment, or where you'll get more fulfillment. Again, let me know please.

red flower lady
red flower lady 2012-04-29 01:03:03 -0500 Report

Good idea, if she is willing to test in the bathroom? I think she is just set on doing it in her office no matter what. I wonder how long she'll last?

pixsidust 2012-04-20 22:07:38 -0500 Report

Bearing in mind what Nick said. Can you carry a snack with you when you test? Can you test in the bathroom?

Nick1962 2012-04-20 16:34:08 -0500 Report

You may need to have a heart to heart with your employer and co-workers. OSHA has some pretty strict guidelines regarding workplace safety and blood borne pathogens, and other workers, under the OSHA regs have the right not to be exposed. Not saying I agree with it, but it’s there. http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/bloodbornepathogens/
Yes, infections can be spread via tissue, but fresh blood is considered a hazardous material. The potential for you to say, accidently leave a lancet that could be picked up by someone else (co-worker or cleaning crew) makes you a higher risk even though you claim to practice responsible testing. It just takes one. If after hours a cleaning crew member got stuck, and not knowing what it was used for, it’d be an immediate trip to the hospital. A liability your employer wouldn’t want. I know it can happen, my wife stuck herself trying to figure out mine.
Ask your employer what compromises could be made, because you have rights to “treatment” also, and blanket rules without individual considerations are unlawful under the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Act.

MerGirl 2012-04-27 00:27:03 -0500 Report

I do understand about these concerns, but as mentioned in the post, I have a sharps container at my desk-which I am still not able to use, because I am not allowed to be on the floor when I need to do this. The Sharps Container is legally allowed at my desk, to dispose of sharps, or test strips, etc. I have about 10 other Sharps Containers at home that I ude for the same purpose to protect those at dump facilities.
And, when others get sick with the flu, it has put me in the hospital for weeks at a time with the diabetes in the mix (all but once in my life). I have just missed two weeks of work recently, where I cought something going around our office, and almost ended up in the hospital. When I went back to work, I made it for two days, and caught it again, because there were still sick poeple on the floor.
I would imagine that people would also have the right to not be exposed to the same air born pathogens, when it can also threaten someones life like the diabetics on my floor? They will never send someone home from work, unless they are literally throwing up in their trash cans, at their desks. I don't see this, as sanitary either.
And when I check my sugars, I always use the same needle for almost 4 days (though I know you are supposed to change the needles every time you use one), and ALWAYS discard them at home. I have been doing this for 24 years out of the (almost) 30 that I've had it.

Nick1962 2012-04-27 08:53:38 -0500 Report

I completely understand your frustrations, especially with the issue of having sick co-workers present. I know that the first person in our office to sneeze every spring with the pollen outbreaks will have me infected within 30 days. I’m a chronic sinus sufferer, so a little stuffy nose for one means two days of debilitating headaches and sore throat for me. Our building HVAC systems should be designed to turn over airflow so such a thing shouldn’t spread, but it doesn’t.
I would hope others would jump in here with their workplace experience with diabetes, however, if you can’t come to an agreement with management (and I hate to say this), the next step would be to claim your health as a disability. This would be a push-comes-to-shove scenario, but under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they do have to make some reasonable accommodation for you. If you do end up going that route, contact the American Diabetes Association who would be able to assign some form of advocate for you. The fact that you’ve been doing it for the majority of your time there will weigh heavily in your favor.

dietcherry 2012-04-27 15:47:26 -0500 Report

Nick your comment reminded me of an article I read once about our state being one of the worst for allergy sufferers to live in. Mild winters + high humidity=misery !!

Nick1962 2012-04-27 15:55:26 -0500 Report

Certainly is for me! Living in the big city smog makes it worse. Things get progressively better the closer I get to the mountains or beach.
Trouble is i had surgery which reduced my sensitivity a lot, so when I get something it's really serious.

pixsidust 2012-04-20 22:06:22 -0500 Report

I never thought about this. You have good points

Nick1962 2012-04-21 12:43:56 -0500 Report

We had a similar situation in one of our local high schools. A T1 girl would routinely test in the same bathroom up to 8 times a day, so that meant 8 strips, 8 lancets plus the occasional syringe each day in the garbage. The syringe was found first and school officials suspected drug use and ended up tailing her. The syringe was explained simple enough, but come to find out used diabetic supplies are considered medical waste. The school offered her a teachers lounge to test where they put a sharps box. To make matters worse, in some states, if use a sharps box, it has to be collected by a certified medical waste disposal company, and if you try to dispose of it yourself by taking it to such a company, you can be fined for transporting medical waste.

MerGirl 2012-04-27 00:32:49 -0500 Report

I usually drop my Sharps Containers off at my doctor's office, to dicard with the ones that they need to discard.

MerGirl 2012-04-20 16:06:11 -0500 Report

I was diagnosed in 1983, so have had it basically all my life (just wasn't found that I had it until then).

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