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Kirsty Fitzjohn: Working with Diabetes

Friday 13 April 2018

Kirsty Fitzjohn, Regional Publicity Manager for Acas East of England, based in Mildenhall, Suffolk discusses the ways employers can support their employees with diabetes in the workplace.

Kirsty Fitzjohn Kirsty Fitzjohn

Kirsty joined Acas in 2009 and worked on the helpline before moving to the Communications team to work on internal communications, marketing and PR. Since then she has worked on individual conciliation (resolving employment tribunal claims) before becoming part of the East of England training team and Regional Publicity Manager.


Working with Diabetes

A recent survey from Diabetes UK showed that "one in six people with diabetes in work feel that they have been discriminated against because of their diabetes." The survey even uncovered cases of people with diabetes "quitting their jobs because of the unbearable anxiety."

As the mother of two Type 1 diabetic young people, I have a vested interest in helping managers understand diabetes and how it can affect their staff. Here is my personal crib sheet:

Diabetes: the key facts

  • There are two types of diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2), but diabetes is different for everyone.
  • Spontaneity feels like a thing of the past. You have to check your blood sugars to make sure that it's OK to drive, OK to eat, OK to walk to your next appointment.
  • You also need to take a bag with you everywhere. Your "BM kit" (blood monitoring kit) will often have insulin pens, glucose tablets (or sugary drink) and snacks.
  • Diabetes can be classed as a disability in employment law if it has a day-to-day impact on a person's life that has lasted or is likely to last 12 months or more. Many people with diabetes could argue that they have a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Diabetes: how employers can help

There is a great deal employers can do to help make life for a person with diabetes just that little bit easier:

  1. Talk to employees with diabetes - they know more about their diabetes than anyone else!
  2. Allow an individual the time and private space (if needed) to manage their diabetes. They will need to do insulin injections and finger prick checks to monitor blood sugar levels. They may also need time off for medical appointments.
  3. Think about regular routines: people need to eat regularly to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Regular hours and regular breaks can make diabetes easier to manage.
  4. Think twice before asking someone with diabetes to do something unusually energetic. Unexpected exercise may cause a hypo. If it's planned or a normal part of the job it can be managed, but if it's unplanned it can cause problems.
  5. Consider any reasonable adjustments that you can make to help a person accommodate their diabetes within their job. Usually small, simple changes to working arrangements will be all that is required.

Diabetes does not make you less able to do your job, it just makes it more challenging. Many people with diabetes are committed, hard-working, productive employees. Any support you can provide as a manager can go a long way to normalising this medical condition and fighting the discrimination people with diabetes face. 

There is lots of advice available on the Acas website including:

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