My Current Peanut-Free Employer
As of early 2020, my current employer of 300+ people is located in a large building in the center of downtown Louisville. I have felt very lucky being with the company I am with, I’ve been with them since 2016, because it is an entirely peanut-free company for me, and is the first employer I’ve had to implement this at such a large scale and be willing to support me and have my back when necessary. I was so nervous telling them about my food allergy, but at the time, the head of HR didn’t make the accommodation feel like a large ask or even really bat an eye at it. They felt confident enforcing it, which was a first for me! In fact, it made me hesitant at first, I was wondering if they understood the severity of my allergy, but they did!
With the company I am at now, even though they don’t allow peanut products in the building, keeping it totally peanut-free company does still come with some challenges. Often new employees forget that there’s the policy in place, or some employees will eat it anyway, or not realize peanuts/peanut butter are in something they brought in. However, not having EVERYONE be able to bring peanuts into the space is a huge relief for me. It makes me so happy that they are willing to accommodate and continue to enforce a peanut-free environment for an employee. In the past I used to lose sleep worried that no one would want to hire me because of the extra accommodations I require, so my current company has put that fear to rest, it’s just a matter of finding an employer where it’s a reasonable accommodation for them to make (for example, businesses in the events/catering space or a Thai restaurant would be a different situation) and where they’re willing to discuss with you what they can do to try to keep you as safe as possible.
My current employer even pointed out to me that severe nut allergies are becoming more common, so it’s not unreasonable to require and enforce the building to be peanut-free, since many schools are doing it and it’s the direction we’re going as a society to be more inclusive. This was music to my ears, I was thinking to myself yes, yes, thank you, and yes! They have even taken any peanut containing food out of the vending machines they have, and they said it was easy to ask the vending machine company to do this.
Here are photos of signs throughout the building to give you an idea of how they handle my allergy. The signs are strategically placed in high-traffic areas, put at each entrance and exit to the building, and are in places where they *should* catch someone’s eye.
Past Employers & My Allergy
In my post on my peanut allergy in college, I go into detail about how I was able to have my pretty normal college experience by going to a smaller university where people were more thoughtful and accommodating, and where it could be more easily enforced in the smaller classrooms. Surprisingly, my very first employer in High School was Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, where peanut butter was served on one pancake dish on the menu, but that was it. My allergy was more manageable at the time and I avoided the pancake dish if I ever saw it, but I thankfully never had a problem- it helped that it wasn’t a popular item, either!
My second employer was an insurance subrogation company where I worked at for 7+ years, and they kept my specific department and “wing” of the building peanut-less, but I would avoid eating in the break room which wasn’t kept safe, and had to be careful at any events or company meetings. At that company, keeping it “peanut-free” just meant I had to ask people in my area to not eat peanuts around me, and I reminded people over e-mail every so often and informed any new employees about my allergy as well. HR wasn’t involved, so it was up to me to do the leg-work. It definitely wasn’t the same degree of accommodating that my employer does now, but it did still help me. It was around this time in 2013-2014 that I knew for a fact I was having some type of airborne response to peanuts.
Directly before my current job, I worked at a florist who actually did the exact same thing as my employer now, making sure the building was peanut-free by putting up signs and making sure no peanut ingredients were eaten in the building, and they were the ones implementing the rule from the top down. Even though my store branch was tiny, they mad a main branch location and people there knew about our store being peanut-less. I actually started at the main branch, and the manager and I knew after the first day that it would be far too risky since everyone was eating peanut containing food everywhere we looked! She apologized, because in the interview she didn’t think it would be a big issue, but it clearly would be a large undertaking. She offered for me to move to the smaller store and I was thrilled, it was a much better fit for me being in a smaller place and it was more one-on-one floral work, and more responsibility, which I was interested in. All of our flowers still came from the main branch, so they even went as far as to talk with the person “processing” the flowers there to make sure he wasn’t eating peanut ingredients while handling the flowers coming to our store. He said he did occasionally snack on peanuts while working, so this was good news to me that he was aware of my allergy and would not eat peanut products, because essentially he could be contaminating the flowers, which could ignite a severe reaction for me.
Filing For Disability
Most of 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 and making it an HR issue rather than something I manage solely by myself. I want to clarify that I do not have my allergy filed officially as a disability and don’t receive any disability type benefits. This is something I’ve wondered if I should do over the years, for my own protection, but I haven’t done at this point.
I do feel it is important for me to let a potential employer know during my job interview stage that I do have this severe peanut allergy and ask them if they may be able to accommodate. If they don’t want to or say they can’t, I know it’s not a good fit, and I want to find this out upfront. I like to get my needs out in the open, and tell potential employers it is an “invisible disability” and explain the seriousness of my food allergy, and that I always have 4 epinephrine injections (right now I use Avi-Q) and a bunch of benadryl on me.
So far I haven’t had anyone say a hard no, but I have had one job not work out due to my allergy, and I had to leave another job that wasn’t able accommodate after my role changed some and a bakery serving peanuts was being opened up inside my workplace. That was a hard time for me, I felt discouraged because my career plans got derailed and it felt 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. It is still a delicate balance for sure, but I feel that I have options and the vocabulary to discuss my allergy better. I now know that it is possible for accommodations to be made in a job that I enjoy, so that’s a promising feeling!
Job Interviews with a Food Allergy
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 do try to keep a face mask in my purse in case a situation arises where I feel I need it, but I no longer feel as fearful to discuss the accommodations with a potential employer. I think overtime I’ve had to do it enough that I’m better equipped to have this potentially difficult conversation. If I am going in for an interview, I will typically take an alavert beforehand, and there have been 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 for me.
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, so I’d email afterwards. I’m relieved that I’ve been able to overcome this (usually) 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 member, don’t feel bad asking for what you want and need. You don’t know until you try! I do try to ask wisely in these situations, so that the main thing I need (no peanuts around) can be accommodated and it doesn’t get too complicated with non-essentials, such as being vegetarian. 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 still be involved. If they want to buy me a brand of a snack I can eat, that’s fantastic, but I want the primary focus for there to not be peanuts out and about. Not eating with everyone else can deep down make me feel less included, but I just remind myself 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 the food or snacks that are provided places and tell me afterwards that I wasn’t missing out, anyway!
Free Printable PDF: No Peanuts Sign
If anyone ever has questions on how my employer or past employers have kept the environment safe, please don’t hesitate to ask! I’m always happy to discuss more details about this!