Fired for Type 1 Diabetes?

A young woman newly diagnosed with Type 1 says she got the pink slip for diabetes health complications.



I juggle three different autoimmune conditions: Graves, Autoimmune Urticaria, and now Type 1 diabetes, but I often don’t look like I’m suffering. In a way it’s useful – if I have to go to someone’s birthday when I feel ill, at least folks won’t worry that I’ll infect them.

There’s a darker side to these often invisible conditions, though, as I’ve had many doctors, friends, and even family accuse me of laziness and depression. It took years of arguing, trying harsh meds, and frustration before I could prove that I was suffering from autoimmune problems.

While trying to stay healthy, I appreciate when I can accomplish normal things in life, like landing a minimum-wage job at a sports-bar in Glasgow, Scotland. I felt lucky to land the job at the sports-bar, especially since the management seemed so understanding of my health challenges. They knew that I was trying my best to stay working, even with my new Type 1 diagnosis. The chefs were fantastic at helping me figure out the carb count of all the menu’s meals. One of the chefs also helped me spot when I was having a low and took me to the hospital once when I grew ill because of a high.

At the time, I was in the midst of the honeymoon phase, when my pancreas could still produce insulin. During that time, my insulin production unexpectedly spiked upward. It sounds nice, but what it meant was that I was now at higher risk of lows, and this was actually quite terrifying while at work. It was impossible to calculate how much insulin to take when I didn’t know how much insulin my pancreas would produce in any given day. I once had to request that I be sent home during a quiet shift and my diabetic specialist nurse halved my insulin doses for working days. All in all, I felt like I was getting my head around the changes, keeping up with work, and even having a nice social life on my off-time. And three members of management told me that I was good at my job. They said I was attentive, the customers were pleased, and I often came in early for my shift.

One day, the bar’s manager sat me down to have what he claimed was an informal chat. We discussed my diagnosis, and he wanted to make sure they were doing all they could to help. My absences were discussed, but not made an issue. I left that meeting believing that my job was secure.

The next day, five minutes before my shift was to end, the assistant manager told me that the manager wanted another chat. I followed him upstairs to the bar’s office, where he and the manager sat at one side of a table and me at the other. I was told that my contract was to end and that this would be my last shift. I asked why and was informed I had had too many absences. I tried to argue, but I knew I couldn’t hold the tears in any longer, so I walked out. The assistant manager followed me out and apologized; he said he had no say in the decision.

I grabbed my stuff from the back room and said goodbye to the staff; they seemed quite shocked by what had occurred. Then I walked down the street, trying not to cry, but not managing very well.

Since that day the parent company that owns the bar has made no attempt to contact me. I have logged a grievance with the company, but so far have had no response, and I’m now waiting to see if they will respond to a lawyer’s query. I believe that they are ignoring me because they don’t think I will have the money to pursue this in court. I’m speaking to some nonprofits to see if they will assist me in taking this job discrimination case to court. I don’t want others to go through what I have with this company.

To learn more about your rights as a person with diabetes in the US workplace, go to http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights/discrimination/employment-discrimination/. There also are lawyers who specialize in diabetes discrimination cases, including attorney Kris Halpern, aka “the Diabetes Attorney”. To learn more about his practice, go to http://www.diabetesattorney.net/

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Susan Robertson was born in Glasgow in 1984. She grew up in Govan with two brothers and two sisters and graduated from Glasgow University with an MA in Honors Philosophy. She co-founded the Facebook support group "You don't look ill", a hub with information and support for all types of autoimmune diseases.