I’m a graduate and I can’t get a job because of my peanut allergy

Finding work is already difficult, but I didn’t expect an allergy would turn into such an obstacle

Why should a peanut allergy get in the way of getting employed?

A question I am constantly having to answer to both scathing sceptics and worried friends and family. At face value, a food allergy should not be an issue in seeking most employment opportunities, yet my experiences in graduate life would tell you otherwise.

So far, I have found it impossible to find anything permanent. Once I mention my allergy to potential employers, they decide I am a liability, they cannot accommodate my needs and let me go for ‘my own good’, leading to my current predicament in having to survive on Job Seeker’s Allowance despite being very passionate to enter the world of work.

I have a life-threatening allergy to peanuts which involves anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction which can lead to the throat closing, a severe fever, being covered head to toe in hives, vomiting and losing consciousness. Luckily, I have only ever experienced anaphylaxis once when I was 12, the culprit being a chicken nugget cooked in peanut oil to which both I and the hotel caterers were not made aware of.

Three years of history for limited prospects

The experience scared me enough to avoid contact with peanuts all together. My specialist noted that my allergy would get stronger and more life-threatening with age, therefore it became clear that only complete avoidance of peanuts would guarantee my safety and stop the anxiety it was causing me.

To maintain this I never eat in Asian restaurants due to peanuts often taking centre stage in many dishes. I go without desserts, only travel on airlines that promise to not supply peanuts, avoid pubs and other limiting choices. I’ve always kept antihistamine syrup and Epipens, adrenaline injections to combat anaphylaxis, on my person in case of emergency. I strived to keep my environment free of peanuts, and up until graduating, no real problems had arisen. Yet as the time to seek out graduate jobs approached, I was far from aware that this set up would not last.

I secured a job just a week before graduation; having barely begun job searching I was delighted to have been offered employment and took the job happily straight away without a second thought. The job offer was to become a support worker for autistic adults. Yet unfortunately, after months of training and waiting to become qualified to aid the development of autistic clients, I was told that my peanut allergy made me unsuitable to work in their Cardiff offices.

The term ‘travel lightly’ is lost on me

I hadn’t applied to work in a restaurant as a chef, so why had my allergy suddenly become an obstacle in officially beginning my new job? I had disclosed my allergy during the interview process, and had even been assured that they maintained a peanut-free environment in one of the houses for the clients, so my safety would not be an issue. However, after having completed a risk assessment over my health needs and my lack of prior experience in social care, they decided they would not place me in a house without an allergen-ban concluding I was not a suitable candidate for the job offer.

I pleaded to be allowed to work in the allergen-free house, then pleaded for the parents of the clients in the non-allergen free house to be alerted and stop providing their children with peanut-based snacks. Yet despite my best efforts, even bringing in a fake EpiPen prop and a supporting DVD to educate fellow colleagues, I was deemed a liability. Finally, it was decided I could work part time in their Neath office or leave the organisation. I chose the latter out of necessity, and have struggled finding a graduate job since then due to my allergy.

I’ve had to leave each job since then due to my allergy. Whilst working in a call centre, my supervisor discovered my allergy and stated they would not be able to change their environment to suit my needs, so I could either stay in a dangerous situation or leave for my own safety. I chose the latter.

Within the first two hours as a reprographics assistant for a law firm, I was told they could not accommodate my needs – I was basically marched out of the building. The simple request of only wanting to be in an office where peanuts were not present has been denied again and again.

The only silver lining is to know that I am not alone in my struggle. Having searched for anaphylaxis forums, I have found that many other allergy sufferers have had little to no support from employers and some have even faced years of unemployment. My only hope is that alongside meeting more understanding employers in the future, anaphylaxis will soon be seen as the disability it truly is, that withdrawal of employment will be regarded as discrimination and offices will have to undergo reasonable adjustment to provide a comfortable working environment for all. Until then, my search continues.