Food Allergies in the Workplace: What You Need to Know


As someone with severe food allergies, I know how difficult it can be to bring up your food allergies with new colleagues and peers in a way that is both affirming and informative, especially when starting a new job in a completely unfamiliar environment. How can your the workplace is inclusive of employees with severe food allergies?

What is a “severe” food allergy?


Severe food allergies aren’t called serious for a reason. They are life threatening and should be taken very seriously. When a person with food allergies ingests foods containing the trigger allergen, they may come into contact with anaphylaxis. If epinephrine (an EpiPen) is not administered in time to treat the anaphylactic reaction, the reaction can be fatal.

Workspaces and food allergies don’t always go well together


There are approximately 32 million Americans with food allergies. And with reports that food allergies in children Increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011, they are not going to disappear anytime soon. Two kids in every classroom will soon mean two people in every office. So what’s it like working in an office with food allergies?

For starters, that might mean not having a piece of cake at the next office birthday party. Lunch time always keeps them on their toes, and they usually choose to brown bag them, exercising caution in the cafeteria and common office kitchens. Maybe they’re considering skipping the office trip to an unfamiliar restaurant on Friday, unsure if they’ll be comfortable eating there. Every day in an open office can be anxiety-inducingbecause they worry airborne allergens and the lack of safe, allergen-free spaces.

If you suffer from food allergies, chances are you can relate to at least one of these things. But if you don’t have serious food allergies, you may be wondering: What does this really mean?

What the law says


In the United States, based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, the definition of “disability” has been changed to include people with severe allergies. This is because severe allergies are “a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities” (eating, breathing, and major bodily functions related to the immune, digestive, intestinal, and respiratory systems).

To summarize:

“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, rents (or leases a), or operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 USC § 12182.

Anyone with food allergies knows that these laws are not widely enforced or do not apply to food allergies (think peanuts served at baseball games or on airplanes). Thus, although in the United States every person with a disability is entitled to the same rights as able-bodied people, people with severe food allergies often encounter their food allergies in these public spaces and at work and cannot fully participate in activities that take place on site. these places. More importantly, their health and well-being could be at risk.

Most workplaces are considered public places. legal definition meaning “any enclosed interior space used by the general public or serving as a place of work containing at least two hundred and fifty square feet of floor space.” Therefore, both laws mentioned above apply, or should apply, at your workplace.

What employers should know


Good employers want to be as inclusive as possible. Still, it can be difficult to include people with food allergies if you ignore WHO has food allergies in your office.

The best way to be inclusive and mindful of food allergies is to ask new and current employees if they have serious food allergies. And if so, ask them what you can do to make their work environment safe and comfortable. This shows employees that you care, and by recognizing food allergies as something serious and very, very real, it already establishes that foundation of trust that is so difficult to earn in the first place.

Think about what it’s like to decide when to tell an employer about your food allergy. When asked if you have a disability on a job application, food allergies are not listed. If there is a space to check “other” and write a different answer, you might consider, for a split second, writing down your serious food allergy.

Does your disability require reasonable accommodation?

Yes and no. It is not a physical disability, in the sense that you cannot visually distinguish who has a food allergy or not. However, your arrival at a new company could force it to change its policies and culture.

As you can see, it’s not easy to explain food allergies at work when there is no system in place to deal with them. That’s why, as an employer, you need to come up with a system that works for your business. After all, it’s your job to make sure all your employees feel safe and included.

What you can do


If you have a food allergy, you probably have a lot of experience navigating the world with your illness. But the professional world can be a little tricky.

When starting a new job, it’s best to tell your boss about your allergy as soon as possible, if they don’t bring up the subject first (you are responsible for letting them know and you are entitled to accommodations reasonable!). Then ask if you can call a meeting to explain your situation to your new colleagues. This will allow for open dialogue on the topic, and those with questions will be able to get answers in a supportive and honest environment.

If you do not have food allergies, but work with someone who does, please be respectful of their condition. If you’re unsure if it’s okay to eat something near them, just ask. Communication is always the right choice.

Everyone deserves a safe and comfortable work environment. And it’s important to remember that no one chooses to have a food allergy.

If we all try to be kinder and more considerate to our peers, it will make work better – for everyone!

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This article was originally published on an earlier date.

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