In America, it’s ingrained in company culture to share meals. We often meet clients to talk over drinks and dinner, take advantage of the complimentary work conference lunch, or we celebrate a new baby by sharing dessert. Unfortunately, due to food sensitivities, what may start as a harmless attempt to boost morale and cultivate business relationships might have life-threatening consequences.
Prevalence of Food Allergies
About 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from some form of food allergy. These allergies can cause extremely uncomfortable symptoms at best and be deadly at worst. Some allergies are so extreme that they can be triggered just by airborne exposure and, in severe cases, lead to anaphylactic shock. The anticipation of dining at a company-sponsored lunch can add anxiety for people with food allergies since they may not know if they need to bring their own food from home or if the restaurant serves any foods that could trigger an allergic reaction. How can employers and employees work together to make your workplace safe for those who have food allergies?
Know the law
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 expanded the definition of “disability” in the United States to include those with severe allergies. Under this legislation, serious allergies qualify as a physical or mental disability affecting one or more critical living activities necessary for bodily functioning. Providing products and services by any place of public accommodation should not be denied or made less accessible to anyone based on a disability.
Talk to your supervisor
It is advisable to inform your new employer of your severe allergy as soon as possible. You are obligated to notify them and have a legal right to reasonable accommodations. Be sure that there is a system in place to ensure that those at your workplace are aware of where medication (such as an EpiPen or epinephrine auto-injector) is kept and how to administer it to you in the case of an emergency.
Be considerate of coworkers who have food allergies, even if you don’t have them yourself. Keep in mind that no one consciously decides to suffer from a food allergy. It’s best to inquire before eating anything in their presence if you’re unsure.
Offer to bring food for others
To ensure that you get to partake in the office party treats, offer to bring in some baked goods or snacks. Treats that don’t contain allergens can be shared with coworkers without allergies. This is also a great way to destigmatize allergen-free dishes and share ideas for recipes that everyone can enjoy!
Employees have the right to feel secure and at ease while at work. Ask your coworkers about any potential allergies they might have before any event with food – if they do, they will thank you for it.