By Pam Howland
Chances are, you have heard the shocking statistics: over 23 million Americans (one in ten U.S. adults) suffer from some form of diabetes. Fast forward to 2050, and as many as 1 in 3 adults are predicted to suffer from Type II diabetes alone. In fact, the odds are high that you already employ individuals diagnosed with diabetes and that you have customers who grapple with this disease on a daily basis. As a club manager, if you have not taken the time to familiarize yourself with this chronic disease and the impacts it may have on your customers, employees, and your business, then now is the time.
The first step is to gain a basic understanding of diabetes, such as the differences between Type I and Type II diabetes and the basic implications that follow from each. Although Type I and Type II vary significantly from each other, both relate to the body’s production and use of insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
Ninety to ninety-five percent of diabetes cases are Type 2. Type 2 results from insulin resistance where the body fails to use insulin combined with a relative insulin deficiency. Obesity is considered to be a major risk factor for Type 2, although many people who suffer from Type 2 are not overweight. Exercise, diet and medication can help prevent the condition and, in some cases, can treat it once it develops. Although some type 2 diabetics require insulin, many do not and are able to treat their condition with diet and oral medications.
Type I, on the other hand, results from the body’s failure to produce any insulin at all. This condition is an autoimmune disorder, resulting when the body attacks itself and destroys the insulin-creating cells in the pancreas. Type I, which is sometimes referred to juvenile diabetes, is frequently present from childhood and people who suffer from it need insulin to live. People with Type I receive insulin by injection or through an insulin pump attached to their body. There is currently no cure or oral medication available for people who suffer from Type I diabetes.
With both Type I and Type II diabetes, there is an increased risk for life-threatening complications such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease, amputations, dental disease, complications of pregnancy, and sexual dysfunction. On top of these long-term risks, those diabetics who are insulin-dependent must engage in a daily battle to keep their blood sugar levels balanced. Failure to do so can, in extreme cases, result in loss of consciousness, stroke, or seizure.
With every diabetic, their lifestyle is impacted to a certain degree. For Type I diabetics, their blood sugar must be monitored at various points during the day by poking their finger with a lancet. In addition, insulin must be taken with meals (and throughout other times of the day) in order to avoid high blood sugar levels. Snacks must also be eaten at certain intervals in order to keep insulin levels balanced and to avoid low blood sugar levels. Although low blood sugar levels are serious, they can usually be treated by food or drink which can usually correct the low blood sugar level within a matter of minutes.
Obviously, the continual treatment and monitoring required of diabetics must be performed regardless of whether the diabetic is at home, out and about in the community, or at work, which leads us to the issue of diabetes in the work place, how it is regarded in the law, and how it can affect you, as a club manager.
First, it is important to understand that diabetics successfully perform a wide array of jobs, ranging from high level management positions to jobs involving the public safety. The American Diabetes Association has issued the following position statement:
Any person with diabetes, whether insulin [treated] or non-insulin [treated] should be eligible for any employment for which he/she is otherwise qualified.
Indeed, you may well have employees currently working for you who are diabetic. Accordingly, it is important for employers to educate themselves on this disease in order to avoid perpetuating untruthful myths, fears, or stereotypes or to otherwise promote practices that categorically exclude people with diabetes from certain jobs.
This is especially important in light of the 2009 Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (“ADAAA”), which expanded protection for those with disabilities, including diabetics. Diabetes is now listed as a per se disability afforded protection.
Thus, discrimination based upon diabetes is not only a bad business practice but is also an unlawful one that could expose your business to significant liability.
As an employer, this means that if an employee is diabetic, they are likely entitled to certain reasonable accommodations. Examples of reasonable accommodations for diabetics include the provision of a time and place for them to test their blood sugar levels and/or to receive insulin injections, the ability to take a meal or snack break in order to maintain blood sugar levels, and the ability to rest or recover from low blood sugar levels. As you can see, many of these accommodations come at no cost to the employer, and are likely relatively easy to implement. This is by no means an exclusive list — accommodations depend, of course, on the needs of the individual. What’s key to remember is that the impact of diabetes on any individual is unique and that every diabetic’s needs and experience is likely to be different.
Until a cure for diabetes is found, successful business owners will make every effort to understand this disease, quash myths and stereotypes related to it, and learn how it can impact their employees and customers alike. Savvy business owners may even take this a step further to ensure that their club services meet the needs of their diabetic employees and customers. For example, do food service options include low carbohydrate snacks needed by diabetics to maintain blood sugars between meals? Do you provide healthy menu items often required by Type II diabetics who are sometimes able to control their disease, in part, by eating healthy meals? To learn more about diabetes and the impacts it can have on your customers and employees, visit the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org.