Peanuts and perfume: Employer obligations when it comes to allergies (Toughest HR question)

Reasonableness of employer's conduct assessed by circumstances
By Madeleine Loewenberg
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/24/2011

Question: What duty does an employer have to ensure the workplace is allergen-free? Is it up to the employer to make sure offices are peanut- and perfume-free if a worker has an allergy? What if the worker doesn’t self-identify as having a sensitivity?

Answer: An employer that has been advised by a worker he has a workplace allergen would likely be required to take steps to minimize the worker’s exposure to the allergen. In Ontario, for example, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) does not contain any provision directly addressing the issue of workplace allergies — the obligation to address a known allergy is arguably contained within section 25(2)(h) of the OHSA. It stipulates an employer must “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”