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Allergies in the workplace

hidden-disability-anxietyMany people across the world face allergies that have an effect on every aspect of their lives, including the workplace. These allergies can impose difficulties on either being in a workplace or performing certain tasks in their job. One thing for employers to note is that if the allergy is severe enough, it would probably be considered a disability and must be accommodated appropriately.

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), an employee or customer/client with a disability must be accommodated, up to the point of undue hardship. We will review a few examples of accommodation later on. What is undue hardship? It is an act of accommodation that places significant difficulty or expense on the employer; we have had some clients suggest that they may be approaching undue hardship — most of them are not. It is very difficult to claim undue hardship, typically you are putting the financial health of your business in jeopardy if you have reached undue hardship — contact a lawyer to determine if you have reached this point.

Employers aren’t expected to just know when someone has a disability like an allergy, it is the responsibility of an employee with an allergy (or other form of disability) to inform their employer/supervisor about said allergy and to ask for accommodation, if needed. Following that, it is the duty of the employer to listen to their request for accommodation in good faith and respond to the request accordingly; doing what they can to the point of undue hardship to accommodate that request.

If the employee can’t work with a certain substance due to an allergy, for example latex, the employer must do all they can to ensure the employee doesn’t come into contact with latex. This doesn’t mean that the workplace has to become entirely latex free, it simply means policies and procedures must be put in place to ensure the employee doesn’t come into contact with latex. The workplace must become latex safe not necessarily latex free. An example could be providing this employee with an alternative to latex gloves to use, if that is the issue.

Scent allergies have also become quite prevalent in the workplace (and in public, and in schools, etc.). When dealing with scent allergies, the only way to combat them is to have a written policy in place that clearly states no scents are allowed in the workplace; to ensure the employer can’t be sued, they must enforce that policy. For example, the policy could state that no perfumes are to be worn to or applied at work. Failure to enforce the no scent policy could result in legal action. This includes allergies like a peanut allergy – making it known that the workplace is a nut-free environment can be very important, even life-saving. Employees would be encouraged in this article to report to management should a scent be noticed or accidently worn, or if nuts are brought into the workplace so that steps can be put in place for the safety of others (hopefully before a reaction occurs); this policy should also contain a section to enforce the policy, for example a disciplinary action may occur should this policy be disregarded.

This policy works best if it is heavily advertised or highly visible (i.e. on a wall in an entryway) as well as made known to all employees and customers. As long as proper measures up to the point of undue hardship are taken to ensure the workers safety, the workplace can be a healthy and allergy-safe one, and compliant with legislation like the AODA. Employers and employees need to know what their responsibilities are under the law in Ontario, for their own safety and the safety of others around them.

Beyond Rewards Inc

Human Resources and Risk Management Consultants and Training Provider at Beyond Rewards Inc
Beyond Rewards is a boutique firm offering a full suite of Human Resource, Safety, Workplace investigations, Accessibility Standards and Risk Management solutions, online training programs and customized face to face training for our clients. Several exceptional expert consultants led by Lynne Bard, HBa, CHRP, CES, President/Senior Consultant,will be blogging regularly on First Reference Talks on behalf of Beyond Rewards Inc. Read more here.

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One thought on “Allergies in the workplace
  • W Mark Stanley says:

    The notion of “undue hardship” is primarily applied to employers. However, should it also be applied to employees? When one employee’s disability accommodation demands begin to impose unfair and/or unreasonable restrictions on other employees should that also be seen as legitimate “undue hardship”?

    We have an employee who is scent sensitive. In response to this disability we have created and enforced a “No Scents” policy in the workplace. We have changed all our cleaning products to ‘scent free’. However, the employee’s sensitivity is so severe that they are demanding all employees use a particular scent free deodorant because the employee can smell the deodorant – even when no one else can. That employees use a particular scent free laundry soap because the employee can smell the scent on clothing.

    For the other employees, they are feeling that their lives are being unfairly disrupted and that the demands are unfair.

    Where does it end?