How to deal with food allergies at work

Can you ban peanut butter sandwiches? An expert answers all of HR’s questions

How to deal with food allergies at work
Your new employee comes with a warning: they’re extremely allergic to nuts.

So, what’s HR to do – especially if another staffer brings a peanut butter sandwich to work every day?

HRD spoke to Beatrice Povolo of Food Allergy Canada about the best way to keep allergic employees safe.

First of all, she says, it’s important that workers disclose their allergy to their manager and discuss what they need to avoid and what to do in an emergency, including where they keep their EpiPen, who their emergency contact is, and when to call 911.

“We recommend they sit down with the employer to talk about an anaphylaxis emergency plan – if something were to happen, if they were to have a reaction at work, what would be the proper steps to take to help them treat the reaction and get them medical emergency attention right away.”

It’s also recommended that employees wear a medical ID, so their colleagues and medical responders know what to do.

Povolo says there’s an uptick in employers seeking advice from Food Allergy Canada about accommodations, as more students with allergies enter the workforce, or adults develop allergies they didn’t have as children.

A good starting point, she says, is a workplace anaphylaxis or allergy policy that covers employee training, emergency plans, and minimizing the worker’s exposure to a potentially deadly allergen.

“If they’re having catering brought in, if they have luncheons or functions at work, working with the food service team and their caterers to help them understand which food allergens they’d like to avoid in terms of food that may be prepared or served, and working with the individual employees to find out what would be suitable options for them.”

So, should you ban peanut butter?

That, says Povolo, depends on staff and the workplace – though a better option might be to limit where it’s consumed.

“Because the workplace can be so many different places, you’re really looking to see are there certain strategies that can be put in place to minimize the risk to those that have allergies.

“In an office environment, for example, could there be specific zones that are designated in the cafeteria or in the office that minimize the amount of allergens in that common space, or that individuals that have things that others are allergic to have designated eating zones.”

She adds that HR should be willing to have conversations with workers on how they can support their allergic colleague.

“There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach, a lot of it is in the discussion, looking at the environment of the workplace, and again, a lot of it is common courtesy and respect for your co-workers and understanding that this is a serious health issue and how they can help.”

Related stories:
Allergies in the workplace: what HR needs to know
Banana ban at BBC

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