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Prepping for Job Medical Screenings with Type 1

Part 4 of 4 in a series on diabetes and workplace law.

One of the landmark diabetes work discrimination cases, Rodriguez v. Conagra, centered on an illegal pre-employment medical exam for a potential employee with diabetes. Here’s a primer for how to successfully navigate a fitness-for-duty pre-employment medical exam:

Diabetes may be considered a disability, but there is a limit to what kinds of employer accommodations are considered “reasonable” for a job. Examples of common measures to accommodate people with diabetes include:

  • Modified work schedules, the option to work from home, allowing workers to have schedules that do not require shift rotation
  • Flexibility for bathroom breaks, snacks, testing blood glucose and taking insulin
  • If reasonable, a private area for testing and injecting, and resting as blood sugar levels correct
  • Sick day or personal day flexibility
  • Use of large-screen, high-definition computer screens or large-type versions of procedure manuals or other documents associated with the job
  • The use of a chair or stool, or other modifications of a workspace to avoid long periods on one’s feet.

By law, the information you supply at a pre-employment screening (a doctor’s notes, test results, etc.) are confidential, protected medical information. Because of this, there is no reason to hold back in describing your condition and what you are doing about it. You don’t want to pass up an opportunity for an accommodation that would make the job requirements easier to meet. Moreover, you don’t want to be in a position of being unable to perform the job after being hired.

Under federal workplace guidelines for employers, a pre-employment screening is not meant to be an extensive analysis of your medical condition and your ability to live a normal life unfettered by diabetes. The screening is simply an individualized inquiry that focuses on two things:

  1. Your physical condition the day of your screening
  2. Whether you can perform the essential functions of the job you’re seeking, with reasonable accommodation

Your diabetes team (primary care doctor, endocrinologist, certified diabetes educator) can be a valuable resource in preparing for the screening process. Before your screening, talk with them about the requirements of the job, and ask for advice on questions to ask and information to supply at the screening.

Many employers will make job descriptions available which touch upon a position’s physical demands. If you’re looking for a new job where you already work, you may find such a description in the posting, and you can certainly ask your HR department for a more detailed one, if it exists. Forward-thinking employers will have policies and procedures in place to address chronic medical conditions and accommodations that they can offer.

Finally, in light of all that’s happened since Rodriguez and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, diabetes should no longer be a mystery to a potential employer. The U.S. court system has ruled that ignorance about diabetes is no excuse for discriminating against people with diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association maintains an online compendium of information on protections for workers with diabetes. It is reviewed daily and updated frequently. To access it, go to http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights/

With this article, and others in the series, Insulin Nation is not attempting to offer licensed legal or medical advice. Always consult with your health care practitioner or a legal expert before making any decision about employment.

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Jim Cahill is a former staff writer for Insulin Nation and a former editor of Type 2 nation.

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