Managing Wellness

Diabetes in the Workplace: 5 Ways to Accommodate Employees and Create an Inclusive Environment

  • Employers who make accommodations beyond what's legally required may, in turn, create a more welcoming and inclusive workplace
  • Create a wellness room or dedicate an office for health needs by sign-up so diabetes management tasks can be performed in private
  • Consider how your work parties can be more friendly to everyone's health needs
Posted by November 15, 2019

November is National Diabetes Month, so there’s no better time than now to evaluate how you accommodate people with diabetes in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make certain arrangements for employees with diabetes, but you may want to make some additional changes so that everyone feels comfortable and included.

With these five suggestions in hand, you can create an environment where employees with and without diabetes can thrive.

1. Embrace All Dietary Needs

You may already provide vegan or gluten-free snacks, meals or vending machine products, so why not give employees with diabetes a few more choices, too?

It’s not necessary to stock snack stations with expensive products specifically marketed to those with insulin or blood sugar challenges. Fresh fruits and veggies, zero-calorie drinks and other low-sugar favorites appeal to this demographic and are a welcome treat for anyone trying to eat better or manage their weight.

2. Provide a Safe Space

The ADA protects workers from having to disclose health conditions to anyone who isn’t instrumental in providing reasonable accommodation. And employees may not want their coworkers to know they have diabetes. In turn, management should provide a private place for diabetes management tasks, such as checking blood sugar levels and administering insulin.

A closed office, break space or wellness room are well-suited to these sensitive tasks. You can even designate a room to be solely used for health and wellness purposes at certain times of the day, and institute a sign-up sheet or calendar for people to schedule a time to use it.

Also, provide a sharps container for disposable lancets and syringes or other “sharps”-related devices that a person with diabetes must use while at work.

3. Balance Privacy With Personalization

Though no two management plans are identical, employees with diabetes may require some of the same accommodations across the board, including more frequent breaks for snacks or glucose checks. But don’t make assumptions about their needs.

Have a conversation with all of your employees about what they need to do their work safely. Note that the ADA doesn’t allow you to ask questions about their health unless it’s affecting their work performance or it’s in response to an accommodation request.

Never broadcast an employee’s health status to others in the workplace; signage or memos referencing accommodations should be communicated as a general message that doesn’t call out anyone or their disability.

4. Pick Party Themes With Care

While you may accommodate diabetes in the workplace splendidly on a day-to-day basis, what happens when the holidays roll around? Celebrations and sugar-laden goodies seem to go hand in hand, but with a little planning, your work parties don’t have to exclude or inconvenience anyone.

From the menu to the location, take the needs of your entire workforce into consideration. If the party is off-site, choose a venue that serves meals for all dietary requirements. Consider excluding excess sweets from the menu and reinforce that this is a time to focus on your wins as a company—not just the indulgences.

Remember, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces the rules surrounding the treatment of those with any disability in the workplace, including diabetes. Talk openly with your teams about out how to make your company a place of safety, growth and inclusivity. In the interest of privacy, however, you may be limited to making more general changes that benefit the employee pool at large.

5. Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a low glycemic index that is better for people with (and without) diabetes than artificial sweeteners are, because it can actually promote healthy sugar metabolism. Chewing xylitol gum can also reduce dental plaque and inflammation, neutralize mouth pH levels (acid levels safe for teeth and gums), increase saliva production for those who have dry mouth, and help preserve bone density. Offering xylitol gum is a cheap and easy way to support the overall health of all of your employees.

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