To tell or not to tell?

A prospective employer isn’t normally allowed to ask you about your health or disability unless it’s strictly relevant to the tasks required of the job, or to make reasonable adjustments for you.

It’s normally not essential that your work needs to know about your health unless it’s relevant to the tasks required in your job. But it’s important that your tell your employer about your type 1 diabetes if you want them to make reasonable adjustments, like taking breaks to check your blood glucose or treat hypos. Any medical information your employer holds about you is subject to strict data protection law.

It’s up to you whether you want to tell your work colleagues about your type 1 diabetes. If you choose to tell them, you should be prepared for them asking questions or making comments, some of which may seem inappropriate. This is because many people don’t understand what type 1 diabetes means or they assume it’s treated in the same way as type 2 diabetes. Talking about how you developed your type 1 diabetes and how you treat it, can be helpful.

Job interviews

Again, it’s you choice whether you tell your prospective employers, but it does sometime have its drawbacks. While people with type 1 diabetes are able to do any job, some employers may be reluctant to employ someone with the condition due to misconceptions. For example, they may wrongly assume that people with type 1 diabetes can’t do a job that requires regular driving.

It is possible to turn type 1 diabetes into a positive. People with type 1 have to be aware of the time, keep to a routine, follow a healthy lifestyle and attend regular clinic appointments. These are all qualities which demonstrate responsibility, self-discipline and organisational skills – traits that employers seek when recruiting. So being open and honest about your condition, and emphasising these traits at an interview can help you to land your dream job. It’ll also mean that it won’t cause you any problems once you are employed.

Dealing with discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 protects people with type 1 diabetes from discrimination at work, and requires an employer to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants who are disadvantaged as a result of their disability, like taking a short break to treat a hypo or check your blood glucose level. In Northern Ireland, employees are protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Discrimination can come in many forms. Often, discrimination in the workplace occurs because employers and co-workers don’t understand type 1 diabetes and how it’s managed. Your employer may be concerned about loss of work time and productivity, which could influence their decision about whether to hire or support you.

Despite all the advances in managing type 1 diabetes, there are some jobs that are restricted for people with type 1 diabetes. Jobs that require using heavy machinery or vehicles may be considered risky because of the chance of hypos, and in the UK people with type 1 diabetes are still restricted from driving trains or being commercial airline pilots. The armed forces are also exempt from the Equality Act and do not recruit people with type 1 diabetes.

There are also choice you need to make about the type of work you do. For instance, if you have foot problems, wearing steel-toed boots on a cold concrete floor for 12 hours a day may not be for you. Similarly, if you have retinopathy or a heart condition, you should not be performing tasks such as heavy lifting. Speak with your healthcare team if you have concerns about the possible health risks associated with the demands of your job.

You can get more information about the Equality Act and your rights on the UK Government website.