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Food allergies need to be taken seriously

Food allergies are alive and well and on the rise. For proof, simply offer to bring in cupcakes to a preschool classroom to help celebrate a birthday. By the time you’ve finished sourcing treats that are nut/seed/soy/wheat free, you may decide kids eat too much sugar anyway, and that stickers are a marvelous alternative. In all seriousness, though, food allergies are a genuine medical problem that should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, as an article in BusinessWest.com reported, not everyone chooses to do so.

In the fall of 2015, Dustin Maldanado complained that his co-workers and his manager frequently teased him about having a peanut allergy. They falsely claimed that his EpiPen would spread AIDS. They “pranked” him giving him foods to hold or eat that they claimed were nut-free. After suffering an allergic reaction from one of these “pranks,” Maldonado complained to his HR department. They told him he needed to develop a better sense of humor. He filed suit against the company.

Just last month, an employee of a different company wrote to an advice column seeking help. She stated that she had asked a co-worker to please avoid bringing in or eating peanut products in the office because she had a severe allergy. One day, the employee sat down at her desk and noticed that her hands were developing symptoms of an allergic reaction. Looking around, she discovered that someone had deliberately smeared a large glob of peanut butter under her desk. She told her boss about the incident. He shrugged it off saying that he saw no reason why one person should be able to dictate what others could or could not eat.

Both of these stories exemplify a type of intentional tort known as intentional infliction of emotional distress. This type of tort occurs when a person knowingly and deliberately engages in behaviors that cause another person to suffer extreme mental, and possibly physical, distress. Though it was not specifically stated in the article, it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that both parties suffered from extreme forms of embarrassment and fear. So remember that while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch is certainly not illegal, you do need to respect that there are others who literally don’t share your taste.

Source: BusinessWest.com, “Don’t Be the Unfortunate Boss Who Shrugs Off a Food Allergy,” Stephanie Renaud, October 15, 2016