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Latex Allergy

Accommodation and Compliance: Latex Allergy

About Latex Allergy

Latex allergy is a reaction to proteins present in latex derived from natural rubber latex (NRL), which is created from a variety of plants, but mainly the rubber tree, hevea brasiliensis). Latex allergy can result from repeated exposures to proteins in NRL through skin contact or inhalation. Reactions usually begin within minutes of exposure to latex, but they can occur hours later and can produce various symptoms. These include skin rash and inflammation, respiratory irritation, asthma, and in rare cases shock. In some instances, sensitized employees have experienced reactions so severe that they impeded the worker’s ability to continue working in specific jobs. 

People at increased risk for developing latex allergy include workers with ongoing latex exposure, persons with a tendency to have multiple allergic conditions, and persons with spina bifida. Latex allergy is also associated with allergies to certain foods such as avocados, potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, chestnuts, kiwi fruit, and papaya. Workers who use gloves less frequently, such as law enforcement personnel, ambulance attendants, fire fighters, food service employees, painters, gardeners, housekeeping personnel outside the health-care industry, and funeral home employees, also may develop latex allergy. Workers in factories where NRL products are manufactured or used also may be affected. 

Latex Allergy and the Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).

Accommodating Employees with Latex Allergy

People with latex allergies may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with latex allergies will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available, and numerous other accommodation solutions may exist:

  • Discontinue the use of latex gloves. Purchase alternative glove products such as vinyl or nitrile. The feasibility of using alternatives will likely depend upon the infection control needed to perform job tasks.
  • If latex gloves must be used, switch to non-powdered latex with reduced protein content. Provide all employees within the individual's working environment with non-powdered gloves as well. If other employees continue to wear powdered latex gloves, the latex proteins can become airborne and create the potential for an allergic reaction.
  • If powdered latex gloves are used, thoroughly clean the environment to remove powder residue from walls, equipment and HVAC vents.
  • Implement a latex-safe department, clinic or facility. Eliminate the use of latex gloves and, when possible, switch to non-latex medical supplies. If the entire facility cannot be latex-safe, safeguard specific locations by creating latex-safe zones.
  • Place the individual in the least latex-intensive environment possible.
  • If the individual cannot be accommodated in the original position because of the need to eliminate exposure to latex, investigate reassignment as an accommodation. When possible, place the individual in a position that continues to take advantage of the employee’s clinical or technical skills. For example, if a nurse can no longer perform duties involving direct patient care, consider positions that still require nursing skills. Opportunities may exist in case management, occupational health nursing, health hotlines, poison control, the insurance industry, medical mal-practice or teaching.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
  6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Accommodation Ideas:

Situations and Solutions:

Events Regarding Latex Allergy