Debbie Friedman’s “The Latke Song” has a wonderful message regarding remembering those who are less fortunate than ourselves during the holiday season—as told through the point of view of a potato who is turning into a latke. As a “foodie” living in an “amazing food city” food is a big part of my life. So what role, if any, does food play in employment law? From a legislative or case law standpoint, none yet, but as food allergies continue to increase throughout the country, one can expect that we will see failure to accommodate through ADA claims moving in that direction.
Food allergies can limit employees’ ability to eat or breathe when working in environments where the food is located. Peanut allergies, specifically, can cause medical symptoms to occur simply by being in a work environment where co-workers have or are ingesting the food. While there have not yet been any cases dealing with an employers’ responsibilities to “reasonably accommodate” a food allergy under the ADA there likely will be in the near future.
On numerous occasions courts across the country have dealt with employees’ sensitivity to smells. In reviewing the facts and circumstances the Courts determine whether these allergies are, in fact, disabilities under the ADA. From an educational standpoint there have been cases upholding a school-wide ban on nut products and judicial agreements under Title III of the ADA for modifications to cafeteria menus to accommodate students with celiac disease and other food allergies.
Insomuch as employers are aware of employees with food allergies, employers are reminded to perform the interactive dialogue that accompanies all potential ADA claims. This is especially true for individuals who work in food service, hospitality, or retail environments where contact with a wide range of foods likely is an essential function of the job.