We have an employee who is claiming she’s allergic to various things in the office, but quite honestly, she has been trying to work from home for months, so we’re a little dubious (she’s claiming she’s allergic to some strange things). What should we do?
When an employee comes to an employer claiming allergies to items in the workplace, that triggers the need to enter into the interactive process under state and federal disabilities law. This process requires the employer and the employee to meet and discuss possible reasonable accommodations.
Although an employee may greatly desire to telecommute, many job functions do not allow for telecommuting. It is, however, an option to consider—evaluating whether the essential job functions can be performed remotely, and if it won’t work out, explaining why to the employee is part of that interactive process.
Surprisingly, some individuals are allergic to some common things in the workplace, such as: toner in copiers or printer cartridges, cleaning supplies, and perfumes used by other employees.
In addition, some people have compromised immune systems and truly suffer from levels of known allergens that other employees won’t notice.
Input from Employee
Get your employee’s input into possible alternatives—employees who have lived with allergies their entire lives know many ways to work around the allergies.
Options might mean offering protective gear (gloves, respirator), a schedule of different hours to limit exposure to allergens, using HEPA air filters in the office and changing them regularly, and taking building maintenance and cleanliness seriously. Such options are a particularly good way to go in light of the current situation with the coronavirus.
If an accommodation can’t be met, a last step might be to request medical documentation substantiating the condition, and the doctor’s input into possible avenues to explore.
A complete list of accommodations is too lengthy to cite, and depends on each situation. If the employee’s request is ultimately deemed to be unreasonable, be prepared to explain to him/her why this is so.
Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.