As a person living with diabetes (either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes), you have legal rights in the workplace, all laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's a good idea, though, to diplomatically educate your co-workers and employer about diabetes—that can help prevent and solve virtually every work bias or problem with co-workers.
As with some other issues, there is a bit of misperception and lack of knowledge when it comes to diabetes. By helping your co-workers understand your condition, you help them overcome any bias (thinking, for example, that you "brought this on yourself" or "aren't taking good care of yourself.").
In 2006, the New York Times published an article that showed how a mechanic, mortgage loan officer, saleswoman, and manufacturing employee living with diabetes were all adversely affected because of the ways others handled the facts that they lived with diabetes.1
While these cases are probably extremes, you may have challenging moments when you have to address misunderstandings about diabetes at your work.
What to Let Your Co-workers Know about Diabetes
Let your boss and co-workers know why you keep food close by, and that you may suddenly snack if your blood glucose level drops.
If you test your blood glucose (blood sugar), explain why—especially if testing in private is not practical where you work.
If you are insulin-dependent, let people around you know that everyone needs insulin, and you get all or some of yours from an injection a few times each day.
Once people understand these diabetes basics, it will be easy to erase biases by explaining how it is natural for you to be productive and safe at work.
For instance, if someone expresses a concern about your potential to faint, just explain: "I would get a headache and feel a little nauseated long before I would faint. When I feel that headache and nausea, I test my blood sugar. It usually tells me I'm a little low, so I eat something. Within minutes, I'm doing great. I would only faint if I ignored the headache and nausea for 30 minutes."
Most employers are fair, and most co-workers are reasonable. Educating about diabetes will resolve most of the biases that arise. While discrimination may still occur and you may need to assert your legal rights, make sure you attempt to educate your co-workers and employer about diabetes diplomatically before you take that legal route.