My current employer of 300+ people is located in a large building in the center of downtown Louisville. We occupy 2 of the 6 floors, but right now are the only ones in the building in a very desirable area. I often remind myself to be thankful because it is an entirely peanut-free company for me. It does comes with some challenges to keep it this way, such as new employees not knowing and possibly forgetting, employees not realizing peanuts or peanut butter are in something they brought in (butterfingers often people don’t realize have peanut butter). But overall, it’s truly inspiring to me that they are willing to accommodate and continue to enforce a peanut-free environment for an employee. I used to lose sleep worried that no one would want to hire me because of the extra accommodating I require, and my company has put that fear to rest. They even pointed out that severe nut allergies are becoming more common, so it’s not unreasonable to require and enforce the building to be peanut-free.
Like I’ve written about before, I was able to have my college experience be able to be basically peanut-free, by going to a smaller university where people were more caring, and it could be more easily enforced in the classrooms. My very first employer in High School was Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, where peanut butter was served on one pancake on the menu but that was it. My allergy was more manageable at the time and I avoided the pancake, but never had a problem- it helped that it wasn’t a popular item people often ordered. My second employer I worked at for many years, and they kept my department and area of the building peanut free, but I would avoid eating in the break room which wasn’t kept safe. At the company, keeping it “peanut-free” just meant they asked people to not eat peanuts around me once, and I reminded people over e-mail every so often and informed any new employees.
It was around this time that I knew I was having airborne reactions. Since then, all my jobs have been able to accommodate in one way or another, but my current job has really impressed me by taking it very seriously. The florist I previously worked at actually did the exact same thing as my job now, making sure the building was peanut-free, although it was just a shop of 2 employees so it was at a much smaller scale. They put up signs, and even went so far as to make sure the person “processing” the flowers and prepping them wasn’t snacking on anything with peanuts to contaminate the ones coming into our store for handling.
I feel it is important for me to let a potential employer know during my job interview that I do have this allergy and ask them if they can accommodate. If they don’t want to, I know it’s not a good fit, and I want to find this out upfront. So far I haven’t had anyone say a hard no, but I have had one job not work out due to it, and I had to leave another job that wasn’t able accommodate after the role changed some. That was a hard time for me. I got discouraged because my career plans got derailed and felt a bit like a rug was pulled out from underneath me. I was concerned my allergy would prevent me from being able to find a job, and I felt like I may need to lower my standards and just take one with an employer that felt they could hire me, rather than taking a job based on my own interests and skillset.
I like to get my needs out in the open, and let them know it is an “invisible disability” explain the seriousness of my food allergy, and that I always have epinephrine on me. After working 2 places in a row where they were happy to enforce a safe environment, I don’t have as much anxiety and nervousness going into a job interview. I no longer feel as fearful to discuss the accommodations, but I haven’t yet let a potential employer know about my allergy prior to going in for an interview. In the past I often would take a bunch of alavert beforehand, although there were a few times when I still had to take a benadryl afterwards. This is something I’ll likely work on in the future, to tell people what I need beforehand, so they can get rid of any major peanut products preventatively.
It used to give me so much anxiety to bring up my allergy to strangers that I often would be brought to tears, or couldn’t speak about it because I’d get too emotional. I’m relieved that I’ve been able to overcome this and let some of that fear, guilt, and embarrassment go. It’s not something to be ashamed of, it’s just a part of my life, and I can do a lot to control it.
For anyone allergic or with an allergic friend or family, don’t feel bad asking for what you want and need. You don’t know until you try! I do try to ask wisely, so that the main things I need can be accommodated and it doesn’t get too complicated with non-essentials. Maybe one day this will change, but my only rule is NO PEANUTS. For example, I don’t need to be included in eating at each food-focused work event, but as long as food products aren’t containing peanut ingredients, I can bring my own snack and be involved. It can make me feel less included, but I just remember that food isn’t everything, and there are a lot of foods I really enjoy that are safe. Half the time my husband will eat snacks that are provided places and let me know I wasn’t missing out anyway.
If anyone ever has questions on how my employer keeps the environment safe, please don’t hesitate to ask! I’m always happy to discuss more details about it.