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Food allergies are on the rise; employers should take notice

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I am in the process of planning my son’s fourth birthday party and a mother of one of the children invited asked me to accommodate her son’s peanut allergy as I select birthday treats for the party.

That made me consider how adults with food allergies may be affected in the workplace. I learned that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under the age of 18, and that number is on the rise. A study conducted in 2013 reported that food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, for example.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that children with food allergies are two-to-four times more likely to have other related conditions such as asthma, which can carry into adulthood.

Food allergies may be considered a workplace disability

It is important for employers to know that in some circumstances, a peanut allergy (or any other food allergy) may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This requires a reasonable accommodation, as is the case with all disabilities.

However, if accommodating the employee would cause an undue hardship, the employer is not required to provide it. The following ideas are suggestions from the Job Accommodation Network on ways that your business may be able to reasonably accommodate an employee’s request for accommodation due to a food allergy.

Guidance for accommodating an employee’s request

  1. Allow the employee to eat at their desk or allow extra time during their lunch break to go home and eat.
  2. Permit the employee to have a flexible schedule so that they may work when less people are in the office in order to reduce exposure or allow the employee to work from home.
  3. Relocate the employee’s workspace to reduce possibility of exposure to certain foods.
  4. Restrict certain foods in the workplace overall. Send a memo to staff to notify them of the restriction and place signs at the entrances of your business so that others know not to bring those foods into the building.

If you have received a request for a food allergy accommodation from an employee and need assistance determining if the request can reasonably be accommodated, the HR experts at BCN Services can help. Contact us here or call us at 1-800-891-9911.