Employees with Allergies: Your Workplace Rights

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities, including those with asthma and allergies.

A disability is defined as a mental or physical impairment that significantly limits major life activities such as eating, working, going to school, and breathing.

Your Employee Rights

People with food or other allergies have a right to request changes in the workplace environment if there are conditions that disadvantage or exclude them. The ADA also covers employment policies. Firms cannot refuse to hire someone based on potential workplace adjustments, the insurance needs of the job seeker, or of their family members.

Workplace accommodations for people with allergies typically require more creativity, time, and flexibility than money to execute. In most cases, employees and employers will work together to make the necessary changes.

Such changes might involve providing a separate, small refrigeration unit in the employee lunch room for an individual with food allergies, or designating a peanut-free lunch or break room table. The accommodation might be educating an employee’s colleagues about the employee’s food allergy and what they need to remain safe.

Possible Obstacles and Recourse

However, people must be prepared to stand up for their rights. Sometimes the barrier to change may be other’s attitudes about accommodating a disability that is invisible much of the time. A business or program may also claim that a disability accommodation imposes an “undue burden,” potentially exempting them from making the change.

What constitutes and “undue burden” is not defined by law. Rulings are based on an organization’s size and the actual costs of the changes. It is the organization’s responsibility to show that it accurately assessed the individual’s needs and attempted to find a feasible solution.

The ADA prohibits a firm from harassment, coercion, or retaliation against an employee who invokes their ADA rights, or helps others invoke theirs.

  1. Complaints of unfair treatment can be filed with the U.S. Attorney General who forwards them to the appropirate agency.
  2. Individuals can file private suits for court orders requiring employers to make the necessary changes and pay lawyer fees—or to reinstate employment and provide back wages.

It is difficult to imagine an employer refusing to make reasonable changes that ensure the safety of an employee, but it does happen. The ADA is continually being redefined by court decisions concerning the disability claims involving employees and employers.

Know your employee rights and, if necessary, respectfully ask for disability accommodations under the ADA. If they are refused, you can choose to continue negotiations, live with the status quo, find other employment, or seek legal counsel concerning your rights.

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse / flickr

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