The UK’s increasingly diabetic workforce

~ Here’s what you need to know as an Employer or an Employee with diabetes~

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition which is the result of the body being unable to break down glucose (sugar) into energy. This is either because the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to metabolise glucose or because the insulin produced by the body does not work properly.

Diabetes UK reports that since 1996 the number of people with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled from 1.4 million to 3.5 million. By 2025, it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes in the UK.

There are 2 types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes – This develops when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed by the immune system so the body cannot maintain normal glucose levels. This accounts for only around 10% of all cases of diabetes and is controlled through regular, life-long insulin injections. Type 1 diabetes is an irreversible condition.
  • Type 2 diabetes – This occurs when the body is not making enough insulin and is most common in middle aged or older people. However, it is becoming increasingly common in younger, overweight people and can be linked to lifestyle choices. To some extent, Type 2 diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise, although many people with Type 2 diabetes will also require medication (usually in the form of oral tablets rather than insulin) to control glucose levels.

Diabetes in the workplace and discrimination

Diabetes UK has found that one in six working people with diabetes feel that they’ve been discriminated against by their employer because of their condition. This reiterates the importance of having a basic understanding of such a condition to avoid lengthy litigation and tribunal claims.

More than one third (37%) of respondents in a survey conducted by Diabetes UK said that living with diabetes had caused them difficulty at work, while 7% had not told their employer that they have the condition. A quarter of people said that they would like time off work for diabetes-related appointments and the flexibility to take regular breaks for testing their blood sugar or to take medication.

Helen Dickens, Assistant Director of Campaigns and Mobilisation at Diabetes UK, said:

“Discrimination and difficulties come about because employers lack knowledge about diabetes and do not understand its impact. We need to talk more about the condition and the many ways it affects people’s lives in order to persuade places of work to offer greater understanding and flexibility. Everyone deserves to work in an environment where they can ask for the support they need.”

Diabetes, as with many other medical conditions, can affect productivity if not controlled properly, or if the correct adjustments are not put in place.

Perhaps most significantly, diabetics can sometimes go into a ‘hypoglycaemic state’; this is when they are having a hypoglycaemia (commonly referred to as a ‘hypo’ between diabetics). This occurs when the level of glucose present in the blood falls below a safe point. The symptoms can vary from shaking, to excessive sweating to temporary blindness and confusion. Those in a hypoglycaemic state are also often unable concentrate and focus upon a task. The best treatment is to immediately have a sugary drink or snack, but in severe cases, emergency medical assistance may be required.

 

What can you do as an employer to assist a diabetic employee?

There are many small and simple changes which an employer can make to support a diabetic employee. We would advise that, initially, employers meet with their employees to ensure clarity and to understand the employee’s needs to ensure maximum productivity and to ensure that their diabetes will not becoming a barrier to them completing tasks efficiently.

Some examples of agreed changes are as follows:

  • Have an agreed regime of breaks and meal times to ensure that the individual with diabetes eats and checks their blood sugar regularly, especially to avoid hypos.
  • Allowing time off for medical reviews, blood tests for HBA1C checks and appointments.
  • If the employee has a hypo, allow them to have a 20-minute break (or as agreed) so that they can recover.
  • Make everyone in the office aware (if the individual feels comfortable to do so) that the colleague may check their blood sugar with an electronic device frequently. This is especially important where an electronic device in the workplace policy is in place; it should be explained as to why the diabetic is exempt from that rule.
  • Ensure that a diabetic employee has access to a kitchen or a snack drawer which contains sugary snacks, glucose tablets and some carbohydrate dense snacks.
  • Provide a secure fridge compartment to store insulin.
  • Include diabetes specifically in any Disability or Equal Opportunities Policy to outline provisions and rights which apply to the individual and who they should contact should they need to arrange a meeting regarding their condition.

If you need more information on ways in which you can assist a diabetic employee or wish for us to review any content of your Staff Handbook, you can contact one of our solicitors in the contact us section.

 

Diabetic employees: do you know your rights?

Often people with diabetes do not think of themselves as having a disability, but in many cases, they will be covered by the definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that has a substantial long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

If you feel unsure of your rights or are concerned that you may have been discriminated against, you can contact us for more information on your options and comprehensive legal advice. Click on the contact us page to get in touch.

~ Sonia Kullar

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