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Accommodate workers’ eating needs when it’s medically necessary

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

You must accommodate employees with disabilities. But what's technically considered a "disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? The law says it's any physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. There's no concrete list of ailments, but you must take into account the duration, impact and severity of the impairment.

As the following case shows, you may now need to accommodate employees' eating schedules by, for example, allowing them to eat at their workstations.

Recent case: A diabetic bank employee was told not to eat at her desk, even though she explained that she needed to eat when her blood sugar dropped. One day, she fainted in the office lobby, but her boss still refused.

Soon after, she was fired. She sued, alleging the firing constituted retaliation for her complaints. A federal appeals court let her case go to trial, saying she was covered under the ADA because eating is considered a major life activity. Reason: Her diabetes regimen was continuous and highly demanding. She was required to vigilantly monitor what she ate and had to time her meals carefully. (Fraser v. Goodale, No. 01-36018, 9th Cir., 2003)

Note: This doesn't mean you must accommodate the eating schedule of every worker with a dietary problem. There's a difference between people with simple dietary restrictions and those who are truly disabled because of those restrictions.

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