At work

Living with type 1 diabetes should not affect your working life.  Millions of people with type 1 diabetes experience rewarding careers. Remember, managing your diabetes means fitting diabetes into your life, not your life into diabetes. Follow our top tips to make your working day easier.

Top tips for managing diabetes in the workplace

Start the day well: even if you’re short of time in the morning you should never miss breakfast. Not eating first thing in the day can lead to low blood glucose levels, especially if you are taking insulin or other medications that increase your insulin levels. Hypoglycaemia can affect your health, and possibly your performance and safety at work 

Planning meals: eating healthily during the day away from home can be challenging. You may want to take your own packed lunch and snacks to work – if you prepare your own you'll know exactly what you're eating and be able to plan for healthy options. If you use a work canteen or shop, get to know what the healthy choices are for you

Testing and injecting: make sure you have access to a place where you feel comfortable and where hygiene is not an issue – some people do this at their desks, or in the canteen, while some prefer a more private area

Pens and medication: if you inject medication, it will probably make you feel more comfortable if you keep a spare pen at work in case you forget or lose yours. If you need to keep medication in a fridge, make sure it is well labelled with the contents and your name – there may be two or more patients with diabetes using the same fridge, so this will help to avoid medication errors. Let everyone know what it is so that it doesn’t get thrown away by mistake. You should also make sure that you use the medication up before the expiry date. Remember insulin is only good for 28–42 days, depending on the insulin, once you have started the cartridge or the vial

Your legal rights

Although you probably don’t consider yourself to have a disability, workers with diabetes will often be protected by the relevant disability law for each country.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) is a global organisation promoting diabetes care and prevention worldwide. It developed the first ever Charter of Rights for people with diabetes, which contains key statements relating to employment. Many countries have also developed a similar charter for people living with diabetes.

It states that people with diabetes have a right to:

be treated fairly in employment and career progression while acknowledging that there are certain occupations where identifiable risks may limit the employment of people with diabetes

be fully supported in... ...workplaces and be given time to attend medical appointments, as well as the time and privacy to self-test and administer medicines in a clean and safe environment

When to tell recruiters

Whether you're taking your first step on the career 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.

It can be difficult to decide when to tell recruiters about your diabetes. There’s usually no legal requirement to disclose diabetes and the decision is up to you. Employers are generally not allowed to ask questions about health or disability at interviews. 

Once you have passed the interview stage and have been offered a job, the employer is then allowed to ask appropriate health-related questions to ensure that you are able to do the job or to find out if there are reasonable adjustments needed for your employment. 

Reasonable adjustments can be things like taking breaks to check your blood glucose or treat hypos, providing a private place to inject, or taking time off work to attend a clinic appointment.

If you feel discriminated against at work, or that you might have been turned down for a job because of your diabetes, you may need specialist advice if you wish to challenge employment decisions. 

Type 1 patient (Cesar) sitting outdoors holding a cup

Telling your colleagues

It’s up to you whether you want to tell your work colleagues about your diabetes. Many people don’t understand diabetes, so when you tell your colleagues it’s useful to provide a simple explanation of the condition with some guidance about what to if you became unwell, e.g. a procedure to follow if you experience a hypo.

Reassure them that this is something you can normally control yourself and is unlikely to happen, so that they don’t feel alarmed or nervous about helping you if needed. Talking to the first aider is probably a good plan and having a written guide on the wall next to your desk may help.  

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