ADA and accommodating peanut allergies at work

Well, damn.

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Now, back to employment law and what-not.


Allergies at work.

When I make my youngest son’s school snack in the morning, I’ve got be sure that I don’t include any peanut products. This is because there are students at his school that are allergic to peanuts. Thus, I stick with beluga and creme fraiche.

At work too, there may be folks with peanut allergies. And, in certain situations, that could require some accommodation. Indeed, according to a recent EEOC press release, one company is now staring down the barrel of an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit for failing to accommodate an employee’s severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts:

Amanda Matherly began working as a field representative at Media Star’s Baltimore headquarters. As a field representative, her duties included traveling to outdoor festivals to distribute free product samples and gather customer contact information. Matherly has several allergies, including a severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. If she is exposed to peanuts or tree nuts, she will go into anaphylactic shock, and must be immediately injected with medication and hospitalized to prevent death, according to the suit. EEOC says that Matherly requested that Media Star reasonably accommodate her disability by providing vinyl gloves for her to handle a small number of items at company headquarters that may have been exposed to peanuts and to alert hotels and airlines about her allergies when making her travel arrangements.

According to the press release, rather than provide the gloves and make a few calls/emails to facilitate travel, the company refused to accommodate Matherly’s disability and instead improperly asked her to sign a form purporting to waive her rights under the ADA.

These are just allegations, but, before you get any bright ideas…

  1. Yes, you ask an employee to release ADA claims, but you’re going to need to provide some form of consideration (i.e., Mr. Green, duckets, $$$, moolah, but not this Moolah) and that waiver of claims can never be prospective.
  2. If an outside salesperson, or other jetsetting employee with a peanut allergy makes a similar accommodation request at your place of business, go on Amazon, buy a zillion gloves and have your travel agent make appropriate arrangements.

The only way you can get out of providing a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability is if the accommodation isn’t actually reasonable; but rather, would create undue hardship. Undue hardship is something that creates significant difficulty or expense. It’d be one thing if the employee insisted on platinum-dipped diamond mittens and a sanitized G6. But, that’s not often the case.

Image Credit: “Peanutjar” by Flyingdream at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Liftarn using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
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