March 12, 2020
By Rebecca Batisto
Allergies in the workplace are a clear concern to some employers, but many presume that allergies are the sole responsibility of employees. This is not always the case. There are times when employers should be concerned as allergies can be a workers’ compensation liability. Unfortunately, the topic is never clear cut.
Let’s explore this topic and how to protect employees and employers.
Seasonal Allergies Seasonal allergies, such as hayfever, are less “seasonal” and more annual. According to everydayhealth.com, every month brings seasonal allergy risks, including an increase in dust throughout the winter months when pollen is dormant.
Seasonal allergies can be a concern within the workplace, especially when antihistamines are taken. These over the counter medications can cause drowsiness and may react poorly with other medicines. By maintaining good air quality within the workplace, or offering telecommuting opportunities where possible, employees should be able to self-manage the risks of seasonal allergies.
Perfume/ Scent Allergies Other airborne allergies that could affect employees include scent. An Ohio court found one employer guilty of discrimination when their employee requested a fragrance-free workplace.
Pet allergies are also becoming a common complaint as employers become increasingly pet-friendly. When implementing the option to bring your pets to work, the workplace must have a clearly designated pet free zone, as well as clear cut policies and procedures for meeting areas and other shared spaces. For more info on pets in the workplace, read our blog on the topic: Pets In The Workplace
Food allergies have risen exponentially across the U.S. population recently. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Over the last several decades, the prevalence of peanut allergies in children in the United States has more than tripled.”
Food allergies can range from minor to extremely severe. Knowing your employee’s risk level could be important in determining whether certain areas of the workplace need to be free of allergy triggers or if the entire office should be cleared of all triggers. One study’s findings show that maintaining an entirely nut-free office may be a further detriment to allergies!
As part of your hiring process, there should be fair warning of any allergies, including the severity of those allergies. If the risk is a level of discomfort, such as sneezing or sensitivity, a separated desk location could solve the problem. For example, if someone has minor allergies to the pets in your workplace, you could consider having a pet-free zone.
If the allergy is severe and could lead to anaphylactic shock, all employees should be aware, the workspace must be clear of all triggers, and the employee should teach the warning signs to all colleagues, along with what to do in the case of an issue.
The American Disabilities Act, OSHA, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission each have rulings concerning employees with severe allergies. To protect from liabilities within the workplace, during the hiring process, employees with allergies of this severity could be asked to provide medical documentation. This could help employers to start the process of helping that employee feel comfortable in their new workplace. Unfortunately, the admission to any allergies could be considered a breach of privacy or a way of discrimating against certain employees.
As you now see, the issue of allergies in the workplace is complicated and should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. When you have concerns or questions, the workers’ compensation experts at Normandy Insurance are available to help. Call us now: 866-688-6442 or visit our website and learn more about our five-star customer ratings: www.normandyins.com