What Happens When an Employee Is (Literally) Allergic to Work?

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Todd Meier

Nothing is harder than seeing a dedicated employee struggling with health issues in the workplace. Employee health concerns can create stressful and emotional situations for both you and the employee. This can be especially true if it seems that an employee’s work environment is to blame for his or her allergies. As an HR manager, you want to help and improve the situation but may not know how to identify the allergies and what may be triggering them.

Severe Allergies in the Workplace

Recently, we saw a case that truly put an employer in a bind. A beloved employee, who had been with the company for nearly 20 years, began struggling to make it through the workday because of his severe allergies. The employee’s allergy attacks had been increasing in frequency to the point that he often had to work from home and/or needed time off work to recover. The employee’s frequent and unpredictable absences, coupled with his rapidly declining health, were major concerns for his employer, who turned to the Workplace PossibilitiesSM program for assistance.

One of our vocational consultants stepped in to help the employer get to the root cause of the employee’s attacks. Before coming in for an in-person evaluation, the consultant sent a thorough list of questions to the employer to help gain insight into the employee’s situation. This included determining the types of workstations the employee used, the humidity levels in the building, whether food was allowed at employees’ desks and the various cleaning products the office used. After receiving the employer’s responses, the consultant conducted a number of visits to the office to investigate the possible causes of the allergy attacks. Not only did she meet with the employee to learn more about his allergies, she also talked with the facilities department and his medical team to learn more about what in the office environment could be causing his symptoms.

Finding Triggers and Creating Solutions

After some serious investigation and research, the consultant realized the ducting in the employee’s office connected to the kitchen. Food particles for items he was allergic to were traveling in the air through the vents and into the employee’s workspace, causing his severe attacks. Simply moving his office and purchasing an air purifier to aid his breathing reduced the severity and duration of his allergy attacks, helping him stay at work.

In just a matter of days, our consultant worked with the employer to assess the situation, identify the trigger for the allergies and find a solution to help prevent further attacks. Because the employer made the decision to refer the case to Workplace Possibilities and actively collaborated with the consultant to help identify the issue, the organization was able to help keep the employee in the office and protect his health. The combined dedication and collaboration of the Workplace Possibilities program and its member employer helped create a simple solution to a serious problem.


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