What is diabetes?
There are 2 main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 – where the body attacks cells that provide insulin
- Type 2 – where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body doesn’t react to insulin
The majority of people with diabetes in the UK have Type 2.
A person’s risk of developing Type 1 diabetes cannot be affected by lifestyle; however, the risk of developing Type 2 can be lowered through healthy eating, exercise and maintaining healthy body weight.
Pregnant women can develop a condition known as gestational diabetes during their pregnancy where the body is unable to produce enough insulin to absorb any higher levels of blood glucose. The condition will usually go away shortly after the baby is born.
How can diabetes affect employees at work?
How employees are affected by their condition will vary from person to person, however, the majority of people can usually successfully manage it themselves, with support from their employer.
There may be certain considerations that need to be looked into in relation to driving, for example, due to the effects of medication, or to eyesight (which can be impacted by having diabetes). Driving ability should be looked at on an individual basis and the DVLA website checked for further information if needed.
Managing absence in relation to diabetes
Absence in relation to diabetes should be managed in a supportive way, in line with your sickness absence procedure. Diabetes may be classed as a disability for the purposes of employment legislation, so its very important to follow correct procedures, and professional advice sought if you’re unsure.
It may be of use to refer employees who are off with diabetes related issues to your Occupational Health service, should this be something you have access to. They will be able to provide guidance and support on how you can help your employee manage their condition on their return to the workplace.
What employers can do to support?
It is really important that employees who have been diagnosed with any form of diabetes feel comfortable in the work place and fully supported to manage their condition, without judgement. Employees, for example, may need to inject insulin, monitor their blood sugar levels through a finger prick test or take tablets.
Ways an employer can support employees with diabetes, include:
- Providing reassurance and a safe place for employees to administer injections, check blood sugar or take tablets
- Support attendance at appointments – such as eye tests, the GP or hospital visits
- Talk to employees about their condition to find out their specific support needs and any signs to look out for where they might need extra help. For example, if they are having a hypo where their blood sugar level gets too low. Find out what they require in this situation and what you can do to help
- Ask the employee how they feel about other colleagues knowing about the condition. It should be kept private if they wish
- If you provide refreshments for colleagues, consider providing healthy alternatives such as fresh fruit
- Encourage regular breaks and exercise. Perhaps you could organise lunchtime exercise classes if you’re able
- Inform employees about your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), if you have one. Having diabetes can be difficult emotionally and it may be that additional support in this area is beneficial for the employee
- Pregnant employees will need additional check ups if they have diabetes, or if they develop gestational diabetes as a result of their pregnancy. Ensure employees are reassured that they can attend these appointments and discuss any additional needs they have during this time
- Research any educational opportunities that may be appropriate for you as an employer, to learn more, or for the employee, to support them in managing their condition at work
The two areas of law that may relate to diabetes are:
- The Equality Act 2010 which protects employees against discrimination, specifically, in this case, disability
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which says where reasonably possible an employer must ensure health, safety and welfare at work
For the purposes of the law, diabetes may be classed as a disability, and is therefore covered under the Equality Act 2010. The reason for this is that diabetes is a long-term condition that may have an adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day to day activities. The legislation requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable employees with diabetes to carry out their role alongside managing their condition. This could include things such as ensuring the employee can have breaks at certain times, changing lunch timings, or adjusting working hours.
Below are links to some case law where individuals have successfully brought claims to an Employment Tribunal.
Further information on diabetes can be found on https://www.diabetes.org.uk/