Determining Your Rights: Is Diabetes Considered a Disability?

In the intricate landscape of California employment law, the question of whether diabetes qualifies as a disability is a matter of profound significance for both employees and employers alike. As we navigate the nuanced intersection of health conditions and workplace rights, it becomes necessary to understand the legal implications surrounding diabetes and its potential classification as a disability.

According to recent statistics from the International Diabetes Federation, an estimated 783 million people globally are living with diabetes, underscoring the widespread prevalence of this chronic condition. As the numbers continue to rise, so does the importance of discerning the legal framework that governs the rights and accommodations afforded to individuals grappling with diabetes in the context of the workplace.

This blog aims to shed light on the legal considerations surrounding diabetes and disability, exploring the implications for both employees and employers. By discussing relevant statutes, precedents, and evolving legal perspectives, we seek to empower individuals with diabetes to understand their rights and guide employers in fostering an inclusive and legally compliant work environment.

Is diabetes considered a disability? As the convergence of health and employment law becomes increasingly complex, we aim to provide clarity on the status of diabetes as a disability and its potential impact on workplace dynamics. In particular, we will explore:

  • Disabilities and diabetes under California law
  • Rights of diabetic employees in California
  • Legal protections and options in case of discrimination

Is Being Diabetic Considered a Disability?

Under California law, the definition of disability and its categorization are primarily governed by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). FEHA provides a broad and inclusive understanding of disabilities, encompassing physical and mental conditions that limit a major life activity. In the context of employment, the law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and mandates employers to provide several types of disability benefits, like reasonable accommodations, to enable qualified employees to perform their essential job functions without any severe complications.

The California Government Code Section 12926, subdivision (m), defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, functions such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. This expansive definition is designed to cover a wide range of conditions and ensure protection for individuals facing limitations in various aspects of their lives.

When it comes to the two types of diabetes, both fall within the purview of California’s disability laws. Medical professionals define Type 1 diabetes as an autoimmune condition where the body does not produce insulin, while Type 2 diabetes involves insulin resistance or insufficient insulin production. Both conditions can substantially impact major life activities, such as maintaining proper blood sugar levels, which is crucial for overall health and well-being.

Under the legal framework, the question “Is diabetes considered a disability?” has a very clear answer. People with common types of diabetes may generally be considered to have a disability. 

Courts and administrative bodies in California recognize that diabetes can substantially limit major life activities, and as a result, a person with diabetes qualifies for protection against discrimination and is eligible for reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and even disability claims.

Employers have to be aware of their obligations under FEHA, which include making reasonable accommodations for employees with diabetes unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Accommodations for diabetes may include flexible work schedules, breaks for insulin administration, or adjustments to job duties that allow employees to manage their condition effectively. By understanding the legal framework surrounding diabetes and disabilities, both employees and employers in California can work towards creating an inclusive and supportive work environment.

is diabetes considered a disability

Common Symptoms of Diabetes Type 1 and Type 2

Diabetes, a chronic condition characterized by abnormal blood sugar levels, manifests in two primary forms: Type 1 and Type 2. Both types share common symptoms and potential consequences, impacting various aspects of an individual’s health. Understanding these diabetes complications is crucial for early detection and effective management.

Common Symptoms

  • Frequent Urination: A hallmark symptom of diabetes, individuals often experience an increased need to urinate as the kidneys work to eliminate excess glucose from the bloodstream.
  • Blurred Vision: Fluctuating blood sugar levels can affect the lens of the eye, leading to blurred vision or worse visual acuity. If left unmanaged, it may progress to more severe issues.
  • Severe Symptoms: In some cases, diabetes can present with severe symptoms, including extreme thirst, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. These signs may indicate a critical need for medical attention.

Consequences of Diabetes

  • Vision Loss: Prolonged exposure to high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the eyes, potentially leading to diabetic retinopathy and vision loss if not managed effectively.
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias: Diabetes contributes to an increased risk of coronary artery disease and cardiovascular disease, including hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias. Elevated blood pressure levels strain the cardiovascular system and blood vessels, heightening the risk of heart-related health issues.
  • Loss of Consciousness: In severe cases, particularly for people with Type 1 diabetes, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious condition that, if untreated, may result in loss of consciousness.
  • Cognitive Impairments: Long-term complications of diabetes may extend to cognitive health. Chronic exposure to high blood sugar levels has been associated with an increased risk of diabetic neuropathy and cognitive impairments and conditions such as dementia.

Health Issues and Management

Managing diabetes involves a multifaceted approach aimed at controlling blood sugar levels and mitigating associated health risks.

  • Blood Pressure Management: Individuals with diabetes are often advised to closely monitor and manage their blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure is a common complication that, when uncontrolled, can exacerbate the risk of cardiovascular problems.
  • Regular Monitoring: Regular blood glucose monitoring is essential for individuals with diabetes. Consistent tracking allows for prompt intervention and adjustment of treatment plans to maintain optimal blood sugar levels.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, is fundamental in managing diabetes and reducing associated risks.

In other words, diabetes, regardless of type, presents with common symptoms and potential consequences that extend beyond fluctuations in blood sugar levels. The impact on vision, cardiac health, and cognitive function underscores the importance of proactive management and a comprehensive approach to diabetes care. Regular medical monitoring, adherence to treatment plans, and lifestyle modifications are pivotal in mitigating the risks associated with diabetes and promoting overall well-being.

Rights of Diabetic Employees in California

Is being diabetic considered a disability? Diabetic employees in California are afforded specific rights and protections. These rights encompass both reasonable accommodation requirements and protections against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 

Reasonable Accommodation Requirements

  • Definition of Reasonable Accommodation: Employers in California are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including diabetes. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications to the workplace or job duties that enable employees with disabilities to perform their essential job functions.
  • Interactive Process: When an employee requests an accommodation, employers are obligated to engage in an interactive process to determine the most effective and reasonable solution. This involves open communication between the employer and the employee to identify the specific needs of the employee and potential accommodations.
  • Examples of Accommodations for Diabetic Employees: Reasonable accommodations for people with diabetes may include flexible work schedules to accommodate medical appointments or the need for breaks to check blood sugar levels or administer insulin. Additionally, adjustments to duties that do not interfere with the employee’s ability to perform essential job functions may also be considered.
  • Undue Hardship Exception: While employers are generally required to provide reasonable accommodations, they are not obligated to make accommodations that would cause an undue hardship on the business. Factors such as the size and financial resources of the business are considered when determining what constitutes an undue hardship.

Nondiscrimination and Harassment Protections

  • Prohibition of Discrimination: FEHA explicitly prohibits discrimination against employees with disabilities, including those with diabetes. Employers cannot make employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotions, or compensation, based on an individual’s diabetic condition.
  • Anti-Harassment Protections: Diabetic employees are also protected from harassment based on their disability. Harassment can include unwanted comments, jokes, or actions related to an employee’s diabetes that create a hostile work environment.
  • Retaliation Protections: FEHA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who assert their rights under the law. This includes employees who request reasonable accommodations or report discrimination or harassment.

Understanding these rights is crucial for both diabetic employees and employers in California. To properly answer “is diabetes considered a disability?”, employers should be proactive in fostering an inclusive workplace by implementing policies that prevent discrimination and harassment, and by engaging in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with diabetes.

People with disabilities, on the other hand, should be aware of their rights and communicate effectively with their employers to ensure a supportive work environment. So next time you hear the question “is being diabetic considered a disability?”, the answer is simpler than you might think.

Disclosure and Privacy Concerns for Employees with Diabetes

  • Voluntary Disclosure: Employees with diabetes are not required to disclose their condition to employers. However, if an employee wishes to request reasonable accommodations, they generally need to disclose their diabetes to the employer. Disclosure is typically a voluntary choice made by the employee.
  • Confidentiality: Once an employee discloses their diabetes, employers are obligated to keep this information confidential. Sharing an employee’s medical information without their explicit consent is a violation of privacy laws. This includes not only the initial disclosure but also any information obtained through the interactive process related to reasonable accommodations.
  • Need-to-Know Basis: Employers should limit the dissemination of information about an employee’s diabetes and other medical conditions to those who have a legitimate need to know, such as supervisors, managers, and individuals involved in the accommodation process.
  • Medical Records: Detailed medical records related to an employee’s diabetes should be kept separate from personnel files and maintained in a secure, confidential manner. Access to these records should be restricted to individuals involved in the accommodation process.

Legal Protections Against Retaliation

  • Non-Retaliation Principle: Employees who disclose their diabetes or request accommodations are protected from retaliation under the law. Employers cannot take adverse actions, such as termination, demotion, or harassment, in response to an employee’s assertion of their disability benefits and rights.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA, which also applies in California, prohibits retaliation against employees who assert their rights under the Act. This includes requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability.
  • Documentation and Consistency: Employers must carefully document medical evidence, performance issues and disciplinary actions to demonstrate that any adverse employment actions are unrelated to an employee’s disclosure of diabetes or request for accommodations. Consistent and fair treatment is crucial in avoiding claims of retaliation.
  • Complaint Procedures: People with diabetes can take legal action. If an employee believes they are experiencing retaliation, they have the right to file a complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency, such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In summary, employees with diabetes have the right to privacy regarding their medical condition, and employers are legally obligated to maintain the confidentiality of disclosed information. These legal protections exist to safeguard employees from retaliation when they assert their rights under disability discrimination laws. 

Employers should ensure compliance with these laws, and employees should be aware of their rights and take action if they believe they are facing retaliation for disclosing their diabetes or seeking accommodations.

Take Care, Protect Your Rights

Don’t let a diabetes diagnosis change your success at your job. The exploration of the legal landscape surrounding diabetes and disability in the workplace emphasizes the critical need for understanding, collaboration, and adherence to established laws. The comprehensive overview has outlined the rights of diabetic employees in California, covering reasonable accommodation requirements, protections against discrimination and harassment, as well as the delicate balance between disclosure and privacy concerns.

As we navigate the evolving intersection of health and employment law, the emphasis on fostering an inclusive work environment becomes paramount. Employers must remain vigilant in upholding the rights of employees with diabetes, ensuring compliance with regulations, and proactively engaging in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations. Conversely, employees should be well-informed about their rights, communicate effectively with their employers, and be aware of the available legal protections against retaliation for diabetes-related complications. In essence, the pursuit of a workplace that values diversity, respects privacy, and prioritizes the well-being of individuals with diabetes is not just a legal obligation but a fundamental aspect of fostering a supportive and equitable professional environment. And in case of any violation, finding the best legal support is critical. Together we can make a difference, and keep the California labor landscape accepting and accommodating for all.


By submitting this form, I consent to receiving text messages and emails from Labor Law Advocates. I also acknowledge that contacting Labor Law Advocates through this website does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information I send is not protected by the attorney-client privilege.




Copyright © 2024 LABOR LAW ADVOCATES. All Rights Reserved.

Send Us a Message

By submitting this form, I consent to receiving text messages and emails from Labor Law Advocates. I also acknowledge that contacting Labor Law Advocates through this website does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information I send is not protected by the attorney-client privilege.