Diabetes Canada believes a person with diabetes should be eligible for employment in any occupation for which he or she is individually qualified.
Employers have the duty to accommodate employees with diabetes unless the employer can show it to cause undue hardship to the organization.
Read the Diabetes Canada's full position statement on employment, including background and rationale.
Workplace discrimination for people living with diabetes
Discrimination can come in many forms. It is possible that an employer may refuse to hire you after an employment medical, limit your job responsibilities or promotions, or fire you. Sometimes an employer might simply not bother to find out what diabetes really involves and take the easy option of employing someone they don’t see as a risk.
Here are some examples of discrimination in the workplace:
- You inquire about applying to be an officer with the city police department and are told they do not hire people with diabetes.
- After experiencing a hypoglycemic reaction at your workplace, you are terminated from your job.
- Despite requesting a regularly scheduled morning coffee break to test your blood glucose and eat a snack, your employer makes you work through until lunchtime.
- After the employment medical, your job offer is rescinded because you have type 1 diabetes.
- "We do not hire people with diabetes."
- "People with diabetes do not meet the medical requirements for this job."
- "People with diabetes using insulin are unfit for employment in this job."
It is discriminatory practice for an employer to establish a policy that denies employment opportunities on a prohibited ground of discrimination (i.e. diabetes) unless the employer can establish the practice to be a bona fide occupational requirement and therefore impossible to accommodate.
Many blanket policies are a result of long-standing practices, often the result of outdated ideas about diabetes. Although there are fewer blanket policies these days, some still remain for people with diabetes, especially for those using insulin.
What you can do about unfair treatment in the workplace
Problems in the workplace can sometimes be resolved by educating your employer about diabetes and about your medical needs.
When education isn’t enough, try to negotiate a resolution to the problem. Call on others to help, including colleagues, your diabetes team, union or elected official.
Other times, you will need to take more formal action by filing a lawsuit or human rights complaint.
The federal parliament and provincial legislatures in Canada have enacted human rights legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of physical disability. As defined within the context of human rights law, diabetes is a disability for which discrimination is prohibited.
Although employers and others are not permitted to discriminate against people with diabetes, sometimes it occurs because of a lack of correct information about diabetes or assumptions made about diabetes.
The Canadian Human Rights Act
In the case of discrimination in the workplace, if you are employed in federal work, the matter would come under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Subsection 3 (1), paragraph 7 (a) and section 14 of the Canadian Human Rights Act stipulates the following:
3 (1) For all purposes of this Act, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted are prohibited grounds of discrimination.
7. It is discriminatory practice, directly or indirectly
(a) to refuse to employ or continue to employ an individual on a prohibited ground of discrimination.
Provincial and Territorial Human Rights Codes
People who are not employed in federal work are governed by the laws of the province or territory in which they work. Provincial and territorial human rights codes prohibit discrimination on the ground of disability.
Duty to accommodate
Human rights legislation specifies that an employer must accommodate a person with diabetes up to the point of "undue hardship". This means that an employer must do what is necessary in the workplace to enable a person with diabetes to perform the essential duties of a job unless the employer would suffer undue hardship in terms of health, safety and cost.
For example, if an employee with diabetes requires regularly scheduled breaks during the day to have a snack or to administer insulin, the employer would be legally obligated in the vast majority of cases to permit such a break.
Other requests for accommodation might include:
- a private area to test blood sugar levels or to take insulin;
- a place to rest until blood sugar levels become normal after treating low blood glucose;
- a place to store snacks for treatment of hypoglycemia; and
- time off to attend medical appointments.
These are the types of accommodations most commonly requested by employees with diabetes, but other employees may need different adjustments or changes. Employers should ask the particular employee requesting accommodation what he or she needs that will help to get the job done.
If a request for reasonable accommodation is declined, an employee can file a human rights complaint against his or her employer.
Filing a human rights complaint
If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of diabetes, you should discuss your complaint and the process with a human rights officer with either the Canadian Human Rights Commission (for federal issues) or your provincial/territorial human rights commission (for provincial/territorial issues).
There are deadlines to filing a human rights complaint, so it should be done as soon as possible following the discriminatory action or event.
Provincial/Territorial Human Rights Commissions locations:
- British Columbia
- Yukon Territory
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Prince Edward Island
Disclosure of your diabetes
Your medical information is confidential unless you work in a safety-sensitive position. Examples include:
- police officers;
- commercial pilots and cabin crew;
- train engineers;
- train conductors;
- heavy machinery operators; and
- professional/commercial drivers.
These jobs require a determination of medical fitness as a part of the employment selection process and then regularly thereafter. Mental and physical fitness is mandatory. Impaired performance due to a medical condition like diabetes could result in an incident affecting the health and safety of employees, the public, property or the environment.
It is discriminatory to deny employment because of diabetes. However, applicants and employees with diabetes may be required to demonstrate that their diabetes is well managed and their risk of hypoglycemia is low.
If you are not working in safety-sensitive position, unless health-related questions are directly related to a specific job requirement, you are not required to report medical information (like a diagnosis of diabetes) on an employment application or in an employment interview.
Similarly, if you are already working, your employer does not need to be informed about a new diagnosis of diabetes unless you wish to disclose or you need your employer to provide appropriate accommodation to help manage to your diabetes.
Occupations that a person with diabetes is not permitted to have
Generally, these restrictions apply to those requiring insulin to manage their diabetes and may include:
- certain jobs within the Canadian Armed Forces;
- commercial driving into the United States; and
- certain jobs taking place on a ship sailing into international waters.
Dealing with unfair treatment in the workplace as a union member
When a union employee faces discrimination at work because of diabetes, there may be sufficient grounds to initiate a grievance under the Collective Agreement. A concerned employee should take the matter up with his/her union representative. In most cases, the union has a duty to pursue the grievance on behalf of the employee and will cover the costs incurred to do so.
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