Overview: Allergies and sensitivities can affect a workplace, whether they be seasonal, food-related or triggered by insects. Employees suffering from an allergy may feel unproductive or otherwise uncomfortable. Also, contributing to a potential decrease in productivity is the distraction felt by other employees from the coughing and sneezing of a co-worker.
Employers may not be able to prevent allergies related to the environment but there are ways to guard against the issues caused by workplace allergies and sensitivities. One option is to offer allergy shots through employee health programs or, alternatively, to allow employees time off in order to receive allergy shots from their health care provider. Also, keeping the premises up-to-code, well-maintained and clean might help eliminate some of the allergens. Taking measures, such as providing an air purifier or banning the use of perfumes, to accommodate individual employee sensitivities can also help avoid any undesired consequences.
An employer should also have a plan of action in the event an employee has an allergic reaction to a food ingredient or an insect bite. Training supervisors and/or employees in first aid so they can administer first aid, including administering an epinephrine injection, would be prudent.
Trends: More and more employers are having open discussions with their employees about food allergies, especially when providing meals to employees. An employer should inquire about any known food allergies and take them in consideration or warn of any ingredients, such as peanuts, before ordering and/or providing food to employees.
Author: Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, JD, Legal Editor
HR guidance on guarding against allergies and sensitivities in the workplace.