30 SEP 2014
Accommodating allergies in the workplace
With nearly 21 million allergy sufferers in the UK allergies are bound to be an issue we encounter in the workplace.
In a recent report a significant number of office workers found their symptoms got worse in the office, with 42% of allergy sufferers taking time off work due to their allergies. So do employers need to take allergies more seriously? Do employers have a choice if it could become a disability?
The main allergens affecting employees are; dust mites, plants, pet hair brought in on clothing and lack of ventilation. Other workers may have less common allergies to perfume or deodorant. Allergens can affect asthma or cause eczema.
Is an employee with an allergy disabled under the Equality Act 2010?
A person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the individual’s ability to carry out normal day-today activities. In order to determine the impact any medication or treatment used to control the effects need to be ignored.
Impairment has no definition and it is not necessary to consider how it was caused. A number of conditions such as hay fever are not impairments, but where they aggravate the effect of any other condition, for example asthma, it may be taken into account.
The emphasis is on whether as a result of the impairment the person’s ability to carry out daily activities is substantially affected. This will inevitably come down to each individual scenario.
An employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their premises or working practices for disabled employees. The list is by no means exhaustive and could include:
•being flexible with time off for hospital or GP appointments;
•offering the employee an alternative position away from the allergen;
•disallowing the use of products, that aggravate the allergy for example, perfumes.
How should an employer manage absences caused by allergies?
If the employer has a disability then employers who have sickness absence policies where the number of absences trigger scrutiny and warnings by the employer, need to consider making reasonable adjustments for disability related sick leave.
The area of absence management is not always straightforward and employers should take advice before taking any action and be careful not to assume an allergy is not a disability.
For more information or assistance with managing disabilities or absence policies, please contact:
Pam Loch, Managing Director of niche employment law practice, Loch Associates Employment Lawyers and Managing Director of HR Advise Me Limited.