Managing an allergy in a work environment can be an awkward and uncomfortable situation for some.
As food allergies are considered a disability under federal law, employers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations. Employers must engage in an ‘interactive process’ with employees to discuss accommodations that will enable an employee to perform the essential functions of their job.
First, it is imperative that you speak with your manager/supervisor at the time of hire and that you are upfront about the allergy and your needs. Next, tell your coworkers or have the supervisor inform them. It is imperative that colleagues are supportive of the allergy and avoid putting the allergic individual at any kind of risk.
All staff must also know how to recognize and handle a potential reaction. Supervisors must have all staff on board in case of emergency.
Other situations that you will want to consider and discuss with your supervisor/coworkers include:
Can the allergy be triggered by airborne means? Does the employee require a different lunchtime or break time to avoid being near an allergen? Where can this individual eat and when?
For group lunches, do your homework upfront. Provide a list of suitable restaurants/catering options that you know are safe. Also, include specifics on how to accommodate the allergy (i.e. Small tips such as gluten-free bread on your sandwich or chocolate chip cookies with no nuts).
Once again, if an airborne reaction is possible and can put the individual at risk, then it is the employer’s obligation to not have it in their vicinity.
It is always a good idea to be better safe than sorry. In such cases, bring your own safe meal and politely decline other offerings. Well- intended colleagues will often try to accommodate but politely explain to them that in order to stay safe, it is too risky to consume food from someone else’s home.
Once again, it is important to plan ahead. Do some research on chain restaurants nearby, and research hotels that are allergy-friendly. Request a fridge and microwave in your room and travel with some of your own food.
Although the initial discussion of food allergies may appear awkward, it is crucial that this dialogue takes place in order to stay safe. Employers deal with numerous disabilities in the workplace and can easily accommodate food allergies.