The content on this page is informational only and does not take the place of medical advice or guidance. Please reach out to your healthcare team if you have questions or concerns about your diabetes management.
Work life with diabetes
Diabetes is becoming increasingly prevalent in the workplace, with 34 million people in the U.S. ages 18 years or older diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.1
Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person’s body either doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t make any at all because the pancreas stops producing insulin.
With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas can still make insulin, but either it doesn’t make enough, or the body’s cells don’t respond to it as effectively as they used to.
Diabetes typically does not impact someone’s ability to work as long as they are managing their blood glucose levels.
Should you tell your employer if you have diabetes?
It's an individual decision for people living with diabetes on whether or not to disclose this information. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a law created to protect employees with medical conditions or disabilities from discrimination. It applies to employment agencies who have 15 or more employees, state and local governments, unions, and private companies. (Employees who work for the executive branch of the federal government are covered under The Rehabilitation Act.)
Here’s what the ADA has to say:
When applying for a job
People with diabetes are not required to tell a potential employer about their diabetes. And the employer is not allowed to ask about a job-seeker’s medical condition. In addition, potential employers also cannot ask about medications, or whether the applicant has taken medical or sick leave.
In addition, if an applicant voluntarily discloses their condition, the employer is not allowed to ask follow-up questions and must keep information about their condition completely confidential.
Having diabetes is not something employees are required to disclose to their employer, unless they wish to do so. And the ADA only allows employers to ask about an employee’s medical condition under certain circumstances.
Note that the ADA also requires employers to meet any reasonable accommodations request related to a medical condition, so employees with diabetes may want to consider telling their employer about their condition if they:
- Have a lot of doctor’s appointments during working hours
- Require extra breaks to test and treat blood sugar issues
- Need a private place to test their blood sugar or inject insulin
- Require a place to store insulin and testing supplies
When facing discrimination
These resources can help if other methods of communicating with an employer about reasonable accommodation or other issues aren’t working.
Managing diabetes at work
Tight blood sugar management is important to overall health, and when it comes to work, it can become vital, especially for jobs that require operating heavy machinery.
Whether driving a truck or working a desk job, here are some self-care steps to make diabetes management easier while working:
- Keep healthy snacks on hand.
- Plan healthy meals and don’t skip them.
- Keep quick-acting carbohydrates like hard candies or glucose tablets nearby.
- Keep diabetes supplies within reach.
- Regularly self-monitor for low glucose symptoms.
- Consider using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to automatically check blood sugar levels throughout the day.
- Get up and move every 30 minutes.
- Let a work friend know where the diabetes supplies are, and what to do in case of emergency.
Night shifts and diabetes
Be aware, managing blood sugars can be especially difficult for people with diabetes who work nights or shifts that alternate day and night work hours. This is because circadian rhythms – or the body’s internal clock – can get disrupted, throwing off metabolism and the hormones that regulate sleepiness and wakefulness.
Working nights can lead to insomnia, and physical and emotional strain, which puts even more stress on the body, triggering hormones that can elevate glucose levels
This is why it’s important for shift workers to plan ahead for meals and snacks, understand when to take their medications, get restful sleep, and regularly check their glucose levels.
To learn more, check out these additional tips for shift workers from the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.
Living with diabetes can be a challenge, but you don’t need to manage it alone. We’re here to help.
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2. Manodpitipong A, Saetung S. et al. Night-shift work is associated with poorer glycaemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. J Sleep Res. 2017 Dec;26(6):764-772. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12554. Epub 2017 May 26. PMID: 28548389.