Are Allergies Affecting Employee Productivity? - American Society of Employers - Anthony Kaylin

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Are Allergies Affecting Employee Productivity?

allergiesAllergies seem to be at a peak this year.  Pollen season has started earlier and earlier in the past years, especially exacerbated by the mild winters.  Generally, allergy season is April to June, but it continues to start earlier and end later.  A study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2021 found that the North American pollen season starts earlier and lasts longer than it did in 1990, with higher concentrations of pollen. Not good for employees who suffer from allergies.

What makes this worse is that allergy alleviation medicine is experiencing a shortage.  There is a run on cough drops, decongestants like Sudafed, and antihistamines like Benadryl.   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans spend more than $3 billion every year on medications and other costs linked to allergies.

Allergies are causing productivity issues for employers due to greater absenteeism.  “I’ve got everything this year. It’s crazy,” said Aaron Fritsch, who lives in Antioch, Calif. He said he had to leave the office early one day this allergy season because his symptoms and subsequent migraine were overwhelming.

Another employee stated that they go into work daily but have to reassure colleagues in any meeting that they are ok, just dealing with allergies because of voice changes and congestion.  Bill Edwards, a New Yorker, has started work calls lately by assuring his colleagues he just has allergies. “It’s hard to disguise that you’re not feeling some sort of symptoms when your voice goes out,” said Edwards, an executive vice president at a real-estate company.

Another who goes to work realizes that they have to deal with coworkers who have allergy issues.  “Especially because of the whole COVID situation, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, cover your mouth,’ ” Pilar Williams, a 42-year-old insurance contractor in Chicago said. If she hears someone coughing near the office printer, she added, she will wipe it down.

Employers, although maybe late in the season now, should be prepared for the allergy season in the future.  First, make sure you are well stocked with tissues and wipes.  Many may start wearing masks in the office to protect themselves from allergens.  Make sure that employees do not harass or otherwise make fun of employees who do so.  Next, make sure a cleaning service comes in regularly to clean and wipe down the location.

And although there is always a question of trust, make sure your sick or leave policy covers allergies.  You might also consider implementing a fragrance policy at work.  If the employee's allergies substantially affect a major life activity, the employee may be covered under the ADA. In these situations, an employer may consider moving the employee into a better-ventilated area or more private office and to institute an office policy banning wearing fragrances in the workplace.   A sample policy is as follows:

Recognizing that employees and visitors to our offices may have sensitivity and/or allergic reactions to various fragrant products, [Company Name] is a fragrance-free workplace. Personal fragrant products (fragrances, colognes, lotions, powders and other similar products) that are perceptible to others should not be worn by employees. Other fragrant products (scented candles, potpourri and other similar items) are also not permitted in the workplace.

Any employee with a concern about scents or odors should contact his or her manager or the Human Resource Department.

Allergies are a serious detriment.  As the allergy season grows longer, employers should be prepared to deal with the nagging “allergy” hangover and how to manage employee absenteeism and manager expectations because of it.


Source:  Wall Street Journal 5/24/23


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