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Diabetes and the Work Place. How lying about your condition could get you fired.

by  David Mendosa
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
If you work for someone else – or even think that you might some day – you might not want to let people outside your family know that you have diabetes.

But it’s a tough call. When other people know that you have diabetes, they can help you in many ways. Especially if they have diabetes themselves, they can share their knowledge and experience. They can warn you if they see signs that you’re going hypo.

I can think of only one reason why you might not want others to know that you have diabetes. It can get you fired.

It certainly happens, as a long and disturbing article in The New York Times on Boxing Day details. When one employee in Wisconsin asked where he could dispose of his insulin needles, the company fired him. An Oregon company fired a woman who had asked to eat at her desk to control her blood glucose. And more.

But if they ask you whether you have diabetes, it would be worse to deny it. Nothing can get you fired quicker than lying. And while you might have some legal recourse if they fire you for your diabetes, you won’t have any for lying.

I know. When I served in the U.S. Foreign Service, I had to fire one of my subordinates.

He was an economist with an advanced degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He had denied on his application form that he ever had tuberculosis. But months after he started working for us, the university told us that the had successfully treated his tuberculosis. We would not have fired him for having tuberculosis, but Foreign Service regulations required that I had to fire him for lying.

He was a great employee whom I liked a lot. But his medical records caught up with him. And that was in the days before computers.

On the same day that The New York Times reported on diabetes in the workplace, America’s other great newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, told another disturbing story. Now that all of our medical records are going into computer databases, an insurance company got an attorney’s supposedly confidential psychotherapy records and refused to pay a disability claim on the basis of those records.

I have always been less concerned with personal privacy than most other people. Fortunately, ever since a doctor diagnosed my diabetes in 1994, I have been a freelance writer, rather than anyone’s employee.

So I have always been able to freely let other people know that I have diabetes. Because of this I have not only been able to tell other people about diabetes, but I have also been able to learn from hundreds if not thousands of people who also have diabetes.

People with diabetes email me with questions or information about diabetes every day. Often they don’t give their name, and it used to bother me that they expect me to answer their questions without their sharing anything about themselves.

I understand now. People are rightly concerned that their employer might learn their secret.

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