On-The-Job Rights With Food Allergies

in College Corner, Food Allergy, Managing Allergies
Published: May 15, 2018
Photo: Getty

This is a sidebar to Allergic Living’s feature: Allergies and Summer Jobs: Tips for Teenagers Hunting for Work

The Americans with Disabilities Act covers employers with more than 15 workers, and “employers must provide reasonable accommodations for food allergies unless it’s a financial hardship or undue burden,” says Laurel Francoeur of the Francoeur Law Office in Massachusetts. She notes that burden is gauged on the company’s size and budget.

The disability rights attorney says Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations if they receive federal funding, such as a non-profit company, regardless of size.

There are also rights that protect a potential employee from being turned away because of a medical condition. For instance, an employer cannot ask in an interview or on an application about any disability, such as food allergies, says Mary Vargas, a disability rights attorney with Stein & Vargas of Washington, D.C.

“I’ve certainly heard of some stories of fast-food chains that are not following the rules and they are asking,” she says. In her view, that’s a violation of the ADA. “Employers are not supposed to ask if you have a disability,” she explains. Rather, they’re meant to ask if you can do a job’s functions. “They can ask, ‘Can you prepare sandwiches? ‘Can you serve customers? ‘Can you answer the phone? But they can’t ask, ‘Do you have a food allergy?”

The non-profit organization FARE suggests that, once a person is hired, “speak to your supervisor about your food allergies and discuss any reasonable accommodations you may need in order to perform your job.”

Unpaid internships are covered differently under U.S. laws. Francoeur explains that if the intern gets a benefit that is considered an “inconsequential incident of an otherwise gratuitous relationship,” then the discrimination laws do not apply. “Inconsequential benefits” are things such as academic credit, practical experience and scholarly research.

However, she notes that “if the internship is required to get a particular job or regularly leads to employment at that company, then it is considered ‘significant and the laws apply.”