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RISK MANAGEMENT

Trap to avoid: Asking employees about their latex allergies

Are you allergic to latex?”

It seems like a perfectly legitimate thing to ask, especially to an employee who’s expected to wear latex gloves on the job. The problem is that asking the question may expose you to risk of liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Risk

The ADA bans employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. EEOC guidelines make it clear that directly asking employees or job applicants if they have a disability is a form of illegal discrimination. Latex and other specific allergies are considered a “disability” under the ADA. Result: You’re not allowed to ask employees and job applicants if they’re allergic to latex.

How to Prevent It

What you are allowed to ask an employee or job applicant required to wear latex gloves is the following question: “Do you have any allergies or other conditions that would prevent you from carrying out the essential functions of the job?” This question is okay for two reasons:

  • It doesn’t ask about latex allergies or any other specific disability; and
  • It addresses the person’s capacity to do the job, rather than his/her physical or mental condition.

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