Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the blood sugar level is too high. While there are various forms, the most common are type one and two.
Type one diabetes is an autoimmune condition diagnosed in early childhood while type two is a metabolic disorder usually brought on by lifestyle choices.
While there’s no cure for diabetes, there are steps that those living with it can take to manage their condition and live a healthy life.
According to the Irish Times, almost a quarter of a million people in Ireland are living with diabetes. 10 to 15% of which are type one diabetes and with the rest being type two.
Diabetes is considered a disability as it’s a long-term condition that affects the sufferer’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks.
Within the work setting, while it can be difficult for employees to open up about their condition, when they do, there are adjustments you can make their working life a bit easier.
Diabetes and the law
In Ireland, the Employment Equality Act 1998 is the main legislation the prevents discrimination and encourages equality in the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination on nine grounds one of which is on the grounds of discrimination.
According to the legislation, discrimination occurs when one person is treated less favourable than another is, has been or would be treated. As well as the prohibition of discrimination, the legislation also places a duty of care on employers.
The obligation requires you to provide reasonable adjustments by taking appropriate measures to enable an individual with a disability have access to employment, participate and advance in employment and to undergo appropriate training.
Apart from your legal obligations, there are other practical considerations in relation to managing employees with diabetes.
Amongst your top considerations should be:
- The stability of the condition and the type of treatment being received
- Any activity being carried out that might result in risks
- Control measures for any risk identified
- Options for lone working and flexible working
Supporting employees with diabetes
While your staff isn’t required to inform you of their disability, when they do, you may have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to allow them to manage their disability and perform effectively at their job.
The term ‘reasonable adjustment’ is broad and will depend on the specific circumstance of your employee. Below we’ll go through some adjustments you can make around the workplace and to the work process.
Privacy: Part of living with diabetes means your employee might need to take medication, injections or test their blood sugar level at specific times. Any of these can be quite personal so you may need to make provisions for somewhere private they can attend to these needs.
Working hours and breaks: In an effort to manage their diabetes, employees living with the disease will need to take medication (including injections), test their blood glucose level, etc at various times through the day. It’s important to allow for flexibility with their working hours and breaks as they may need to do this several times while at work. Depending on how the condition affects them and the complications it presents, they may need time off to attend hospital appointments and check-ups.
Working equipment: You may need to review elements of your employee’s role when they inform you of their condition. Consider carrying out a risk assessment to identify any activities they might undertake that’d affect their condition
Raising awareness: It’s also important for other staff members to understand diabetes and how it can affect their colleagues. It’s helpful as it allows other members of staff to understand diabetes, recognise the symptoms and offer support when needed.
Alan Hickey is an experienced consultant in employment law, HR and health and safety with a demonstrated history of working in business consultancy. He is a member of the Employment Law Association of Ireland and Chairman of the Chambers Ireland Employment Workplace & Skills Taskforce.