Whether you're taking your first step onto the job ladder or looking to change jobs, it's important to show recruiters that you're the best person for the job, regardless of your diabetes. This guidance focuses on employment equality law, applying for jobs and managing diabetes.
The Equality Act 2010
This applies in England, Wales and Scotland. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 applies in Northern Ireland. The legislation sets out the principles that employers should follow in their treatment of employees and job applicants with a disability. Although you may not consider yourself to have a disability, workers with diabetes will often be protected by the provisions in the Act.
Applying for jobs
It is unlawful for an employer to operate a blanket ban on recruitment of people with diabetes. Some jobs involving safety-critical work will have legitimate health requirements that may exclude some people with certain medical conditions, including diabetes. Following extensive campaigning by Diabetes UK, the blanket bans have been lifted in the emergency services for people with Type 1 diabetes and people with Type 2 diabetes who use insulin. Decisions made on someone’s suitability for employment in these services should be made by a process of individual assessment.
- Recruitment and retention of people with diabetes in the police, fire and ambulance services should now be subject to individual medical assessment. However the UK armed forces are exempt from the Equality Act and can operate a blanket ban on the recruitment of people with diabetes.
- In some NHS Ambulance Trusts, there are still restrictions in place on people with diabetes who wish to be ambulance crew. These restrictions are being challenged. You may find that if you develop diabetes while in employment, your employer may offer to change aspects of your job, for instance by altering your shift patterns. If you are no longer able to meet the health requirements of your job, your employer may offer you a different job in the same organisation. This could be sensible and may be worth considering.
- Shift work: People with diabetes used to be discouraged from doing shift work, but improvements in blood glucose testing and more flexible insulin regimes mean that diabetes is less likely to get in the way.
When to tell recruiters
It can be difficult to decide when to tell recruiters about your diabetes. The Equality Act now makes it unlawful for an employer to ask about the health of an applicant before offering them work. This is subject to specific identified exceptions, including where: the employer wishes to establish whether the applicant will need adjustments to be made, in connection with arrangements for the assessment process, the employer is asking for monitoring purposes, (but they must not use this information to discriminate against someone with a disability), the employer wants to improve disabled people’s chance of getting employment; the question asked is relevant to find out if the applicant can carry out tasks that are absolutely necessary to the job.
In some professions there are specific rules regarding certification and physical qualification and you will have to disclose your diabetes to be properly assessed. But for the most part, there is no legal requirement to disclose diabetes and the decision whether to tell an employer or prospective employer is up to the individual. However, if an employer does not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know that you have diabetes, you may not be able to rely on the Equality Act if you feel you have been discriminated against.
If you do decide to tell your employer you have diabetes, you may find it useful to show them Supporting people with diabetes in the workplace (PDF, 57KB), so that they can get a better understanding of diabetes and how it may affect you in the workplace.
If you are not asked about diabetes at your interview, it is probably best to wait until you have been told in writing that you are being offered the position. By this stage the recruiters will have already decided whether you are suitable for the job and the fact that you have diabetes shouldn’t influence their final decision.
Telling your colleagues about your diabetes
Some people are ill-informed about diabetes, and they may respond irrationally out of fear or ignorance. A simple explanation about diabetes is all you need to give. If you do not treat your diabetes as a problem, it is less likely that your colleagues will.
- Hypos at work: It's important to tell colleagues how to recognise and treat a hypo (hypoglycaemic episode) if you experience these. This will stop them from overreacting at the time and will help to make sure that any hypos you have are treated correctly. Talk to your first aider about your diabetes too and make sure they know what to do in an emergency. If you have had a hypo at work and needed help to treat it, talk to your employer and colleagues afterwards. If possible, explain why the hypo happened to show them that you can normally control the situation and it is unlikely to happen again.
- Taking time off: Everybody takes time off work for sickness or hospital appointments, whether they have diabetes or not. Diabetes does not necessarily make you more prone to sickness. If possible, try to arrange several clinic appointments for the same morning and give your employer plenty of notice of when and why you will be absent. When you are ill, seek prompt medical attention and keep your employer informed of what is happening.
- Sources of support and further information: If you feel discriminated against at work, or that you might have been turned down for a job or dismissed because of your diabetes; you will probably need specialist advice initially, and in some cases legal advice, if you wish to challenge employment decisions.
- If you are a member of a trade union you can obtain help from your union representative.
If you're invited to go to an education course, it can be quite a big time commitment and will often involve time off work. You may be entitled to time off to attend a course under the Equality Act. You can download our Advocacy Pack (PDF, 83 KB) for more details and use our template letter (Word, 16KB) to write to your employer.
It may help to explain the benefits of attending to your employer. You can explain that if you do the course you’ll be less likely to take time off sick in the long run, as you’ll be better at managing your diabetes and so will reduce your risk of complications.
Some course providers, such as DAFNE, can provide materials to give to your employer about the benefits of going on a course. Your healthcare professional may also be able to write to your employer to support your case.
If you are unable to take time off work, ask your healthcare professional about evening and weekend options, and check out the sources of informal & online learning and support listed below.
For information and support here are some useful contacts:
- Diabetes UK Advocacy Service, firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 0345 123 2399
- There is also an advocacy self-help pack dealing with employment issues which you can request from Diabetes UK or download from our website. Employment advocacy pack(PDF, 197KB)
- Diabetes UK's ten point guide to supporting people with diabetes in the workplace (PDF, 58KB) is another useful resource.
- Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB): The CAB provides information and advice on a range of topics, including employment. Check www.citizensadvice.org.uk for your local branch.
- Directgov: This government website has information about disability rights and employment. www.gov.uk
- Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs). DEAs can offer advice and practical help for people with disabilities getting into the workplace. They can also offer advice about programmes and grants to help you back into work. Contact your nearest Jobcentre to arrange an appointment.
- Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC): The EHRC promotes equality in England, Scotland, and Wales and provides information and guidance on discrimination and human rights issues. They have produced a series of guides on rights to equality which are available in their website. www.equalityhumanrights.com
- Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS): The EASS provides information, advice and support on discrimination and human rights issues. Tel: 0800 444 205 www.equalityadvisoryservice.com
- Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. The commission promotes equality and challenges discrimination in Northern Ireland. Tel: 028 90 500 600 www.equalityni.org
- Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) help with employment relations issues and what employment rights legislation means in practice. Tel: 08457 47 47 47 www.acas.org.uk
- For information on any aspect of diabetes, please contact: Diabetes UK Helpline, Wells Lawrence House, 126 Back Church Lane, London E1 1FH. Telephone 0345 123 2399 (Monday–Friday, 9am–6pm, operates a translation service.)
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