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Are food allergies considered a disability?

If you suffer from serious food allergies, you know just how dangerous a stray peanut or strawberry can be. But does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers food allergies?

The quick answer is yes, it does, but there are issues you should be aware of before you address the situation with your employer.

A little history

Originally, the ADA did not cover food allergies. That changed in 2008 with the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), which significantly modified the scope of "disability" under the law. The changes now make it simpler to demonstrate to your employer how your food allergy may be considered a disability.

This is especially important because food allergies are on the rise. According to a 2013 study by the CDC, food allergies increased in children by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. While the reason is unclear, the increase will have a major impact in the coming years as this group enters the workforce.

What the ADAAA amendments mean for you

Because some food allergies are life-threatening to certain individuals, employers must make reasonable accommodations if approached by an employee about a food allergy. Determining what is a reasonable accommodation will vary, but might include:

  • Prohibiting certain foods from being brought into the office by other employees
  • Providing areas where access is restricted to the foods in question
  • Supplying additional lunch time to allow employees with allergies to dine at home
  • Keeping meetings free from food or specific foods

Also, employers should have an emergency plan in place in case of an anaphylactic reaction. A training class for all employees to recognize the signs of such an attack and what to do if one happens is also an option.

Protection against retaliation

In addition to making a reasonable accommodation, your employer cannot retaliate against you once it learns of your food allergy. This means your employer cannot fire you once you inform them about your disability or if you request an accommodation. This falls under the anti-retaliation and discrimination sections of the ADA.

If you feel you are being discriminated against due to a food allergy, or your employer will not provide a reasonable accommodation, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible to protect your rights under the ADA.

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