Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Allergy Claim Triggers Need for Interactive Evaluation of Options

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.

Exploring Options

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.

Staff Contact: Dana Leisinger

Dana Leisinger
Dana Leisinger
Dana Leisinger joined the CalChamber in 2000 and currently serves as an HR adviser. She has advised employers on matters such as employment law, wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and wage and hour issues. She also has conducted seminars and training and guided employers through various levels of governmental investigations. Leisinger holds a J.D. from the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific.

Related Articles

Considerations for Returning to In-Person Work Setups

In Episode 152 of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber employment law expert Matthew Roberts and CalChamber HR Adviser Ellen Savage discuss hybrid and in-person work environments, and use real workplace examples to share best practices...

Medical Documentation Requirements for Disability Leaves

If an employee requests a leave of absence as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, can I require medical documentation from their health care provider? If so, how much time does the...

Review Expense Reimbursement Policies for Relevance to Remote Work

When the pandemic started, we sent many of our employees home to work remotely. Should we have a policy regarding reimbursement of their expenses? The unexpected and rapid growth of remote workers since 2020 has...