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Managing food allergies in the workplace

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Food allergies, whether mild or serious, are medical conditions that affect up to 15 million people in the United States, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, a nonprofit organization. For workers, having a food allergy can present a number of challenges.

First steps

When you’re hired for a new job, FARE recommends you talk with your supervisor about your specific allergies and any reasonable accommodations you may need to safely work. If you’re comfortable doing so, it may be beneficial to talk to your new co-workers about your allergies. FARE offers a variety of tips to help enlist the support of new colleagues:

  • Provide specific information about your food allergy, including the seriousness of the allergy and how to recognize the signs of a reaction.
  • Show co-workers where you keep your epinephrine and what you must do in the event of an emergency.
  • Explain how your co-workers can help prevent you from experiencing an allergic reaction, such as consulting you before they plan a lunch or an event where food will be involved. Ask them to label all food that they bring into the workplace, and thank them for their consideration.
  • Place a sign outside your workstation reminding others of your food allergies.

How management can help

Employers can help accommodate workers with food allergies. FARE points to a number of tips from the Job Accommodations Network:

  • Consider offering a training session to educate employees on food allergies.
  • Provide employees who have food allergies with a separate, designated area to store their food and eating utensils.
  • Take action if any employee interferes with the accommodations set forth regarding the worker’s allergen.
  • Planning a workplace celebration that involves food? Reach out to workers with food allergies and ask them how you can accommodate them. Be clear that you don’t want to exclude them because of an allergy.
  • Be flexible when it comes to sick days and flex time for an employee with a food allergy, as he or she might need to leave for medical appointments.

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