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Don’t rely on broad diagnosis: Assess disability individually

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Millions of Americans have diabetes, and millions more have it but don’t know it. But with new medications and careful diet, most diabetics can control their condition and lead largely normal lives. That has implications for how employers handle their ADA obligations.

It means that most employees with diabetes aren’t disabled if they take their medicine and eat right. Don’t assume that diabetic employees are entitled to workplace accommodations. Instead, look at the employee’s limitations to determine whether those limitations substantially impair a major life function. If they don’t, then you don’t have to offer ADA accommodations.

Recent case: Cesar Vazquez, who has diabetes, sued his former employer for firing him, allegedly because he was disabled. The company argued that Vazquez wasn’t disabled because his medication and good eating habits almost completely controlled his condition.

Vazquez tried to show ways his life was limited. First, he said a toe was amputated and he wore special shoes. But the shoes let him walk normally. Then he said he was denied the “simple pleasure of eating and drinking” because he has to avoid foods and beverages with added sugar. He can, however, use sugar substitutes. The court wasn’t swayed and dismissed the case, concluding Vazquez wasn’t disabled. (Vazquez v. Laredo Transit, No. L-06-CV-94, SD TX, 2007)

Final note: Some diabetics who have less control of the illness may be disabled. That’s why it’s important to judge each case on its own merit. For example, people with Type I diabetes (producing no insulin at all) need frequent blood checks and injections. Those employees may need more frequent breaks to inject insulin and measure blood sugar levels. ADA probably covers them. It is really a matter of degree.

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