One of our readers found out that logic does not always work in analyzing a legal issue. We reported a couple days ago that a chef who was allergic to peanuts was found to have a disability and we asked: "can a chef who is allergic to food be accommodated in a restaurant?"
Our intrepid reader, an experienced HR person, decided to work through this problem to arrive at a logical answer. In fact, she did an admirable job of weighing the facts and law, and arriving at a logical answer, but her answer differed from the court’s. Here’s her analysis:
Let me take a stab at this one. I think in this day and age almost anything is achievable in terms of accommodation of employees. Considering how severe some reactions from peanut allergies can be, the question that I ask myself is how many measures will needed to be put in place in order to ensure that the chef is never exposed to peanuts that may be handled or prepared in the restaurant. This might be a case of having the kitchen separated into two sections — one that has peanuts and the other that does not. This might mean a completely different staff complement, from section to section. The law speaks to “reasonable” accommodation by an employer, and if the costs of insulating the chef surpass the margins of the restaurant, then termination as a result of incapacity may need to occur.
There is an additional risk in terms of occupational health and safety in that the chef would be stepping into an area that contains a substance that could potentially harm him every day; how is this going to be dealt with? Another issue I can see is that this will to a certain degree also affect the chef’s performance as he will no longer be able to prepare any meals that contain nuts or peanuts, so he will have to rely heavily on someone else to prepare whatever items need to be infused into his meals — what if the item is substandard, who is to blame then?
Having zero kitchen experience, except the fact that I waitered as a student, there appears to be too many moving parts in order to make the environment reasonably safe. A termination of employment, though harsh, may be the most reasonable solution."
Sounds logical and "reasonable" — but wrong, according to the court.