Tips on Finding a Job When You Have Diabetes
With the national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, more Americans are out of work today than at any time in the past quarter century. Roughly 15 million people are jobless, and for some of them, being unemployed also means the loss of critical employer-provided health insurance. Unfortunately, if you have diabetes, there are some things you can't control about being out of work. If you've lost your health insurance because of a job loss and don't qualify for continued coverage under the federal COBRA law, for instance, you may be unable to buy coverage on the open market because insurers deem your diabetes a "preexisting condition." But there are many things you can control when it comes to digging yourself out of unemployment. Here's a look at some of them.
Protecting Your Health
Losing a job and trying to find a new one, especially during a deep recession when your prospects seem dim, can put you under great stress. That can be harmful to your health. Studies show that even people with no health problems are more likely to get sick after the blow of a job loss. That's why it's vital to make your health a priority while searching for a new job. It's more important than ever to exercise regularly, eat healthfully, and get plenty of sleep, all of which will reduce the effects of stress. You can find cheap ways to relax, too: Play games with your family, get together with friends, take a walk in the park, or visit your local library. Keep an eye out for entertainment bargains: Local fairs and festivals get you moving at minimal cost.
Thinking Long Term
The hunt for employment, of course, is now your main job. With financial pressures bearing down on you, it may be tempting to jump at any opportunity. But it is wise to think about what your next career step will mean in the long run. This is the time to consider what you need in a job to be able to manage your diabetes well.
For more information about your rights on the job or resources available to you when you lose your job, call the ADA National Call Center at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) and
ask for an employment packet or the new fact sheet on diabetes and unemployment insurance.
Rosalind Joffe, MEd, a career coach in Boston whose practice focuses on people with chronic illnesses, had to reassess her career when she was forced to go on disability at 43 because of multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis. "Ask yourself what you need from an organization," says Joffe. "Most people do best where there's some flexibility within the organization. When you live with chronic illness, it's crucial."
While you're looking for a job that meets your career goals, you may need part-time work. The ideal position would offer employer-provided health insurance with a flexible schedule that enables you to go on job interviews.
The Diabetes Question
What should you tell a potential employer about your diabetes? Should you disclose it in an interview or on an application form? "I always advise people not to lie, and I always advise people to try to avoid answering at the same time," says Brian East, a member of the American Diabetes Association Legal Advocacy Subcommittee and a senior attorney at Advocacy Inc., an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that works on behalf of people with disabilities. Refusal to answer a question, even one that you think may be illegal to ask, may raise a red flag, East explains. "Sometimes," he says, "that means writing in 'no condition will interfere with me doing this job.' "
The same goes for answering questions about why you lost your last job. "If you have a gap in your employment, it's going to come up, so you should be prepared with how you want to respond," Joffe says. You'll want to be clear and confident in communicating that you can do the job, and do it well, with diabetes.
If you plan to wait before disclosing your diabetes, Joffe offers this guideline: You should be able to go 30 to 60 days on the job without needing an accommodation for your diabetes or having your performance affected. If that's not realistic for you, she says, then be up front about it. Finally, you should know your rights. Federal disability laws—diabetes is considered a disability in legal terms—prohibit most large employers from refusing to hire you (and from firing you) because of your diabetes. The law requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to help you do your job while managing your diabetes. That could mean extra breaks, permission to eat at your desk, or time off for medical appointments.
Even if your diabetes never comes up while you're interviewing, East says, once you're on the job, consider formally disclosing your condition—particularly if you need any accommodations—in writing to your employer. Notes East: "You're not going to be protected from retaliation unless [your employer] knows about your disability." Unfortunately, there is no ultimate protection against job loss. But knowing your options is a great way to prepare to get back on your feet.