Starting a new job is always stressful, full of apprehension and excitement. That’s especially true for those of us living with diabetes, because one of the first questions we ask ourselves is, “Should I tell my colleagues that I have diabetes?”
The regulations are clear on the subject when you work in certain positions that require disclosure for the safety of customers, colleagues or the public at large, but it’s your own choice whether to talk about it or not when you work in a large number of positions. Let’s take a closer look.
What the regulations say
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is very clear when it comes to health: after making a job offer, an employer may ask questions about the applicant’s health (including questions about the applicant’s disability) and may require a medical examination, as long as all applicants for the same type of job are treated equally (that is, all applicants are asked the same questions and are required to take the same examination). After an employer has obtained basic medical information from all individuals who have received job offers, it may ask specific individuals for more medical information if it is medically related to the previously obtained medical information1.
As with any job, the new hire will need to pass a medical exam. No one has to say that they are living with diabetes, but it is advisable to mention it. The physician is bound by professional confidentiality. They are not authorized to reveal information about employees’ health to the employer. Their job is to assess the person’s fitness (fit for the position, fit for the position with restrictions or modifications, or unfit for the position). The employer must comply with the physician’s assessment.
To tell or not to tell about your diabetes: that is the question
Telling or not telling your colleagues about your diabetes is your own personal choice. Whatever decision you make, both have their advantages and disadvantages.
If you decide to tell your colleagues that you’re living with diabetes, and something happens to you, they will already know that you have a chronic disease and can act accordingly. By talking about your diabetes at work, you may be able to take advantage of special accommodations (breaks based on your injection schedule and meals, modification of your work station to help with physical limitations, etc.).
When they’re aware of the situation, some colleagues will be particularly supportive to a new recruit who has diabetes. If you experience hypo– or hyperglycemia at work, they’ll give you time to manage the situation calmly. They may even bring you something to bring your blood sugar levels back up if you need it!
Talking about your diabetes at work might make other colleagues uncomfortable. People living with diabetes often worry that they’ll experience discrimination, or that their colleagues will see their diabetes as a handicap. It’s subjective, and depends entirely on the person.
If you decide not to talk about your diabetes at work, you won’t have to worry about discrimination. But you’ll miss out on any possible assistance. If you don’t want your colleagues to know that you have diabetes, you’ll need to be careful and vigilant about your injections, monitoring your blood sugar level and adjusting it when necessary, and, as much as possible, hiding your diabetes management supplies.
You’ve decided to tell them you have diabetes. All right, but when?
For those who decide to tell their colleagues and/or manager(s) about their diabetes, there are several good options:
- During your first few days on the job
- When it can be brought up naturally in conversation
We each have to choose the right moment based on our own feelings and how things are “going” with our new colleagues.
You are under no obligation to mention your diabetes when you are hired; talking about it or not is your choice. It may also depend on your position, and any limits imposed by your job and your diabetes.