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At a new position, I began missing work due to frequent bouts of what I thought were colds. The condition began a few months after starting, and caused me to miss far too much work - sometimes missing a day every other week, sometimes even once a week. I'm paid hourly, so I'm not getting paid when I'm not here, but it's quite possibly costing in productivity at times.

I've been to the doctor several times, and two different physicians agree that it seems to be allergies, most likely to something in or around the building. However, to track down WHAT I'm allergic to would require several months of testing, possibly up to two years, and it would be fairly expensive.

My manager has been extremely supportive. This is an office job and I don't deal with clients or anyone outside our medium-sized company, but face-to-face collaboration is important and working remotely is frowned upon for that reason. That said, the absences have been going on for months now and I'm afraid it might hurt my future at the company.

Due to the elusive nature of the condition, any kind of medical exemption is out of the question. This isn't something where I can get documentation showing a debilitating medical reason for the absences. And so far the only OTC meds that have helped much are the ones that knock me out, so taking them at work isn't an option. What are the options in a scenario like this?

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  • Do you work in a cubical or an enclosed office? If an office, try getting an air filter with a hepa filter. I have a lot of allergies and I've found that hepa filters are really effective at reducing allergy reactions. You could also ask the boss to spring for a good air filter to be run in a conference room to alleviate symptoms in conference. Ultimately, though, you are going to have to get tested and possibly take shots, or change jobs. Unless testing discovers the culprit and they are willing to get rid of it, whatever it is. Sep 18 '15 at 20:55
  • And do consult an allergist. They may be able to find an antihistamine that will work for you, at the very least. Not all antihistamines make you sleepy. Have you tried Zyrtec? And if you have a decent medical plan testing and shots isn't prohibitively expensive. I have so many allergies they have to give me 2 shots to get them all in, and my allergies end up cost me maybe $500 per year, including testing, serum and injections. Sep 18 '15 at 20:57
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    Unless testing discovers the culprit and they are willing to get rid of it - If your allergy turns out to be to something like mold, then they'll need to get rid of it for the sake of everyone's health. You might want to see if you can find out from the building maintenance people anything that could negatively impact the air quality of the building (past mold issue, poor ventilation, what plants are nearby, etc.). You might be able to at least narrow down what to test for.
    – BSMP
    Sep 18 '15 at 21:59
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    True, but it may not be anything conventionally harmful. I was allergic to some kind of chemical used in processing wool clothing (not wool, because sheep didn't bother me). I could be set off by a 15% wool sweater in another room. Being in my grandparents' house kept me on the verge of anaphylaxis. I had to hold a wet washcloth over my face all the time or I started having troubles breathing. My eyes streamed tears and were half swollen shut. But my grandparents refused to get rid of their lovely oriental wool rugs, so I just had to "deal". Sep 21 '15 at 17:53
  • For anyone else going through this sort of thing (as I assume it's too late to help the original poster), it's worth reading up on "sick building syndrome"
    – Joe
    Dec 10 '20 at 3:17
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I have allergies too, so I'm going to suggest something you haven't even considered yet.

Look for another job. I know. I know. You don't want to do that. But really, I think you shouldn't rule out that possible option. Just like you, I hate antihistamines, they make me drowsy, and the other kind of non-drowsy allergy medicine doesn't work for me.

Escaping that environment, even if you absolutely love the company, should be something you consider. The second option is to find the direct cause of the allergies, even if it costs you an arm and a leg to find out.

And the next thing you should consider is filling out a very detailed day-to-day journal of your activities and to the way you're feeling. Do not rely on your own memory to find correlations. Write things down. Make sure the allergen isn't food, isn't tied to a season, and/or isn't tied to a particular colleague of yours who may be carrying the allergen on him/her.

Try to take a look a the state of the filters in the heating and air conditioning systems. If you have your own office, consider getting an HEPA filter. And consider making a deal with the janitor that he shouldn't clean certain things in your office, and that you will clean those things with your own cleaning products.

And do everything you can to make sure your immune system is not acting up to begin with. For instance, people with gum disease are known to have more allergic flares up simply because their body is already constantly fighting gingivitis.

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  • And to the extent practical minimize changes. For example, try eating exactly the same thing every day for a while. Try to minimize the number of places you go in the office. What's really ideal is if you can find a routine where you don't react, then start adding in the things you chopped out. Sep 18 '15 at 23:10
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    It's definitely not food or season-related, I eat the same things at this job that I've always eated - same burger joints & everything. And it seems to be pretty consistent from Spring 2014 to now, so that's through all four seasons. It's gotta be something in or around the building, plants or mold, something like that. But your first part is something to think about I guess.
    – Omegacron
    Sep 22 '15 at 21:13
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I have an employee who has some kind of medical condition where this person is out around once every two weeks.

They are paid salary, but make up the time missed on the days they are fine. Because I'm aware that this person needs to be out of the office at times, I give quite a bit of latitude for the issue. I have never asked what the specific problem is as I don't feel that's really any of my business and I've never actually docked vacation time for it. In all other aspects this person is a rock solid employee and this particular item has not figured into any pay raises.

My advice would be to just talk to your manager, explain the situation and you two should be able to come up with a good solution.

Regarding documentation, turn in doctor's notes just so they have a paper trail. Also, as someone who has lived with pretty severe allergies, I would highly encourage you to get tested no matter the cost/time frame. It will be worth it.

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  • A very valid point. My manager has been incredibly lenient about it, but he did say that if I was a corporate employee instead of contract, the HR policies would have forced something to happen by now. They're essentially keeping me on a contract basis specifically so that doesn't become an issue. They like me, and I like them, but rules are rules.
    – Omegacron
    Sep 22 '15 at 21:15
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Your best option is to find another job, your health is more important than anything else. Especially if you cannot pinpoint the problem and it's serious enough to keep you off work regularly. Taking any chances with my health would not be acceptable to me.

That's assuming you can not get moved to another section in another building or otherwise get yourself away from what you think is making you sick.

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