Diabetes in the workplace

By AmyESmith Latest Reply 2009-12-23 20:29:53 -0600
Started 2009-10-12 10:12:59 -0500

I wanted to share a story with you that happened to me recently. I am an IT consultant and travel a TON for work. I was in Detroit two weeks ago, working from 4pm - 1am to try to overlap some of our hours with the client's data center in Malaysia. I'm sure you all know how important timing is with diabetes. Needless to say working this odd shift wreaked havoc on my diabetes. I was sleeping in late and not taking my Lantus at the normal time, and my meal times were way off. Because of this I had a few episodes of severe low blood sugar. Luckily they were all in the confines of my hotel room.

When I first started working I needed to take some Apidra, so I drew it up and started walking to the bathroom. The client walked by and looked down at the syringe in my hand, so I just said, "I'm a type 1 diabetic." And she said, "Good to know!" Fast forward to our last day onsite. It was about 12 am and we were wrapping up and all of a sudden I feel a trickle of sweat go down my back and I know I'm about to have a bad reaction. I had some Powerade at my desk and snacks in my bag, so I start drinking and eating. I got really dizzy so I put my head on my desk. The client asked if I was ok, and I just explained that I had low blood sugar (41!) and needed to take a break to let the food/drink get in my system. She told me she had had a bad experience with a diabetic who didn't disclose his disease and had a very bad reaction during a meeting. She was the one who had to help him and I think diabetes has made her uncomfortable since.

Anyway, after about 30 minutes I started to feel better. My coworker and I left, flew home the next morning and that was that. We were scheduled to go back the following week to wrap up everything. I got a call the next day from my manager saying the client had called him and asked that I not return the next week. She was worried that something would happen to me while I was onsite and they would be liable. I was shocked to hear this. I think people don't understand diabetes and that low blood sugar happens to the best of us. Especially when working an unfamiliar schedule. The worse part of all of this was that the partner at my company was angry/frustrated with me because I told the client that I have diabetes. Apparently that is information that does not need to be communicated, because then the client would have reason to judge me or treat me differently.

Growing up I was always taught to let people know that I have diabetes. That people need to know what to do should I have a reaction. Now I'm being told the opposite, that my disease needs to remain a secret. I spoke with a coworker who has Type 2 diabetes and she agreed with our partner, that she never tells anyone that she has diabetes. At her former job she told her boss and he immediately started treating her differently.

Can anyone comment on this, or share your experiences? Have you ever been discriminated against because you have diabetes? This situation is just so strange for me. Granted I'm young and this is my first job out of college, but still…

25 replies

Pat Roth
Pat Roth 2009-12-23 20:29:53 -0600 Report

I was fortunate to not have the problem of diabetis when I was in the work force, but my daughter-in-law, is. She is a spunky little woman in her 40's just diagnosed last year, follows her diet, and FINDS NO PROBLEM in letting the staff know that she is now a diabetic. She lays her little kit out on the table at their big meetings, sets her alarm and checks herself, right there in front of everyone—she is a manager of sorts at Voice Stream—-knows how to handle troubled folks and their phone bills—LOTS of STRESS, but she is her own person and would not tolerate any foolishness, would report them to whoever—-I am not that familiar with such—-but she keeps protein etc with her as she does fluctuate wildly—and has had no problem with her bosses—-I admire her spunk—-wish I had used mine in a few situations, but that is another story!

God Bless you and may you find the knowledge it takes to pave the way in your working carreer, as it will be a conditon from now on, so might as well get used to knowing what steps you need to take to clear the air!! Diabetis is nothing to be sneezed at. Pat R

Anonymous 2009-12-23 18:05:21 -0600 Report

You sound like you would be a great candidate for an insulin pump..ever consider it? With the demands of your job it might go along way to preventing complications and helping you maintain so the workplace is not such a challange.

Deb-G 2009-12-23 16:15:16 -0600 Report

Wow…I find this unbelievable…and pretty crappy…I have never kept my diabetes a secret…and frankly those I work with are happy to know and know what to do if I need it…I have a history of seizures with severe low swings…everyone knows exactly where my hypo-kit is and how to use it…

I'm a pretty stong willed and strong minded person and cant imagine anyone telling me what I have to keep a secret about myself…I believe in preparing people and especially when the injection could save my life they deserve to know about it…I guess i've never had a direct convo with my boss about it but everyone working around me and involved with me in the office is aware…

I also would appreciate someone telling me…there's nothing worse then having an emergency and feeling helpless to help someone…I'd be thankful for the knowledge to help them…

Thats just stupidity if you ask me…

Very sorry and dissappointed to hear you were treated this way…

lmbickle 2009-12-16 13:27:51 -0600 Report

When I became pregnant several years ago, I was working in an optometrist's office. I had a few minor problems in the beginning unrelated to my diabetes. When I returned to work after 2 days in bed, I was asked to resign. They stated that if I was having trouble now, I would throughout. Boy were they wrong! I was never healthier than I was when I was carrying my daughter. But, I feel that my condition was held against me. I let everyone I work closely with know I have diabetes and what to do if I begin to act strange or become very grumpy for no reason (my main symptom) and have never had any other situations at work. Diabetes is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. As long as you let your employers know of your condition I don't believe they can hold it against you in any way.

dietcherry 2009-12-16 21:18:41 -0600 Report

They can't discriminate if you disclose your medical condition (but you don't have to even in the initial interview and hiring process) at ANYTIME during your tenure; our rights are at stake!!! Sue their pants off if your job is threatened or terminated!!!

MABlueEyes 2009-12-21 11:04:23 -0600 Report

I work in industry assembly type. In the mornings they would tell me what I had to complete before the end of the day.. I had a heart attack and during my stay off of work I found out I was type 2 Diabetic..
When I came back to work the first thing I did was inform the company nurse that I was on insulin and where my kit would be.. Then I asked the shop forman, my supervisor and people in my department to have a closed door meeting.. I explained if any one did not see me in my working area to come and find out why?
Needless to say about a month went by when all of sudden I knew some thing was not right..LOW BLOOD SUGAR (50)..
One of the ladies in my group saw me sitting down and came to see what was wrong.. She went a got me a reg pepsi and I drank it. But with in two hour my blood sugar went the other way.. HIGH BLOOD SUGAR meter read (HI)!! Meter a set from factor set for 400..
All the company wanted was a statement from the lady who help me and what I did.. Statement were put in nurses file..
NOW FOR THE FUNNY PART!!! ABOUT 3 MONTHS LATER … Company nurse makes each deptarment report to confress room. There were 3 sets of nurse from KUMED to do blood sugars, blood pressure and weight.. If they found something not right the company nurse made an appointment with company doctor..

dietcherry 2009-12-21 11:34:42 -0600 Report

How wonderful that your company became proactive to help its employees! Guess you are to thank! Renee :)

kdroberts 2009-12-21 13:04:46 -0600 Report

Unfortunately if you work for an employer who uses at will employment, which a huge number do, then you can pretty much be let go at any time for any reason. There are very few things that would exempt you from it (like whistle blowing and certain legal rights like voting or jury duty) so it is incredibly difficult to prove any wrong doing by an employer. Work rights in the US are massively stacked in the favor of the employer not the employee.

zella oliver
zella oliver 2009-12-12 22:35:14 -0600 Report

I think its really important someone knows of a condition such as diabetics,there could be a need of medical attention and you need to know what to do and not do the wrong thing which could make matters worse.

appleseed 2009-12-12 19:05:01 -0600 Report

That story is sad, and really so wrong. You just keep doing what you are doing…dont ever let anyone make u feel bad, its not ur fault, your not wierd and at the end of the day, it takes more strength to carry on in the face of your disease than the exhiibt most days. Just remember this…Your windshield is bigger than your rear view mirror for a reason…keep looking forward. keep moving on!!

tstoikes 2009-12-12 18:18:33 -0600 Report

I too lost a job because I made the mistake of saying I was a diabetic. I wasn't fired they just hired another therapist - she was to work the afternoons while I had the mornings. The very first day I discovered that her "afternoons" started before noon. And very soon I was getting no clients and she was coming in to work in the mornings. I seriously doubt I will ever tell another employer about my diabetes.

dietcherry 2009-12-12 15:23:44 -0600 Report

Several years ago I disclosed to my boss that I was diabetic because I needed to excuse myself from the sales floor and run get something to eat. Was told I was being replaced the next day. I knew nothing about the Americans with Disabilities Act at that time so I just slunk off. You should always let those around you know of your medical condition-a medic bracelet serves this purpose, if you don't want to speak up. Since that one negative experience, I have only encountered supportive and helpful attitudes from co-workers. We can't be all things to all people so do not take her rejection personally-she has a chronic condition of her own: IGNORANCE!

Melissa Dawn
Melissa Dawn 2009-10-16 18:22:17 -0500 Report

I can't imagine NOT telling an employer you were diabetic. While I'd like to claim diabetes never interferes with my work performance (and really, it almost never does), there are occasions when it creates problems. The other day just as I was preparing to leave for work, my blood sugar dropped. I couldn't drive so I had to wait for it to pass before I left. If my boss didn't know about my diabetes, he wouldn't have understood why I was walking into a meeting 15 minutes after it started.

The only way to beat discrimination is to educate people about the disease. In this experience, its unfortunate that the woman had had a bad experience with a diabetic and then encountered you on a low blood sugar. She may never learn that diabetics can and do lead normal live, especially if one instance leads her to ask for a diabetic to be replaced.

Crashnot 2009-10-13 14:33:00 -0500 Report

I've had a few doozies in my working years. I am not covert about being diabetic, but I don't just tell everyone either. I know it's supposed to be an equal world in the workplace, but truth be told, it ain't!

After working in the same office for 12 years though, of 30 people, everyone pretty well knew I was diabetic. So after being with a new boss for a bit over a year, who was infamous for memorizing personel files, you figure he knows, right? Wrong! During another interminable meeting, I started getting drowsy and nodding off a bit. My staff members noticed, but were a little nervous about doing anything with the latest terrorist to run the office! Finally, my liver reserves clicked in and I had the sense to meander over to my desk, get some change, wander back to the lunch room, get a Coke, and come back to the meeting.

Next day, my supervisor calls me into his office (he'd also been on board for a year). Says the boss is really upset at how irreverant I was in the meeting by walking off like that. I said, "but I was having an insulin reaction, I needed sugar!" His jaw dropped, he appoligized and ran off to tell the boss. No apology was every forth-coming, but it never came up again!

I used to travel for work a lot too, and they were long days on my feet at conventions and horse shows, so I could really run low at night. I passed out once in my car in a fast food parking lot, and luckily came to and ate before the hot Florida sun did me in. Otherwise I'd keep a stock of jelly beans in my room to nibble as night and low sugars came on. Be sure you have a Medic Alert bracelet on for those situations, and don't put up the "Do Not Disturb" sign!

It is important that some people know, at least the ones you have a regular relationship with. And of course if someone sees you in the act, so to speak, they will need to be told as well. But it's like any other medical condition. It's important to us to educate the public about diabetes, but at the same time you don't need to bring it up as a regular topic. If the person you're talking to doesn't tell you about their heart medication, anemia, etc, you don't need to tell them your personal information either unless your health may depend on it.

Sarguillo 2009-10-13 12:23:33 -0500 Report

I know we dont like it, but we must understand that if it can affect others, Like driving a truck or being in military, they wont let those on insulin be in that occupation. But in those instances where we do not affect the saftey of others, it is discrimination and must be fought at all times. Dont let them get away with it.

TX gal
TX gal 2009-10-12 22:05:20 -0500 Report

This is so bizzare! I have had T1 for nearly 46 yrs. Since back to school routines way back when, of notifying teachers that I have T1 and am able to care for myself (and what that may mean) I have always been upfront w/my employers. I work for a large IT firm now. When I begin working with a new manager, I normally have a brief 'chat' to let them know that I have T1, and that reassure them I take care of myself. I've only had rare occasions that it has impacted my job performance for the moment, but it doesn't shock them at that point. I can imagine your shock nd disbelief at this type of an attitude. If you can have a meeting with your manager to help educate about diabetes, that may be beneficial. You would need to be very 'textbook' and try to keep the emotions at bay. As for this client, they may be a lost cause - because not all individuals can get past bad experiences. I don't know your HR policies on discrimination, but, this (October) is National Disabilities Awareness Month. What better way to help educate your managers and co-workers about diabetes and the fact that for the most part, you are your own responsibility!

KAY 2009-12-15 13:29:03 -0600 Report

I think you should copy all these responses and take them to your boss and let him know how many people are in the working invironment that have diabetes work also the responses that have been given. It sounds like discrimination to me. I know there are biabetics in all kinds of work fields. I know that at my work place they know that Im a diabetic and it helps me stay on track because if I dont they give me a hard time, especially in the nursing field. It is hard because I work 12hr nightshift and sometimes I do get low and have to stop and check and treat. I try to have something on hand that will treat quickly. It sounds like you did all the right things when it happened to you. I think maybe you should make a copy of all these responses and show them to your boss maybe education is the key to understanding. You never know it might educate someone that doesnt even know they have a problem. You dont have to be a diabetic to have a problem with low blood sugar. Skipping meals as many busy people do can cause a low blood sugar reaction just like what you had. Being aware is half the battle,coping and getting people to understand is the other half. I do tend to get long winded. Hope you find your answers through all of these responses. Good luck and take care.

hbkunkel 2009-10-12 17:44:32 -0500 Report

I am very sorry that this ignorant made life uncomfortable for you. while working I always made people aware of my condition and like many others here, kept a "first aid kit" in my desk to help myself if a low come on. My students also knew I was a diabetic and thought nothing of it if I had to eat a snack to fix a low once in a while. I feel badly for people who are unwilling to learn about diabetes and prejudge us. Good luck in the future.

Sarguillo 2009-10-12 13:33:52 -0500 Report

not going to say much here but that was discrimination and is against The american Disablility act. Now since you work for your company and they singled you out, it was wrong and not sure if you can contact an atorney over this or not. If you feel it affects your job and you didnt put anyone's life at risk, but did affect your ability to perform your job for your company, if nothing else, its defimation of caracter. It was not her place to discuss your health with your bosses. Have a sit down with your boss and see what he or she says. Did they know?
Either way, its dicey. Good luck with this.

Me, I have in my office a First aid kit. Right under the kit is a sharps container. I had asked for one to be installed. My boss knows of my condition and is vigilant to ask when we are going out to eat, my preference. Hes a health nut himself so he likes it when I eat healthier. My previous boss (same company, also knew as I had to skip an inventory while I was in the hospital when I found out that I was T2 years ago.

MarineMomX2 2009-10-12 12:06:06 -0500 Report

It's a shame that people aren't open-minded enough to be educated about some things. You'd think the client would rather know that a worker at their location has diabeties rather than not knowing. I feel fortunate to have the co-workers I have. Several are diabetics and we all have a better understanding as to some of the complications and look out for each other. There are many ways a person can be descriminated in the workplace, maybe your partner in the firm should re-evaluate his thoughts on the subject.

Sorry, to me ignorance is no excuse.


sweething 2009-10-12 10:28:24 -0500 Report

I'm sorry you had this experience. I've always been up front about my diabetes and not had this reaction from others. Hope the next one understands you are taking care of yourself, so there are no episodes.

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