How to Handle Low Blood Sugar Emergencies at Work
Diabetes emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere! The longer you live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the more likely you are to run into a situation where you need help from someone else to treat it. Letting your employer and coworkers know you have diabetes could save your life.
Here are some tips for talking to your employer and colleagues when you run into a low blood sugar emergency at work.
Know your rights
Before talking to your employer about diabetes emergencies like low blood sugar or severe low blood sugar at work, you need to know your rights. No law says you must disclose you have diabetes to your employer or colleagues. Your employer cannot ask you about your medical conditions before offering you a job.
If you decide to let your employer know that you have diabetes, they must keep that information confidential. However, some job offers may depend on your ability to pass a medical evaluation after your initial offer—for example: applying to be a police officer or firefighter. (For the record, there are people with diabetes who are police officers and firefighters!) Your assessment results will only affect your offer if they prevent you from doing your job or put your coworkers at risk.
Your decision to tell your boss or co-workers about your diabetes is entirely up to you! No one can force you to share your medical profile.
First, decide how transparent you want to be
Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you have to announce it companywide.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself to decide how many people you want to tell and how you prefer them to handle it at work.
- Am I comfortable telling my entire company about my diabetes, a trusted few co-workers, only my boss, or do I want to keep it to myself?
- Do I understand the risks if I tell no one I have diabetes at work?
- If I decide to tell no one, what is my backup plan? Do I plan to text my partner, spouse, sibling, parent, or friend if a diabetes emergency occurs at work?
- If I decide to tell no one, and I experience severe hypoglycemia at work that leaves me unable to ask for help, what is my safety plan then?
- Do I want to tell my trusted coworkers a little bit about my diabetes, or do I want to inform them of everything I go through with diabetes?
By answering these questions, you can develop a clear plan to act on with your boss or coworkers or develop another system you feel comfortable with that excludes your colleagues.
Once you decide who you want to share with and how much, ask to have short one-on-one meetings to explain your situation and share valuable information with them that could help you in case of emergencies.
Here is what you should consider addressing with your employer or coworkers regarding low blood sugar, severe low blood sugar, or diabetes technology failure at work.
Low blood sugar
Low blood sugars are annoying regardless of where you are, and lows are one diabetes emergency you may run into at work. Low blood sugar tends to be classified within 3.885 to 2.997 mmol/l70 to 54 mg/dL, though some people with diabetes may start to feel low as their blood sugar levels fall from a higher blood sugar reading or if they are at 4.7175 to 3.885 mmol/l85 to 70 mg/dL.
If you are low at work, it’s essential to address it as quickly as you would at home. If you don’t treat a low blood sugar as it’s happening, you run the risk of it becoming severe.
Your health must come first! As frustrating as it is to stop during your workday to tend to diabetes, remember that you won’t be able to do your job if your health is in jeopardy. A good employer will understand that.
Here are some questions you may consider regarding low blood sugar emergencies at work:
- Do I need to bring a snack or drink to a meeting with me to prevent severe low blood sugar?
- Where can I store low blood sugar snacks at work?
- Do I have extra low blood sugar snacks in my car?
- Have I told at least one other person at work where my low blood sugar snacks or glucagon are if I need them to get it for me?
- Have I taught at least one person I trust at work how to scan my blood sugar levels with my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or test it with my blood glucose meter (BGM)? Additionally, have I taught them what the readings mean for me and what I need when they are at certain levels?
- Have I shared low blood sugar warning signs with my trusted co-worker(s)?
- Have I regularly set a calendar reminder to restock my low blood sugar snacks at work?
- Do I have extra CGM or BGM supplies at my desk (or in my car)?
Severe low blood sugar
People tend to classify severe low blood sugar as any level at or below 54 mg/dL, but some may have more severe reactions to blood sugar levels between 54 to 70 mg/dL. Identify what severe low blood sugar means for you, talk about it with your trusted colleagues, and develop a preparedness plan, so everyone feels comfortable in case of emergency at work—especially you!
If you experience severe low blood sugar at work, someone at work (your boss or a trusted colleague) should know where your glucagon is, how to use it and who to call in case of an emergency like this.
Severe low blood sugar has serious consequences, and it’s especially dangerous because it can leave you unable to speak, ask for help, or treat the low yourself.
While it can be embarrassing to ask for help with your health at work, teaching the people around you about severe hypoglycemia could save your life.
Though you may not have ever experienced a low blood sugar or required intervention from others to date, severely low blood sugar can happen to anyone. You can’t anticipate diabetes emergencies. But—you can prepare your answers to these questions to prevent severe low blood sugar complications.
Here are questions to ask yourself regarding severe low blood sugars at work:
- Does someone at work (a co-worker or my boss) know where my glucagon is in case I am unable to help myself in the case of severe low blood sugar?
- Is my emergency contact updated at work?
- Have I shared the signs of severe low blood sugar with someone who sits close to me at work or with my boss or another colleague I trust?
- Have I taught someone at work how to use emergency glucagon?
When diabetes technology fails
Diabetes technology failure is another potential emergency you may encounter at work.
As much as we can often rely on our diabetes technology, sometimes it still fails us for various reasons. Don’t hesitate to address the situation if you ever experience CGM, BGM, insulin pump, or insulin site failure at work.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you plan for diabetes tech failure:
- Am I able to keep one set of backup supplies at work? If not, what is my plan to retrieve my supplies if it fails at work?
- If I use a CGM, am I comfortable keeping a BGM as a backup at work?
- If I use an insulin pump, can I keep an insulin pen or some syringes and an insulin vial safely stored at work as a backup?
- If I have no other resources, what is my plan to get home, and can I do it safely? Will I need someone else to drive me?
- Am I comfortable being transparent with my boss if I need to go home to retrieve my supplies, or will I tell them I feel sick and need to leave?
When it comes to diabetes technology, taking action quickly with backup supplies is a must!
The bottom line: your health matters most
Never let your diabetes go untreated, and don’t try to drive yourself home if you are severely high or low. You can put yourself and others at risk.
When it comes to communicating about diabetes emergencies at work, it is up to you how much you share and with whom. Make a plan of who you trust with information on your diabetes and how you manage it at work—including what you need in the case of severe high or low blood sugar. (If you have a CGM, consider sharing your device’s data with people you trust.)
While you may be an independent diabetes manager, it’s always good to know you have people watching out for you. You are not an inconvenience for including them in your preparedness plans at work. If anything, you are helping everyone (especially yourself) feel more comfortable and confident as a team!
You never know—sharing your diabetes with your coworkers may lead you to discover another coworker also has diabetes!
Educational content related to communicating about diabetes emergencies at work is made possible with support from Lilly, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication. Editorial control rests solely on Beyond Type 1.