Ask HR: Employee is experiencing an odd allergy.

Dear HR,

My new cashier has an allergy to the scent of marijuana. There was an incident that occurred last night during an interaction with a customer. Our new employee had an extreme allergic reaction to the fragrance that was on the customer at the front counter.  How do I handle my new employee having a physical reaction to a customer– in terms of both customer service and protecting my staff?


HR Answer:            

Just like in everyday life, this situation is one that your employee may come across and have to deal with anywhere—-whether at work or during their private time.  The key to this situation is the interactive process with your new employee. Be aware that not all people with allergies will need accommodations to perform their jobs while others may need only a few accommodations.

However, once an employer learns that an applicant or employee is allergic to a substance in the workplace, the employer is required to reasonably accommodate the employee if he or she meets the definition in the Americans with Disabili­ties Act (ADA) of an individual with a disabil­ity. The ADA defines an individual with a dis­ability as someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities include major bodily functions such as breathing. A reasonable accommodation is a modifica­tion or adjustment to a job, the work environ­ment, or the way things usually are done that enables a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. Employers are not required to provide any accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship upon that employer’s business.

This determination of what constitutes an undue burden can vary from one employer to the next, depending upon the size of the employ­er’s business, its financial resources and other factors. An accommodation can be as simple as having personnel be aware of what to do, or who to call (such as emergency telephone numbers) if the allergic person experiences an adverse reaction such as an asthmatic attack or anaphylactic shock. The allergic person or their physician can recom­mend appropriate measures (such as having an EpiPen®, antihistamines or bronchodilators available for emergency use).  Accommodating an allergic employee should involve understanding the individual’s nature and severity of his/her condition.  Initiate conversation: Ask questions, such as, what is the severity of the harm? What is the likelihood of the allergic event? With this approach, accommodation can be done using good information and judgment.

Once accommodations are in place, be sure to follow up and meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodation(s) and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed. Again, the key to this situation is the interactive process with your employee. Have questions about workplace accommodations or disabilities? Ask Cardinal. We can help!