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With the spring season ending in a cloud of pollen dust, allergy-prone Kentuckians rejoice in the promise of a sneeze-free summer.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has named Louisville, Kentucky in the top five “Allergy Capitals” for three years running. Not that we’re proud of it – our watery eyes and stuffy noses sure aren’t fans!

But, it isn’t our infamous seasonal allergies that are making headlines lately – rather, it’s food allergies that are on the top shelf.

Over the past few months, bills addressing the dangers of food allergies have been introduced into the state governments of Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania – just to name a few.

You’re probably not surprised that the proposed legislation would place legal obligations on day care teachers, school bus drivers, and restaurant managers to undergo food allergen training or maintain a stash of EpiPens.

But, you might be surprised to learn that under our existing State Worker’s Compensation Laws, an allergic reaction to food may be considered a workplace exposure in certain circumstances.

Did you know that food allergies may also be considered a disability under federal laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in certain circumstances?

The bottom line is that when it comes to food allergies, our existing federal laws place some responsibility on employers to ensure the safety of their employees.

Below you’ll find an overview of what you need to know about food allergies and the top 3 tips for navigating them in your workplace.

Do you have too much on your plate to worry about food allergies? We can help! Give us a call at 877-753-0970 or check out our website to learn about outsourcing your employee issues to Integrity HR here.

Top 3 Tips for Navigating Food Allergies in the Workplace

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases estimates that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. Chances are if you don’t suffer from a food allergy yourself, you work with someone who does!

Before we give you the top 3 tips for navigation food allergies in the workplace, here are some basic things to know about food allergies so you can best assist your employees.

When you hear the words “food allergy” your mind might generate buzz words like “peanuts!” “EpiPen!” or “gluten-free!” But, in reality, there is a vast spectrum of foods known to cause allergies and dozens of possible allergic responses.

The foods that most commonly cause an allergic reaction are eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shell fish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. That being said, we recently heard of a client’s employee who has an allergy to pineapple!

Allergic reactions present themselves in many different ways depending on the severity of the allergy.

Watch out for a tingly or itchy feeling in the mouth or throat, wheezing, trouble swallowing, or hives. An allergy may also cause swelling of the tongue and face, dizziness, or anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction that impairs the breathing and may send the body into shock).

You can’t assume that employees will share their allergies with you, their supervisor, or HR. We once had a client who didn’t know of an employee’s food allergy until a serious reaction had them calling 9-1-1!

Sharing knowledge about food allergies and how to respond to them with your employees is not only important but potentially lifesaving!

As an employer, an awareness about food allergies and the legal responsibilities of your workplace becomes especially crucial for ensuring compliance and avoiding emergencies.

To be proactive about protecting yourself and your employees from the consequences of food allergies, try our 3 tips for navigating food allergies:

1. Host A Training

Offer a training session to share information about food allergies and emergency procedures with your employees.

How can they recognize an allergic reaction? What should they do to help a co-worker experiencing a reaction?

Post signs communicating symptoms and procedures in eating areas like the staff kitchen or break room for future reference.

2. Plan Accordingly

Company picnics, holiday parties, gratitude lunches – no party is complete without snacks! And let’s be real, depending on the allergy, it can be pretty difficult to find an alternative when the buffet contains hot dogs, pizza, or cake.

Before arranging the menu, ask your employees if they have any dietary or allergy needs.

Select food with the information gathered so that all team members are able to participate and feel appreciated. Plus, double checking on allergies prior may help you avoid medical emergencies on the day of.

3. Make Accommodations

Depending on type and severity, some allergies may interfere with daily work life more than others.

Examples of accommodations you could make for your employees with food allergies include: providing allergy-free dishes or cutlery, providing an allergy-free zone, providing flex time for medical appointments, or allowing employees to keep their emergency medication with them.

Communicate the accommodations to your team in a staff meeting or in the allergy training mentioned above. Make sure to add any allergy policies to your company handbook so they’re documented in writing!

Let’s Sum It Up

Navigating food allergies in your workplace doesn’t have to be complicated. Try one of our 3 tips to create a safe and compliant environment for your business.

Do you have too much on your plate to worry about food allergies? We can help! Give us a call at 877-753-0970 or check out our website to learn about outsourcing your employee issues to Integrity HR.

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about the author: Mitzi Root

Mitzi Root, PHR, is a Senior Consultant for Integrity HR, Inc. Mitzi helps her clients succeed by being a strategic HR partner and helping them navigate some of the more difficult HR issues they face everyday. Mitzi’s areas of expertise include: recruiting, salary administration, employee relations, policy development and handling compliance issues.