Author Topic: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office  (Read 5863 times)

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JustCallMePat

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Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« on: July 31, 2014, 08:24:54 PM »
[BG] I work in a rather constrained space - not crowded, but no extra space anywhere.  There are 40 of us on program with about 30 in the office at any time, the rest working sometimes at nearby locations or perhaps on travel. [BG]

Short version:

New cast member starts today and we're told she's highly allergic to peanuts.  No other nuts, just peanuts.  Nice folks that we are, we clean out our in-house snack bar of any peanut containing products, leaving potato chips and some Twizzlers.  Some folks are grumbling already.

The boss tells me the allergy is serious, but that she does have an Epi-Pen available at all times if needed.  One of our staff is a paramedic and has offered to do training on use of the pen and in proper procedures should our new team mate experience distress.  I offered to move from my office to a cube to help give her a better space. (Senior folks are in offices, junior folks are in cubes.)  I suggested that people can now munch on those peanut butter crackers in their cars when they go out to check their phones for messages or for a smoke break.

We've never had this in our controlled space before.  How have others dealt with it?  I think we'll ultimately be ok in our group, but a partner location where we sometimes go has well over 100 people there and I can see them being less accommodating for one person.

ChiGirl

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2014, 08:33:48 PM »
Before anything else, I would ask her what she needs...so far, all your info is coming from the boss, who may or may not have accurate knowledge about the severity of her allergy and what steps need to be taken to avoid disaster. 

kudeebee

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2014, 10:57:46 PM »
Depending on how allergic she is, even having people snack on peanut crackers, etc, in their cars/outside could put her at risk if they carry residue back into the office.

I'm not sure that moving out of your office will help that much.  Check before you do.

Outdoor Girl

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2014, 11:43:20 PM »
We have a summer student who is highly allergic to peanuts.  She has an epipen and is meticulous about washing her hands after touching surfaces.

We've made everyone aware and asked that everyone wipe down any area where they might have had peanut products.  They are also to either immediately wash dishes and utensils or put them in the dishwasher.  Most people have taken to keeping their peanut butter in their own cubes to reduce the risk of exposure.

So I would designate one cube as completely peanut free for her and if there are any people sharing her cube, they need to be peanut free, too.
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blarg314

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2014, 02:56:40 AM »

I think it's also important to recognize the limitations when it comes to what the office can do.

If you have someone with a life threatening allergy, you can ask coworkers not to bring peanut products into the workplace (and re-stock the snack supply). But the more people who are involved, the greater the chance of a problem, just by accident. Someone brings leftover pad thai for lunch, not realizing that it was made with peanut oil, someone has a granola bar in the car on the way to work, and doesn't wash their hands well enough, they doesn't realize their kid moved their computer case after having a peanut butter sandwich, or the cleaning staff at night doesn't know about the restriction.

I would definitely ask what she needs, and go from there.

suzieQ

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2014, 07:40:43 AM »
It also may not be as bad as you think (although better safe than sorry!). We have several students with peanut allergies who are fine as long as they don't ingest the peanuts.
If (big if) her allergy is only if she ingests, then I would think there would be no worries as long as everything is labeled appropriately.
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TurtleDove

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2014, 09:37:13 AM »
I think it is great to have policies in place to make the office as peanut free as possible, but at the end of the day if this person is in mortal danger if she comes into contact with trace peanut she needs to proactively take steps herself.  It isn't fair to expect coworkers to avoid peanut butter altogether.

bopper

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2014, 09:47:02 AM »
If people have a need to munch on peanut butter crackers, i would suggest to her that she get some sunflower butter (or other non nut butter) and some crackers and show people that they can have similar items that don't involve peanut butter.

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2014, 10:02:17 AM »
If people have a need to munch on peanut butter crackers, i would suggest to her that she get some sunflower butter (or other non nut butter) and some crackers and show people that they can have similar items that don't involve peanut butter.

But does it taste as good and is it the same price. I am not going to start buying something double the price or that tastes awful. Plus I am just plain going to forgot at some point about it and bring in peanut butter something. It really is on the person to protect themselves.

Twik

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2014, 10:20:01 AM »
I wonder if kherbert will check in? She can probably give good pointers about just how careful everyone has to be, although I'm sure there are differences for each person with the condition.
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camlan

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2014, 10:51:02 AM »
One thing to remember is that this new employee has managed to survive thus far. She knows the accommodations she needs, and presumably has informed her new employers of them.

Wait until she arrives and then ask her specifically what every one needs to do on an every day basis. She will know the extent of the changes your office will need to make.

Peanut allergies vary in intensity. My opinion is that if the new employee needs a completely peanut-free environment, to the point where someone couldn't have peanut butter on toast for breakfast before coming in to work, she would have mentioned this, and your boss would have relayed the message.

As for the other site--again, this employee has been managing her allergy for years. She travels, she shops in stores, she goes places for entertainment. She will know what advance precautions the other job site will need to take, if any, and her boss/supervisor should be able to help her get that message across.

While I think it is good that your workplace is taking precautions, don't infantilize the new employee by wrapping her in cotton wool. Trust that she knows what she needs and will make those needs known to everyone that needs that knowledge.
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kherbert05

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #11 on: August 01, 2014, 11:16:05 AM »
It is nice you all are trying so hard to accommodate her. I agree completely with those that have said she is an adult, she is alive, she should be able to tell management what she needs. I would feel bad if peanuts were banned because of me. Reasonable precautions are fairly easy.

1. Management should check with her about what she needs.

2. She needs to have an action plan with someone that is trustworthy and there daily (or have a couple of people with the plan) they need to know where the Epi is, how to use it, have the authority to call 911, and I strongly recommend having a card with a basic history, doctor info, and family contact info that can be handed off to EMTs or Triage Nurse.

3. #2 is important because you have to accept that in the US you cannot ban all products with peanut protein in them. Seriously look in your pantry and go through the product labels you will be shocked at how many have may contain traces warnings. Sally brings chicken and green bean left overs from home. She made the green beans from frozen package. They have a may contain traces warning because the same machine is used to package a variety with peanut sauce. Almost all chocolate in the US has may contain traces warnings. I once landed in the ER because of bedsheets - they were washed in a cheap detergent and the new washer didn't rinse all the residue out. (I was house sitting for my Aunt). So Joan's cotton jacket brushes against new employee - and 30 min later she has a rash and metallic taste in her mouth.

4. The eating outside might be more dangerous than eating at desk. If she isn't airborn sensitive, you might consider having wipes at everyone's desk. After they eat a snack, they can clean their hands, and surface of their desk. If they are eating it outside - they have to touch the door and other surfaces before getting to the washroom.


5. Be aware there are some brands that keep switching their labels. This week it has a peanut warning. Next week it doesn't. I never trust those brands.

6. Don't let any caterer, restaurant tell you that their peanut oil is so pure that no-one can react to it. I'm not willing to take that risk.

7. Don't be offended by survival habits that are hardwired after decades of living with this. Examples
a. I take steps back from anyone eating something with peanuts
b. I put my hands up at shoulder level, palm out as a warning sign.
c. I don't eat homemade baked good with nuts or chocolate. See #3.
d. I don't touch doors where normal people do. I use my hip on crashbars, push at the top of a door stuff like that.




8. Management needs to shut down the following types
a) New Aged - Oh allergies are just in your mind. If you ate something/touched something and didn't know  you wouldn't react. (very dangerous because they often try to prove their point)

b) New aged - Oh if you just eat bee pollen/honey you won't be allergic any more. (Annoying but mostly harmless generally they are all talk and don't try to put peanuts in your food. They do tend to show up with lots of honey)

c) Old Testament - Deleted because the comment about a certain religion was totally uncalled for. If you are so concerned it's an issue, Kimberly, PM the OP but keep it off the forum.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2014, 01:16:27 PM by cass2591 »
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Aquamarine

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #12 on: August 01, 2014, 01:55:05 PM »
This woman alone is responsible for having an Epi-Pen on her person at all times and if she doesn't do this, she's a fool.  I do not think any other staff member in the office should volunteer ahead of time to do anything with this person's treatment or training, it sets a bad precedent and brings up liability issues in the workplace.  If need be the woman herself could demonstrate or give a small talk but it's on her to request and follow through with this.

She may be allowed to have a peanut free work zone if it's considered an accommodation of a disability.  I do not know if this is the case or not but HR needs to address it and get it figured out.  It's not the employees responsibility to do this.  If the woman fails to communicate her needs she shouldn't expect people to change their behaviors by using clairvoyance.

I would dump this all on HR to deal with, and to establish a policy of dealing with a reaction.  As an employee I would stay out of it and just not bring items containing peanuts to the workplace but would consume them off site.  Other than that I would not change the way I do anything without written guidance.  This woman is an adult, this is her problem to deal with and manage and as such she needs to make her needs known to HR.
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Lynn2000

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #13 on: August 01, 2014, 02:34:05 PM »
I think before anyone gets worked up and starts moving furniture and changing things, they need to hear from the new employee herself what she requires, and then management has to decide if that's reasonable to ask of everyone or not. Even in trying to do something nice, things could go wrong without proper guidance--for example, you may have removed the peanut products from the snack bar, but it seems likely to me that the snack bar equipment and the remaining snacks could easily be contaminated with peanut traces. Saying, "Hey, we took out all the peanut stuff for you!" would only give her a false sense of security.

Kind of reminds me of the time we were getting a new employee from Country X. My boss got all worked up and made assumptions about what his beliefs/preferences would be, based on "research" consisting of talking to someone who once visited a nearby country, and then came in saying we shouldn't try to shake hands with him, because that would be offensive to him. When the guy finally came in, he cheerfully held out his hand to shake of his own volition, and probably thought we were the weird/rude ones when we hesitated. ::)
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Sirius

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Re: Accomodating Health Issues in the Office
« Reply #14 on: August 02, 2014, 06:22:53 PM »
I don't think it's a bad idea for the paramedic to give some training on proper deployment of an Epi-pen regardless.  After all, no one knows when they might just happen to be in the vicinity of someone who has a severe allergic reaction and has an Epi-Pen and needs help, even if the co-worker never needs assistance.