Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Work and diabetes

This information is about how to manage diabetes at work and to support you in knowing your rights at work.

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Coronavirus updates 

People living with diabetes are classed by the government as being clinically vulnerable. This means you have a moderate risk of becoming seriously ill if you get coronavirus and employers need to take all reasonable steps to make sure your workplace is safe. 

There are differences in guidance for employers and employees depending on where you live. Here are some useful links to keep you up to date: 

In England, the government guidance that previously said that employees who are clinically vulnerable should work at home where possible was lifted on 1st August.  

The latest guidance no longer specifically addresses clinically vulnerable workers. However, it does say that employers must take account of the fact they are vulnerable when considering their work. 

In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the advice is still to work at home where possible. If you're unable to work from home, you should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles. Everyone should be able to stay 2 metres away from others.  

There are currently several local lockdowns in force across the UK. However, the guidance on local lockdowns do not stop workers from attending the workplace if it remains open. The UK Government has guidance for employers on what they need to do to help you work safely, including doing a risk assessment. If you have diabetes and are working at this time, you have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments from your employer.  

Jon's story

"I don’t think there has been clear enough guidelines from the government as to what people with diabetes should be doing in terms of employment."
- Read Jon's story of working with type 1 during the pandemic

Your rights at work 

One in six working people with diabetes feel they’ve been discriminated against by their employer because of their diabetes. If you feel you’ve been mistreated, remember you have rights. During the pandemic, your rights include a risk assessment from your employer. 

Read what to do if you would prefer not to tell your employer about your diabetes.

As someone living with diabetes in England, Scotland or Wales, your rights at work are set out in the Equality Act 2010. If you live in Northern Ireland, they are in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Both these acts state the steps employers must follow in their treatment of employees and job seekers who have a disability. While you might not think of your diabetes as a disability, you should be protected by these acts. 

The Equality Act 2010 describes a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a large long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. If you take medication, the decision is based on how your impairment would affect you if you didn’t take the medication. So, to ask whether diabetes fits the description of disability, you must consider the effect of diabetes if it wasn’t being treated. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has guidance for employers and workers on the Equality Act which gives information on what the law means in practice and includes practical examples. For a more detailed description of the legislation and to see the Act itself, go to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Equality Advisory Support Service can also provide further advice.  

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is where you should go for more information and advice about the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and how that applies to you in Northern Ireland. 

You can also contact our  helpline staff who are here to support you if you're having issues at work.

 

Risk assessments 

If your workplace has over five employees, you have a right to a risk assessment for coronavirus (as you would for other health and safety hazards). 

This could help you and your employer to find out what reasonable adjustments could make the workplace safer. 

A Public Health England report titled 'Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19' (PDF, 2.9MB) found that people with diabetes are at an increased risk of poor outcomes if they catch the virus, and this must be considered in your risk assessment. 

As part of this assessment process, employers have a duty to consult their staff and should share the final assessment with you.

You can request that your employer involve occupational health in this process. This will mean that a professional, with an understanding of your condition, can help you and your employer understand what can be done to keep you safe.  

There are several risk assessment tools that might be used to look at your individual risk, but we do not recommend any tool in particular. This is because they generally do not consider the different factors that make up the risk for people with diabetes or calculate the risk of having more than one condition. 

If you're not sure what to say to your employer when asking for a risk assessment, you can use our template letter (Word, 23KB). 

Many of you have told us about the challenges you're experiencing with being safe at work. This needs to change. Find out how we're pushing the government to keep you safe at work

Reasonable adjustments 

Disability law is about making everything fairer by making sure people with a disability have the same chance at a career as others. This means your employer may need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so you can do your job. 

For example, if you have diabetes and need to eat at set times to stay on top of your blood sugar levels, having your lunch break swapped around every day on a rota could make this difficult. A reasonable adjustment could be for your employer to allow you to have your lunch break at the same time every day. 

During the pandemic, you may want to discuss changing your hours slightly so you can avoid the busiest times on public transport. 

Where you can’t be 2 metres apart while at work, employers should do everything practical to manage the risk of spreading the virus. This might mean working back-to-back or with plastic screens for instance. If this isn't possible, employers have to carefully assess whether this is an acceptable risk.

You can get advice on reasonable adjustments from the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at your local Jobcentre Plus office, or the Disability Employment Service if you’re in Northern Ireland.  

Access to Work  is a government programme to help keep people with long-term conditions and disabilities in work. You should speak to them if your employer can’t or isn’t willing to make reasonable adjustments so that you can carry on working. 

There’s more detail about employer obligations on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website

Having conversations with your employer about your risk 

The government classifies people with diabetes as ‘clinically vulnerable’. This means that there is an increased risk of severe illness if you catch coronavirus.  But not everyone’s level of risk is the same. 

In May, NHS England published a review which showed that for younger people with diabetes under the age of 50, the risk of becoming seriously ill was not necessarily higher than for people without diabetes. Your risk can also vary depending on your overall health, ethnicity and other factors.  Read more about how coronavirus affects people with diabetes

If you feel that you are at higher risk you should talk to your employer about why and how to make the workplace safer for you or if changes can be made to make the environment safer, such as undertaking a different role or working at home.  

If your employer is asking you to complete your own risk assessment and you’re not sure what you should be asking for, contact our helpline.

If your area is under a local lockdown or other restrictions, you and your employer should look at specific guidance. This will be available from your local council.  

Tools to help you 

We’ve put together a template letter (Word, 23KB) you can send your employer to request a risk assessment. 

We’ve also come up with a checklist below to support this conversation. Not everything may apply to you personally, but it should help guide you on what to say:  

  • Have you asked your employer about doing a risk assessment of the workplace?  
  • Have you seen the risk assessment?  
  • Have you been involved in the risk assessment process?  
  • If you feel you’re at higher risk, have you asked whether occupational health can be involved in an individual risk assessment?  
  • Have you discussed if you can continue working from home with your employer? 
  • Have you discussed any issues relating to your journey to work with your employer? Could you ask your employer about altering your hours to avoid having to travel during the busiest times? 
  • Has your employer made reasonable changes to your workplace to enable you to work as safely as possible, such as social distancing, plastic screens and extra cleaning?  
  • Have you been given access to any personal protective equipment (PPE) you might need to do your job safely?  
  • If your area is subject to a ‘local lockdown’ has your employer said what they would expect you to do? 

What if I don’t want to tell my employer I have diabetes? 

If you feel unable to tell your employer you have diabetes, you may wish to seek a fit note from your GP.  This may simply be a recommendation that you work from home or in a different role given the functional impact of your condition. Ideally it should also state that this condition has lasted or will last for more than 12 months so it is clear that your condition is classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010).

Your employer should meet the recommendations of a registered medical professional. However, ideally the letter would mention your condition to make sure you benefit from protection under EA 2010. 

What to do if your workplace isn’t Covid-19 secure 

If you’re concerned that your place of work is not Covid-19 secure, for example, if you feel unsafe about not being able to socially distance or you are without adequate protections, there are things that you can do.  

You should firstly ask to see what risk assessment your employer has done. However, if this is not provided by your employer, or the risk assessment doesn’t address your concerns, you may want to talk to a union or staff representative.  

If you have raised concerns about your safety with your employer but don’t feel they have been addressed, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive. They are the government body responsible for safety at work. If you have a trade union, you can also contact them. And remember, you can call our helpline for advice too. 

If your employer is refusing to make adjustments for you to take account of your diabetes, you may be being discriminated against. If you think you’ve been discriminated against, contact our helpline and we will advise on where best to turn. 

If you’ve had any issues at work, we want to hear from you – share your story and we can make an even stronger case for better workplace protection for people with diabetes. 

Get a letter of support directly from us

We can provide you with a letter of support from us, explaining to your employer that diabetes is a ‘clinically vulnerable’ condition. This will help to explain to your employer that they must keep your diabetes at the centre of any decisions about going back to your workplace.  

If you think this would help your employer to understand how best to support you, contact our campaigns team at campaigns@diabetes.org.uk.   

By sharing this information with your employer with a letter of support, we hope to remind them of their responsibilities to you as an employee. Although we cannot include personal information about you or your diabetes, we will be able to explain why it is so important for your employer to take steps to keep you safe as a person with diabetes.  

Managing your diabetes at work

Like anyone, your stress levels are likely to be higher when working, which can make managing your diabetes more difficult. This is even more important during the pandemic, especially if your work and home are the same right now. Make sure you take time out to relax throughout the day. And talk to your manager about flexible working options, which can make it easier to manage your diabetes and do your work. 

The better your colleagues understand your diabetes, the easier it will be to get the support you need. A good first step can be to share our information on Diabetes: the basics and let them know about our guide for employers Supporting people with diabetes in the workplace

Encourage your colleagues to ask you questions and give them the information they need to help. Reassure them that you’re in control of your condition and it’s nothing to worry about. 

If you didn’t talk about your diabetes when you applied for the job, it’s a good idea to tell your line manager about it sooner rather than later. They’ve already decided you’re the best person for the job and will want you to be the best you can be at work. And if they don’t know about your diabetes, they may not be able to give you the support you need. 

You can also download our  Guide for people with diabetes at work (PDF, 1MB). 

While working, it’s more important than ever to be organised to manage your diabetes safely. Put reminders for blood sugar tests and injections in your calendar. Look at what meetings you have at the start of the day so you can plan around them. 

“I've had to make some adjustments at work – regular breaks, keeping Jelly Babies nearby and letting my managers know about my condition. I've also told all my colleagues too, which is not something everyone does, but I feel safer knowing they know.”

Online forum member

Treating your diabetes at work

If you inject insulin and monitor your blood glucose levels, you will know these are things you need to do to keep safe. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it. Explain to your colleagues what you’re doing and don’t feel the need to hide in the toilet. 

If you’re at risk of hypos, tell your colleagues how to spot the symptoms and how to treat one. This will make sure you get the right help and stop them panicking because they don’t know what to do. Talk to your first-aider so they know how to act in an emergency.

If you have a hypo at work, talk to your colleagues afterwards. Explain why it might have happened, as although you don't always know why you have a hypo, some things make them more likely. Let them know it can happen if diabetes is treated with insulin or certain diabetes medication.

Time off work for illness and check-ups

Everybody needs time off work when they’re unwell or have a medical appointment – whether they have diabetes or not. Diabetes doesn’t mean you’re more likely to be ill, and this includes being no more likely to catch coronavirus than anyone else. You’re probably taking better care of your health than someone without the condition.

You’ll need regular check-ups as part of your 15 Healthcare Essentials. Make sure your line manager understands why these checks are necessary – don’t apologise for them. 

It’s important to read your organisation’s policy on time off for medical appointments and managing long-term conditions, because the rules vary between workplaces. Try to arrange multiple appointments in the same morning or afternoon if you can and give your manager plenty of notice. 

Always seek medical attention when you’re ill. Don’t wait until it’s urgent. And keep your employer up to date with what’s happening so that they can support you in the best way possible. 

You may need time off to support someone with diabetes. Find out your employer’s policy on care leave. Talk to your manager about the condition and how you’re helping, so they understand how important it is.

Discuss options for flexible working if you need to give long-term support. And remember to look after your own emotional wellbeing – is there an employee assistance programme or in-house counsellor you can talk to?

“I work for a council and was penalised for taking time off for appointments that I had no control over the timing of. I got in touch with HR and now I can attend appointments without losing out financially.”

Online forum member

Time off work for a diabetes education course

Going on a virtual diabetes education course may mean time off work. 

Explain to your line manager that the course will help you manage your diabetes and mean you’re less likely to need time off in future. And you’ll have a lower risk of developing diabetes related complications that could affect your work. Some course providers, like DAFNE, have materials you can pass on to your employer that explain the benefits. 

Use our template letter to put your leave request in writing. You can ask a member of your healthcare team to write to your employer explaining why the course is important and how it can improve your health in the long term. You may have the right to go on a course under the Equality Act.

If taking time off isn’t possible, or classroom-based learning isn’t right for you, check with your healthcare team about evening, weekend or digital courses. You can also sign up to our Learning Zone for free educational support online that’s tailored to your needs.

Applying for a job with diabetes

When you apply for a new job, your potential employer will want to find out if you fit the person specification and have the necessary skills and experience for the role. If you meet the needs of the job description, you should feel confident. Having diabetes doesn’t mean you’re less likely to get the job.

For most jobs, there’s no legal obligation to tell an employer you have diabetes. The Equality Act makes it unlawful for them to ask about your health before offering you work. 

But talking about your diabetes from the start can show that you’re positive about your condition. It can even be an opportunity to give examples of how resourceful and well organised you are. 

In some cases, the organisation may ask if you have a disability. For example:

  • to find out if you need any support during the recruitment process,
  • to increase the representation of disabled people in the organisation,
  • if they have signed up to the 'Disability Confident' scheme, committing to offer disabled people an interview if they meet the minimum criteria for the role,
  • or to monitor how many disabled people apply for jobs.

Telling them about your diabetes shouldn’t affect your application. Any information you give them must be kept separate and confidential.

Some professions do have special requirements because of the demands of the role. The employer will need to decide whether your diabetes poses any additional risk at work. If your condition could stop you carrying out your responsibilities or make you unsafe, think about reasonable adjustments that would make it possible for you to do the job. 

If you are applying for a job that involves driving, we have information on how to apply for a licence for different vehicles.

Employers that don’t allow people with diabetes

We’ve campaigned successfully to stop employers banning people with diabetes from applying for roles. But we still have work to do.

  • Emergency services. Blanket bans have now been lifted for people with type 1 diabetes and people with type 2 diabetes using insulin. It’s now up to your local service to decide – they will have their own rules. For example, some NHS Ambulance Trusts have rules about people with diabetes applying for jobs as ambulance crew. You should expect to be fairly assessed against these rules by someone who understands the role and how diabetes is managed.
  • The UK armed forces are exempt from the Equality Act and have a blanket ban on employing people with diabetes.

Being self-employed with diabetes

Get the latest government advice for self-employed people during the pandemic. 

Self-employment can seem like the easier option when you have diabetes. But you shouldn’t feel like it’s your only choice. Weigh up your options carefully and decide what will work best for you.

Being self-employed gives you more flexibility to attend appointments. And working from home means you can treat your diabetes more easily in privacy, if you prefer this. But self-employed people don’t get sick or holiday pay. And working alone can mean you lack the support of colleagues and the social benefits of teamwork.

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