Diabetes, medically classified as a disease, affects around 3.5 million people in the UK. Often referred to as a ‘condition’ as it can be managed but not cured.  As an employee, the question you need to ask and be clear of is do you have to manage diabetes as a disability?

Medical facts

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body produces no insulin and is managed through prescribed medication.
  • Type 2 develops, usually, after the age of 40, when there isn’t enough insulin in the body or the insulin isn’t working properly. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly managed through diet, although medication can be prescribed.

New case law

The question of whether Type 2 Diabetes should result in being classed as a disability was considered by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Metroline Travel v Stoute 2015.  Stoute (S), who was a bus driver, has Type 2 diabetes which he controls through diet. In 2013, after a chequered employment history that included him diverting his bus so he could buy a chicken kebab, Metroline dismissed S for gross misconduct. He argued that its decision amounted to disability discrimination on the grounds of his diabetes.

To be defined as a disability, a condition must have a “substantial” and “long-term effect on day-to-day activities”. The Judge who heard the appeal revealed that he too has Type 2 diabetes and understands the effects that it can have on a person’s life. However, he ruled that where diabetes is managed solely through diet and no medication is needed, the individual is not automatically disabled; it depends on the facts. That said, where a person requires medication to control their diabetes they will, generally, be classed as disabled.

The Judge stated that to decide otherwise would be “perverse” as it would mean that other conditions which are controlled solely by diet, for example, nut allergies, would automatically be classed as disabilities.

Our HR advice would be if you have a diabetic employee who informs you that they are disabled, always check which type they have and if it’s Type 2, how the condition is controlled.

If you would like to discuss this further and what procedures and policies you need in place to manage your employees and the risk to your business effectively, please get in touch.

You can also explore our Online HR Toolkit, which will empower you to set up robust and legal HR procedures, all in one place, accessible to you 24/7. 

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