Why bosses must be open minded about hay fever in workplace
Employment law firm says introducing flexible working hours during the peak of hay fever season can help to avoid absenteeism and reduced productivity
Bosses have been urged to be more pragmatic about how they deal with hay fever among their staff to preserve efficiency in the workplace. Specialist employment-law firm Shakespeares has noted that, according to BUPA, the British summer is the height of hay-fever season, with nine out of 10 people in the UK allergic to grass pollen – airborne from late May.
For many sufferers, the ailment hits them with the same symptoms at the same time each year. With that in mind, Shakespeares advises employers to work closely with staff outside the summer season to devise alternative solutions for dealing with the issue, such as flexible working patterns. Shakespeares head of employment law Paula Whelan stressed that employers must explore all available options to plan effective strategies for dealing with staff hay fever.
“Given the cyclical nature of hay fever symptoms,” she said, “and the fact that they are very similar to getting a bad cold, means that imaginative employers can flex working hours to suit sufferers. For example, if a worker is worst affected by hay fever first thing in the morning, then that person could start work an hour later and finish an hour later, providing they complete their working day.”
She added: “In some cases, symptoms can be severe, making it difficult for the employee to concentrate. There is a shared responsibility here, as employees need to have enough knowledge about their own condition and communicate this to their employer. Employers also have a duty of care to support employees with their medical condition.”
However, Whelan warned, when such an approach is not enforced by managers, staff are likely to self-medicate at work, taking some hay fever treatments that can cause drowsiness and dips in productivity. Additionally, the side effects of treatments may be potentially more damaging for sufferers who operate heavy machinery, as working in a drowsy state could put themselves and others at risk of injury.
Whelan explained: “Employers may be faced with a situation where hay fever sufferers are continuously going off sick, or are less productive than normal because they are unable to find suitable medication to keep their symptoms under control. In that case, the employer should make sure the employee is allowed the time off as necessary to visit their GP.”
She pointed out: “There are other simple steps that employers can take to help hay fever sufferers, such as ensuring all windows in the workplace are shut during working hours. In addition, we need to bear in mind that not all jobs are office-based and there are certain industries where workers with hay fever might be deemed unfit to do their job.”
A recent LloydsPharmacy poll found that around 1.3 million hay fever sufferers will display the symptoms of a hangover – such as irritability, nausea and dehydration – with the ailment likely to cost British businesses up to £324m this summer in sick days and missed productivity. The study also suggested gender-related differences in the effects of hay-fever medication, with drowsiness taking more of a toll on female workers (12%) than their male companions (6%).
“Common sense and dialogue are needed here,” Whelan concluded. “If someone is going to be feeling terrible during the grass pollen season, then there is a shared responsibility for the employer and employee to ensure their needs are cared for, while minimising any impact on productivity.”
For further ideas on flexible or agile working, book a place at this CMI event in High Wycombe on 9 July.