If you’re a supervisor or manager, and an employee tells you they have a food allergy:
Ask them to explain what they are allergic to and what kind of reaction they have. If it’s not serious but will merely make them uncomfortable, try to be understanding. If they’re at risk of a serious allergic reaction, sit down and make an emergency plan — find out if they have an Epipen available. If they have a food allergy which could be deadly, you might want to consider asking employees not to bring that item to work. (Don’t worry — in most cases, this kind of extreme measure isn’t necessary.)
Get their emergency contact information. Make sure your administrative staff have current contact information for their spouse or a family member, in case anything goes wrong and they have a serious reaction. In fact, this is probably a good idea for all of your employees!
Remember that their medical condition is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act – they have a right to a safe work environment even if it’s a slight inconvenience to you, just as an employee who uses a wheelchair is entitled to ramps or elevators to make the building accessible.
Be mindful of requiring your employees to attend networking events or travel for work. Most employees will still be able to do these things, but they may require accommodations and they may need to start planning well in advance.
If you have food allergies yourself:
Let your coworkers and supervisors know. Food allergies and intolerances are so common that they probably won’t bat an eye. If they don’t seem to take it seriously, try to explain what your reactions look like so they can appreciate the situation. If that doesn’t work and they continue to put you at risk or ignore your needs at social events, ask for a letter from your allergist outlining appropriate steps for your employer to take.
If your allergies are severe or you use a shared kitchen, bring your own meals in sealed containers and consider bringing your own utensils or dishes. When I need to use dishes from my work kitchen, I scrub them down with dish soap (even if they’re already clean) and wipe them down with a clean paper towel to avoid any gluten contamination from coworkers who may not have thoroughly cleaned the dishes after using them. It’s not the most eco-friendly solution, but it’s safer than using a gross kitchen sponge with bits of questionable food stuck in it!
Don’t be offended when coworkers offer you treats they’ve brought in. It’s inevitable that not everyone will know about your allergies and others may forget. Just politely decline any food that seems a little bit sketchy — and if they’re bringing in packaged food, don’t feel bad about checking the ingredients label before digging in. If they give you a hard time about it, just let them know it’s a medical issue and move on.
Be proactive about company events. If you’re invited to a company barbecue, dinner, or potluck, be willing to ask about possible accommodations. If you’re not sure safe foods will be available, go ahead and pack some safe snacks just to be sure. Or you could volunteer to help plan the event, so you know there will be safe food available for you.
Be willing to answer questions about your allergy. Unless someone has close friends or family with a food allergy, they may not be familiar with your condition and might not know what to do to help keep you safe. Educating receptive colleagues is the best way to avoid future issues. Some of them may even ask what they should do in an emergency if you have an allergic reaction.
Stand up for yourself when necessary. If you have an airborne allergy and need people to avoid eating certain foods in the break room, let management know. If someone steals your “safe” lunch from home out of the company fridge, speak to management and be sure to let everyone know why this was a problem. If you’re simply encountering rude reactions from colleagues, try to educate them about your condition. If that doesn’t work, speak to HR — bullying and harassment over a medical condition is never acceptable in a workplace environment and chances are you’re not the only person in your company with dietary restrictions.
All in all, handling a food allergy or intolerance in the workplace doesn’t have to a big deal. Usually all it takes is good communication and a willingness to meet each other halfway to ensure a safe and pleasant work and social environment for everyone.
Read more: allergic reactions, americans with disabilities act, anaphylactic reactions, food allergies, food intolerance, food safety, gluten intolerance, health in the workplace, medical emergencies, workplace etiquette
Photo credit: Victor1558 via Flickr
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
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