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Outrageously Unfair Treatment for Diabetics: This is Scandalous; It's Imperative to Control The Disease

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:11pm

On a day where I'm riding high because my book SUGAR SHOCK! officially hit bookstores at long last (after five years), an eye-opening story spotlighting the plight of diabetics in the workplace appeared in The New York Times today.

You simply must read this provocative, very well-researched article from talented reporter N.R. Kleinfield, which draws much-needed attention to the fact that some of the 21 million diabetics in a variety of jobs nationwide are being discriminated against -- and sometimes even fired -- simply because they have this dangerous disease.

The piece, entittled "Costs of a Crisis: Diabetics Confront a Tangle of Workplace Laws," is part of a "series... exploring the widening impact of the Type 2 diabetes epidemic."

Kleinfield's article offers a fascinating look at the diabetics' dilemma. For starters, should they even reveal their disease to their employers for fear of some kind of reprisal?

One expert, Brian T. McMahon, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies workplace discrimination, told The Times: “You get to the question of whether or not to disclose you have diabetes. Most people opt not to, for they fear: Am I inviting more trouble?”

The issue is so hot, Kleinfield points out, that to "understand the brutal math of diabetes, all a business has to do is consult the Web site diabetesatwork.org, set up by the government to furnish advice on addressing diabetes in the workplace. One of its tools is a calculator that uses rough assumptions to suggest what costs might be involved."

Sadly, employers tend to overlook the fact that, as doctors contend, "with improved medications and methods of self-testing blood sugar, most diabetics can do almost any job if they properly manage their illness."

Even so, Times reporter Kleinfield points, "myths about the disease persist, advocates say, leading many companies to shun diabetic employees."

The stories Kleinfield cites are ones that should enrage you. Like the mortgage loan officer in Oregon who "was denied permission to eat at her desk to stanch her sugar fluctuations, and eventually was fired." How outrageous!

Or the "Sears lingerie saleswoman in Illinois with nerve damage in her leg" who "quit after being told she could not cut through a stockroom to reach her department."

Klienfield also notes that the "Equal Opportunity Commission, which enforces the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, says diabetes-related complaints have been on the rise, one of the few conditions generally showing an increase in complaints. Diabetes accounts for nearly 5 percent of the 15,000 annual allegations that the commission gets under that act, trailing only back impairment, other orthopedic injuries and depression."

Sadly, Kleinfield explains, "restrictions of diabetes are often invisible. Diabetics thus can find themselves teetering on a balance beam, needing to prove they are disabled enough to fit under the law but not so impaired that they can’t do a job."

After reading this article, I was left with a profound feeling of sadness for all these tormented diabetics. As if it isn't bad enough to have diabetes, now they have to worry about whether or not their bosses are going to hold it against them?

In addition, I'm annoyed, because something is missing, it seems, from most workplaces. With such a large number of diabetics out there, employers should be getting involved in some way -- starting with educational programs.

If employers are so concerned about diabetics in the workplace, why don't they offer information to employees about how to ward off type 2 diabetes in the first place? Why don't they teach thema bout the dangers of sugar and obesity? Why don't they give training on how to keep their blood sugar levels under control? Why don't they offer an optional work-out time? Or am I hoping for too much?

Read this fascinating New York Times story now.

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