When you consider that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year, you know there’s a pretty good chance someone on your crew is currently battling an allergy. There’s also a chance that an allergy sufferer will ask for a workplace accommodation.
Are you obligated to accommodate a worker experiencing allergies?
Probably. While the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t include a list of specific disabilities that must be accommodated, allergies often affect major life activities and are usually considered disabilities.
An allergy is an inflammatory reaction that occurs when someone ingests, inhales, or touches a substance to which his or her immune system has been sensitized. Common allergens include foods such as peanuts and tree nuts as well as airborne substances such as pollen.
Because you’re obligated to communicate with a disabled employee in order to find a suitable accommodation, you should first ask the worker to identify the specific allergen. Also find out how the allergy is triggered.
You also want to know what limitations the person is experiencing, what specific job tasks are causing a problem and what accommodations could help reduce exposure levels.
Accommodations will typically involve removing the allergen, especially if the substance is unique to the work environment and you can control it.
Another accommodation option is to move the employee by allowing him or her to either work from home or to use a private workspace.
If the allergen can’t be removed and the employee can’t be relocated, you might be able to reduce the substance to an acceptable level by, for instance, increasing ventilation using high-efficiency filters if the allergen is airborne.
(From the Nov. 4, 2022, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)