How to Talk About Allergies in the Workplace: A Personal Perspective

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Author: Nicole K. I have worked at various businesses with distinct environments throughout my life. With that in mind, I would like to share some tips that have helped me manage my allergies. Below is my list of the top 5 things you should keep in mind when discussing allergies in the workplace. 

1)      Be Open Even if you think you are working in an industry where it is unlikely that you will encounter your allergens, you should inform your employer/employees. Let them know how severe your allergies can be and what to do in the event of an emergency. Realistically, employers want their staff to be safe, happy, and productive in the workplace.

2)      Have an Emergency Plan It is always a good idea to have an emergency plan in place in case an allergic reaction occurs in the workplace. Most employers have standard paperwork that requires employees to list their emergency contacts. This would be a great opportunity to discuss where you carry your auto-injector (e.g. purse, bag or pocket). Remember, a locker in the staff change room may not be the best idea. It may be inaccessible in the event of an emergency. Somewhere like a specific drawer or in a first aid kit (if available) would be a better option, however, carrying it with you at all times is most ideal. Remember to have a second dose available too.

3)      Plan Ahead for Special Events Say, for example, you hear about an annual employee picnic. Volunteer to be a member of the planning committee and assist with the organization of special events in the workplace. This involvement allows you to have more of a say regarding the menu and, ultimately, to ensure that there are some safe food options available for you and perhaps others! At the very least, you can make sure that the proper labelling of food is made a priority. If someone else is responsible for the planning, approach them and let them know about your allergens. I have found that, even when people appear to be overwhelmed with this information, offering to help them plan can alleviate any stress they may feel.

4)      Always Have a Back-up Plan Those of us with allergies always hope all of our food planning  comes together seamlessly. Yet that is not always the case! It is always important for you to have a back-up plan. If, for example, lunch is being catered at your workplace, I would recommend packing your own lunch. In the event of a miscommunication or error, you always want to make sure that you have something safe to eat. This can apply to festivities like staff potlucks, retirement parties, birthday celebrations, staff dinners, and staff socials (to name but a few).

5)      Discuss Any Concerns If there is any part of your job that you feel puts you at risk for an allergic reaction, talk to your supervisor immediately. You may encounter this situation if, for example, you work in the restaurant industry. It is easy to imagine a persistent feeling of discomfort as you wait and clear tables. One might find a way to minimize the risk of the reaction by wearing gloves, for example. Regardless of your approach, most employers will be more than willing to work together with you to find a suitable solution!

Best of luck,    

Nicole K.

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