Why employ diabetics?

There are four million diabetics in the UK, over half are of working age – but should you employ any of them?

Theresa May is, of course diabetic, as are Sir Steve Redgrave and Tom Hanks to name just three high achievers. Words and phrases such as “blighted by diabetes”, debilitating, “exhausting and stressful” (as used by the Daily Express) are a jinx on those of us with well controlled diabetes. Even the suggestion that Type 2 diabetes is a “lifelong condition” is open to question.

And yet, according to Diabetes UK, one diabetics in six says their employer makes life more difficult because of their diabetes. Some “use their annual holiday allocation to attend vital check-ups” others “are forced to take time off for medical appointments” while it is claimed that “sufferers are apparently quitting jobs due to lack of understanding”.

Diabetes is a serious illness increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes, it is the major cause of avoidable blindness and it can lead to amputations.

But despite the hype, for most it is a manageable condition and will affect their effectiveness as employees only at the margin, if at all.

How can employers help?

Privacy

Many who need to inject insulin seek privacy; as once someone told me, it is not great doing it in the toilet. Most can inject discreetly but I assume they too would appreciate privacy.

Concessionary time off

Most doctors surgeries offer regular check-ups for diabetics (a blood test and half-hour appointment). Mine does so once a year. There is also an annual NHS retinal photograph (20 minutes) for early detection of eye problems.

Make healthy meals available

I put my diabetes down to hotel breakfasts and dinners while working nationally. Bacon butties may be welcomed by some but if you are providing meals to employees it is better to include a healthier option.

Encourage exercise

Gym membership might be an employee benefit worth funding. But cycling to work (see my blog on the subject), longer lunch breaks (allowing time for a walk) and encouraging use of stairs all provide exercise.

Understanding

Many diabetics claim that employers don’t understand them. Understanding is often simply a matter of careful listening and a willingness to respond to reasonable requests.

The legal position

Diabetics (at the time of writing) are not automatically covered under the Equality Act and after all we don’t necessarily regard ourselves as disabled. Disability only arises when our ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities is adversely impeded.

For those that do have a disability there is a requirement to carry out reasonable adjustments. Think how much it costs you to recruit an employee. If an adjustment would cost less, then you can easily justify providing an adjustment on cost grounds.

There might come a time when a diabetic is no longer capable of carrying out the work they are employed to do. Before you can dismiss such employees there are a few checks that need to be made, for example is there work that they could still do? Equally important, or perhaps more important, is to follow a procedure carefully before any dismissal. The idea that you cannot dismiss an employee who has a disability, such as diabetes, is a myth. But what you cannot do is to dismiss them for that reason alone – and why would you?

In short, diabetics are as capable as anyone one else – bearing in mind that there is a huge variation in the capability of “anyone else”! So yes, of course you should employ diabetics – you may even be doing so without knowing.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

Type 2 diabetic 12 years

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