The Summer Job, with Food Allergies

in Help & Advice

So your allergic teen wants a job this summer. Here’s how to stay safe while making some money.

It all went by so fast. One day, I was guiding my little boy as he learned to navigate the elementary school system with food allergies. The next, he was in high school, asserting his independence.

While we had always encouraged Julian to become self-sufficient, it was still a bit unnerving to consider the new risks he might face in a work environment.

Not one to draw attention to himself, I knew that Julian disclosed his allergies to a limited number of friends. I worried that his shy demeanor might pose a bigger threat in both seeking employment and once on the job, where trained teachers and administrators were not standing by.

As a precaution, I walked Julian through different scenarios, and encouraged him to step into the shoes of others. “Think how horrible your co-workers would feel if you had a reaction and they did not know what to do.”

Reflecting on this difficult stage of letting go, l sought advice from Kyle Dine, the youth program leader for Food Allergy Canada. He consulted members of his youth advisory panel and offers the following valuable tips to allergic teens – so they can safely earn a paycheck.

Work for peanuts, not with peanuts

Intrinsically, there are some workplaces that might not be appropriate for a teen with food allergies. For example, there is increased risk of wheat exposure working in a traditional bakery or shellfish contact washing dishes at a seafood restaurant. But there are many summer jobs to consider that have a low level of food involvement, such as being a retail worker, tour guide, camp counselor, lifeguard or office intern.

Do you disclose at the summer job interview?

For most summer jobs, it’s not obligatory to disclose food allergies in an interview unless specifically asked. Though safety is always Number One, you may not want to unnecessarily shift the conversation from your actual work abilities. However, if there is an inherent level of risk for a reaction in the workplace, it’s a good idea to inquire whether accommodations are made for allergic employees.

First duty: inform the boss 

To avoid any unexpected situations, it’s ideal to tell a superior about your food allergies during initial training or the first day on the job. Supply an anaphylaxis emergency plan that includes what you are allergic to, where you keep your epinephrine auto-injector and emergency contacts to call if a reaction occurs.

Some managers may have more experience with allergic employees than others. If this area is new to them, be clear in explaining your food allergies and needs. You may even be able to help shape new policies that will assist future employees with allergies.

As a general rule, the sooner management knows about an employee’s food allergy, the better. So parents shouldn’t be hesitant to check in with their teen to ensure all supervisors have been informed.

Think of co-workers like friends 

Allergic reactions can happen in the workplace, and like home or school, those closest to you should know about your allergies and how they can help. Tell fellow employees in an informal way; possibly bring it up over lunch or casually in conversations during your first week on the job.

Have your auto-injector with you at all times, and let fellow staff members know where it’s located. Using a training device, you may want to teach those who work closely with you when and how to use it. That way, they can be prepared to help in a reaction.

Identify the allergy hazard zones 

You will likely encounter a kitchen area or staff room where employees can have a snack or meal during their breaks. Be on the lookout for the cleanliness of the space and what food is supplied or brought by other staff. In addition to your lunch, it’s a good idea to bring reusable containers and cutlery rather than using communal kitchenware.

Use caution with shared microwaves, which may not be cleaned regularly, leaving residual food on surfaces. If you still feel the space isn’t trustworthy, talk to management about other options. For instance, perhaps they can designate a specific room as “allergy-safe”.

Although we all have the right to a safe workplace, accidents can happen in any environment. It’s important to reduce the risk as much as possible by taking the steps Kyle’s group raises at the start of your job. Then a student can focus on having a great summer experience while earning some hard-earned cash.

Laurie Harada is the former executive director of Food Allergy Canada,

Related Reading: 

Working as a Barista and Food Allergy Risks
On the Job: Your Rights with Food Allergies