Tag Archives: workplace

Open Sesame: Why I Decided to Tell my Employer About my Food Allergy

It started with a bagel; a sesame bagel someone around me was eating at a brunch. I’ve always had an intolerance to sesame seeds, nothing to fret about as it had remained an intolerance my entire allergy life so I never worried too much about it, considering I had bigger, more serious allergies. I wasn’t afraid or concerned around them as long as I wasn’t ingesting them. That was until a bagel at a brunch spot in Ottawa ruined that idea. A little back-story: A year ago I was living in Kingston, Ontario during the week and Ottawa, Ontario on weekends. My Sundays usually consisted of brunch then hitting the 401 for a two-hour drive. I travelled back and forth so often I spent a lot of time alone in my car with my thoughts and a good audiobook. On this one specific drive in late May, I started to feel sick and uncomfortable, but I passed off the feeling as tiredness and anxiety about driving back to Kingston. I figured my eyes were red from over focusing and the hives were caused by stress. I pushed aside any seed of thought about a reaction… but then it happened again.  It was a little more serious; my breathing was heavy and my hives were unmistakable. Those little seeds of doubt started to bloom into full-blown panic. Fast forward a few weeks later my allergist confirmed that my intolerance had upgraded to a full-blown allergy.

Following this diagnosis, I really needed to take stock of the one place where I was around food the most: my workplace. I was suddenly very aware of my work surroundings and where my new allergen may lurk; the old toaster in our office with crumbs in the bottom, knifes in the drawer were questionable as well as specs on the communal tables. The lunchroom suddenly became an area of anxiety and insecurity.

When I first mentioned my new allergy to my co-workers, I received a bit of a negative response about this “weird” allergy. This made me hesitant to talk to them about creating a safe space for me to eat in. I then internalized my allergies, trying to brush them off as not serious or a big deal even though they were causing my anxiety to go through the roof. I felt like I was back in grade school, surrounded by kids who didn’t understand my allergies or care because they wanted to be able to eat whatever they want. I began to eat at my desk or left completely to eat outside the office.  I knew something had to be done.

I started with a frank and honest discussion with my bosses about the severity of my new allergy. I expressed my worries, concerns and fears about the uncertainty surrounding the situation. I got an allergy alert plan outlining: Identifying a reaction, steps to take, where my auto-injector is, and what my allergens are. I put it up in a central spot to alert others to the seriousness of my food allergies. These actions may seem easy but it proved difficult for me personally; I hate talking about myself, making inconveniences for anyone or putting a spotlight on me at all. It makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward but those of us who have food allergies need to push those stage-fright feelings aside and make sure we’re heard.

It may be difficult to tell someone in an authority position about your food allergies. Even worse, it’s always challenging to explain allergies to someone who doesn’t get it or hasn’t been around it before. It’s easy to close off, shrink back and avoid the situation, or lash out and get angry. Both of which put you in a dangerous position, leaving everyone unsatisfied. Don’t let ignorance or misjudgment deter you from keeping yourself safe or speaking up. Telling your employer about your food allergies can keep you safe and create a friendly and informed workplace. Having a plan and being prepared for anything is the best possible way to tackle any situation. Most problems start with one tiny seed, and if we ignore them they can grow into a full-blown complication. We can’t ignore our intuition, or push aside out feelings, we have to be strategic and confident and find new and creative solutions whether it be allergy related, work related, or both.

-Arianne K.

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Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To a Co-worker

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Having open lines of communication with co-workers about your food allergy is important

I experienced my first anaphylactic reaction when I was an infant. By the time I entered the workforce I had more than two decades of experience taking care of my own safety. I was an expert, an anaphylaxis ninja, masterfully controlling my environment to ensure my safety.

This idea was shattered into tiny pieces one day when the office prankster saw me hard at work and used the back of my head as target practice. His projectile of choice was a handful of peanuts; the allergen I had reacted to.

In his defence he didn’t know his prank was dangerous. But for me this situation was a wake-up call; I was confronted with the fact that my track record hadn’t made me an expert, it made me complacent. I thought that it would have been awkward to inform my coworkers about my risk of anaphylaxis, but now I knew it was far more awkward to do so while picking a peanut out of my hair.

I realized that I needed to be proactive and explain anaphylaxis to my coworkers. Here are a few of my strategies for sharing food allergy information with coworkers:

  1. Go all the way to the top. If your company has a good Human Resources department go there, otherwise go to the highest manager you have access to. In my case, I went straight to the company president. I shared that I am at-risk for anaphylactic reactions and I educated him on what that meant. In all honesty I felt embarrassed, but the response to this was amazing. By the end of the day all the peanuts had been removed from the building and the cleaning staff were given special instructions to ensure every surface was cleaned. Most important of all was that now the management team knew what to do if anything happened.
  2. Next, go close to home. My company had 120 employees in two locations. I couldn’t tell everyone at once so I started within my department. This created a zone of safety with the cubicles nearest my own receiving the first education. Since these coworkers were actually eating food near my desk, they were critical to my safety. On top of this, they ended up being great advocates and helped me spread the word throughout the company.
  3. Be open to curiosity. Whenever someone had a question I went out of my way to educate them. I adopted the attitude that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Things that I took for granted were unknown to my coworkers so answering questions was a great way to make sure that the people around me were as anaphylaxis conscious as possible. For example, I got questions about smelling peanuts, symptoms I experienced in the past, how fast a reaction is, what they could do if I had a reaction and many others. These were great opportunities to educate people.
  4. Be direct and clear. It’s important to remember that anaphylaxis is serious business. I didn’t dwell on the darker side of food allergies but I did address them head on. After I explained what a reaction might look like I was honest, people have died from this, not often but it has happened. By approaching the subject directly I was able to get my message across and avoid other situations like the prankster episode. It turns out that my coworkers appreciated this method as it helped them understand the situation clearly.
  5. Teach people how to react to an allergic reaction. I always carry an auto-injector but during a previous reaction I learned that it can be hard to operate under pressure. When my hands were shaking I had my brother administer the injection for me. With that experience in mind I taught my coworkers how to use my auto-injector. I managed to get one of the trainers that has the needle removed and we practiced several times. Then we talked about the other steps such as calling an ambulance. Overall, it helped empower the people around me to feel like they could help if something went wrong.
  6. Continue to be proactive. My work was never over. This went for both my real work and my food allergy-awareness work. Food Allergies are a very important part of my life but just a fleeting thought for most people. Some people I had been working with for years would still forget about my food allergy from time to time. It’s your responsibility to stay safe so be proactive and continuously educate.

As people who are at-risk for anaphylactic reactions, we get used to talking to our friends, restaurant staff, and our families. But in many cases you spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else. It’s important to take matters into your own hands and talk to your coworkers about the risks associated with severe allergic reactions.

What about you? What strategies do you use to talk to your coworkers?

– Jason B.

Dating and Allergies – A Practical Approach

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In two weeks, my partner and I will be celebrating our 3 year anniversary! Being in a serious, long-term relationship, I no longer worry as much about my allergies when I am with him. When we go out to the restaurant, he’s also watching the kitchen staff and wondering whether or not the waiter/waitress truly understands how serious my allergies are. He’s always got my back! When we are planning “date night,” we call restaurants ahead of time or make plans that don’t revolve around eating out.

Dating with food allergies can seem terrifying for many people. When I was a teenager, I outright refused to date because I was too scared of trusting a boy with my life. I felt that waiting until I met someone I thought I could trust, and who completely understood the severity of my allergies, was the right thing for me to do. I always took out my auto-injector on the first date and explained how it worked, when I would need it, etcetera. Doing this made me feel safer. Having said that, everyone is different. Dating is supposed to be fun and you should therefore do things you feel safe doing.

Talking about food allergies and the auto-injector:

Explaining your allergies, the severity of them, and showing dates how to use your (epinephrine) auto-injector is very important. It is ultimately up to you as to when you want to talk to them about it and show someone you are dating your injector. Personally I feel that, because food allergies are life-threatening, it is extremely important that others know right away what “the deal” is. This is not intended to scare them; but it is intended to show them that you are confident with your allergies, know how to manage them, and that you know what to do if something were to happen. Most people will feel better knowing what to do if something were to happen (especially if you reassure them that you take extra precautions and know how to manage them).

What to do on a date:

If you have food allergies, or perhaps your girlfriend or boyfriend has food allergies, you might be wondering what to do on a date. How do you make the date safe? Here are a few ideas. Not included below is the obvious food date (breakfast, lunch or dinner). If you are going to meet for food, then make sure you go to a place you feel safe. If you feel like trying a new place, call them ahead of time and make sure you feel safe with their menu and their precautions with your allergies.

  • Picnic – Bring safe food and spend the afternoon at the park, by the lake, or on the beach
  • Tea/coffee- Tea/coffee dates are always fun. Try new cafes in the area!
  • Mini-Golf – Who doesn’t like mini-golf! J
  • Go-karts – Speed! And no food! Or you could always bring your own snacks.
  • Wine tasting – Another fun one. You could always bring a few safe snacks for yourself.
  • Bike rides – You could even head for a picnic! Or go for a nice ride together. Maybe even rent a tandem bike for fun!
  • Aquariums, Museums, Art Galleries.

There are so many things you could do without even going to a restaurant or getting food. Get creative. Rent a canoe or a paddle board and get out on the water! There are a lot of safe choices out there! Don’t let your allergies impact the fun you have on your dates! If he/she really likes you, your food allergies won’t stand in the way of that! Be yourself. Make the date a safe one so you don’t have to stress about having a reaction and can relax and enjoy the time with your date.

Erika

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

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When it comes to bringing up allergies in the workplace, I think a lot of us get nervous, anxious, or even just simply forget because of all the new information we are trying to learn at a new job. From my personal experience, the sooner I let my co-workers know about my severe peanut and tree nut allergies, the safer I feel at work. A few different strategies have worked for me in the past. I will share them with you here.

1)      I had the unique opportunity during an interview to mention my allergies. The question had something to do with describing a time when I had to deal with a high pressure situation and what I did. I decided to step outside the box and share two experiences. One was a workplace experience and the other was an allergy experience. I explained how my brother was having an anaphylactic reaction and, being allergic to nuts myself, I knew how to use the auto-injector and the steps that needed to be taken to help my brother. This turned out to be a simple way of opening up a conversation about allergies with a company that I would end up working for. Sometimes explaining your allergies before you even get the job can be useful and insightful for both parties. Even if you do not get the job, at least you can walk away knowing that you advocated for others with allergies who may work for that company in the future!

2)      Another strategy that I have used to tell my co-workers about my allergies is, essentially, the same calm, cool strategy I use when meeting new people. I mention my allergies and their severity casually, such as before a team meeting where donuts are provided: “No thank you. I’m severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.” This is almost always followed up with questions about what I can eat, where I keep my auto-injector, how to use it, and the list goes on. This is a simple, yet quite effective strategy.

3)      I have never done this; but I have heard of people emailing their boss to explain their allergies. From the abundance of emails everyone seems to go through in a day, I’m not sure this is the best strategy; but it has worked for some and maybe it will work for you! Just be sure to keep the email optimistic and informative in case your boss has never had any experiences with allergies before.

4)      A final method I have used is very blunt. I went straight to my new boss (the owner of the company) and explained my allergies to her. After my initial explanation, I asked if she had any questions and we entered into an informative dialogue back and forth for nearly twenty minutes. When we concluded, she took it upon herself to endorse a “peanut/nut free” unwritten policy where no peanut or tree nut containing food was allowed to be eaten in the office. I never asked for this exceptionally kind gesture; but my boss understood the severity of the allergy and would not take any risks. Based on my experiences, I find this strategy to be the most effective.

It may seem scary and nerve-wracking to put yourself in a place of vulnerability by explaining your allergy to co-workers in the workplace. Yet your safety is paramount. Take a deep breath and spread the word! You may be surprised how well your workplace takes your allergy information.

 

Dylan

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.