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Supporting employees with diabetes

Information and guidance for employers on supporting employees who have diabetes including legal obligations

​These pages give more information on the specific condition. They should be read in conjunction with our Supporting employees with long term health conditions pages to help you understand how a workplace can assist in helping an employee return to and remain at work.

There are 2 different types of Diabetes – type 1 and type 2, depending on which type your employee has been diagnosed with will depend on their treatment

  • Type 1 are insulin dependent from diagnosis, it is not related to diet or weight and is not preventable or curable.
  • Type 2 can be linked to diet and weight and may be preventable, it can be controlled either by diet/ exercise, oral medication or insulin if the other treatment options have failed to give good control.

Prognosis (outlook) and physical and mental impact on the individual can vary, even with those with similar diagnoses. Treatment side effects can also be variable and debilitating on a day to day basis, and sometimes longer term.

However, having good control of the condition helps reduce the likelihood of this.

How to support employees in the workplace

As an employer you may need some external support from other agencies, such as Access to Work or charities such as Diabetes Scotland or an NHS Diabetic Liaison Nurse to provide additional advice and support for you and your employee.

You may find employees with a diagnosis of diabetes may have increased levels of sickness absence or they may need to attend the hospital or their specialist more frequently than those without the health condition.

Authorised absence, out with the normal organisation sickness absence triggers, should be considered an appropriate adjustment under the Equality Act 2010, this would be identified within your Supporting Staff Attendance Policy.

If you feel your policy doesn’t include this, you can get support from our Supporting staff attendance pages.

Other areas of consideration

Other areas that you can consider when supporting an employee with diabetes may include

  • extra time being given at the beginning of their break to check their blood sugar levels and administer their dose of insulin
  • a safe, discrete and clean environment to administer their dose of insulin in, and access to glucose sweet or drink in an emergency
  • regular breaks to allow them to monitor their blood sugars and eating habits
  • an understanding of when they need additional support, for example when taking a hypo
  • time to recover after a hypo
  • if they are a shift worker will this affect their diet and insulin regime?
  • consider the nature of the work they do
    • is it physically demanding for them?
    • do they use more energy therefore are at risk of becoming unwell?
    • can they be redeployed or their duties amended to allow them to continue to work?
  • do they drive as part of their job role? If so do they need to inform the DVLA and insurance company of their diagnosis?
  • review the risk assessments for the job they do. Consider if your employee became unwell during his working day and how it would affect them and their colleagues
  • do you have contingency plans in place if your employee becomes unwell and is unable to remain at work?
  • review your first aid arrangements
  • encourage the employee to discuss possible signs and symptoms with work colleagues and first aiders.

Hypoglycemic attack (Hypo)

Insulin dependent diabetics are more at risk than those on oral medication of having a hypoglycaemic attack, commonly known as a “hypo”. This is when the blood glucose drops too low.

This may be because your employee hasn’t eaten enough or skipped a meal or has been undertaking a strenuous role or exercising more and hasn’t adjusted their food intake and insulin dose to accommodate it.
Having a hypo can lead to confusion and unconsciousness if not treated quickly with a fast acting carbohydrate such as glucose sweets/drinks.

Diabetic employees should carry a “hypo kit” and be allowed to have ready access to this. After the initial fast action with glucose sweets/drink, more complex carbohydrates are recommended (i.e. bread/crisps) to minimise further hypos. It takes approximately 45 minutes for cognitive function to be restored after a hypo.

When your employee is having a hypo it is good practice to have a safe and clean area they can go to for recovery, with the ability to have time to recover and eat the food needed for their recovery.

Key sources of support

Key sources of support for both the employer and employee include

Healthy Working Lives can help you to develop supportive and inclusive workplace policies and offer support both online and on the telephone. You can contact the free and confidential advice line on 0800 019 2211 for more advice.