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Laurie Harada: Food Allergy Advice

The Summer Job, with Food Allergies

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 coordinator for Anaphylaxis Canada. He recently consulted members of his youth advisory panel and offers the following valuable tips to allergic teens – so they can safely earn a paycheque.

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 counsellor, lifeguard or office intern.

Is the job interview too soon to disclose?
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.

Next: How to Tell Your Boss