Allergy Accommodations for Federal Employees

Living with allergies comes with challenges, especially at work. Not having control over who or what is in your work environment can mean dealing with sudden, painful, and even potentially deadly reactions. 

This blog post will cover federal employees’s rights and protections regarding allergy accommodations in the workplace. Our federal reasonable accommodations attorneys discuss some examples of allergy reasonable accommodations for federal employees and how to request your workplace accommodation. 

To request a consultation, please send us an online message or call (800) 801-0598 today.

Are Allergies a Disability Under the ADA?

Allergies can qualify as an impairing medical condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits someone from engaging in major life activities, such as eating, speaking, breathing, concentrating, and working. 

Many of the physical symptoms that employees with allergies experience interfere directly with these activities. 

Employees who have allergic reactions to certain physical or airborne substances may suffer:

  • Inflamed sinuses, 
  • Sneezing,
  • Skin sensitivity and itchiness,
  • Shortness of breath, and
  • Digestive distress.

In more severe cases, an allergic reaction can lead to life-threatening conditions like anaphylactic shock.

According to the ADA, even employees who manage the impact of their allergies with medication can qualify for the protections offered by disability discrimination laws. If your ability to live and work normally would be limited without treatment or medication, you’re entitled to certain rights and protections. 

These include:

  • Protection from discrimination in pay, hiring, and firing due to your medical condition;
  • The right to the same health benefits offered to employees without disabilities; and
  • Access to reasonable accommodations that help you manage your condition at work.

These protections are laid out in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically for federal employees. The ADA itself was designed based on this law, which made disability discrimination illegal for federal employers almost two decades before the private sector banned it.

Unlike the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act doesn’t have an employer size requirement. Federal employees at any government agency, no matter how small, have the right to equal employment opportunities regardless of disability.

What Do Reasonable Accommodations for Allergies Look Like?

Federal employment law defines a reasonable accommodation as any change in the work environment that helps an individual with a disability perform their job duties. Because each person’s needs vary depending on their job and condition, allergy work accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis.

For example, accommodations for an employee mildly allergic to certain cleaning products could be as simple as switching the bathroom soap to a different brand. However, when someone has a potentially life-threatening allergy, reasonable accommodations for federal employees may be more involved.

Let’s examine some examples of workplace accommodations for allergies, broken down into three potential strategies. 

Removing Allergens

Removing the source from the work environment is the simplest and most direct way of accommodating allergies. This could be an option when an employee is sensitive to a substance that can be contained and easily monitored, such as chemicals, mold, or foods. For example, an employee could request an employer clean or replace a moldy carpet.

Replacing or finding alternatives for uniforms containing wool, leather, or latex allergens is another option for employees sensitive to certain materials. Employers may also arrange to have workplace catering include labels and alternative options for employees with common food allergies.

Moving the Employee

If removing or identifying a specific allergen is impossible, moving the employee to a different area in the work environment could be an option. For instance, imagine the odor of a chemical used in the office printer triggers severe migraines for an employee sitting nearby. Relocating that employee to a different desk or a private office with a door could be a reasonable accommodation. In more serious situations, accommodation could involve allowing an employee to work from home full-time or part-time

Reducing Exposure

When removing the allergen or the employee from the environment is not feasible, there are other steps to limit an employee’s exposure to the triggering material. 

These could include:

  • Installing air purification or filtration systems,
  • Granting extra breaks for fresh air,
  • Creating scent-free conference rooms and restrooms,
  • Banning fragrances or certain foods, and
  • Designating safe food or medication storage areas.

In the case of airborne allergens, employees may also request to wear a mask or respirator while in the workplace.

How to Request Accommodations for Allergies in the Workplace

Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability is much simpler than many federal employees expect. You don’t need to fill out or submit a particular form. You don’t have to disclose your disability or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” To request an accommodation, you just have to tell your employer you need an adjustment in your work environment because of a medical condition. 

Under federal law, your employer can’t ignore your request. However, they’re not legally required to grant it immediately or give you the exact accommodation you want. Generally, determining disability accommodation is an interactive, collaborative process.

You and your boss must work together to find an accommodation that helps you overcome your limitations without causing “undue hardship” to your employer. However, what you decide isn’t set in stone. You have the right to communicate with your boss and keep making adjustments until you find an arrangement that works for you both.

Skilled Legal Advocates for Federal Employees

At Pines Federal, we’re proud to defend the rights of federal employees nationwide. With over 60 years of combined experience in federal employment law, our firm has made a name for ourselves as talented litigators and dedicated advocates for the people who make our nation run.

Our attorneys are knowledgeable in all areas of federal employment law and passionate about helping empower federal workers to assert their rights. If you’re struggling to get the disability accommodations you need, contact our office online or call (800) 801-0598 today.