Food Allergies and Celiac Disease in the Workplace

12 Mar

Work area

Over on Ask a Manager, someone wrote in asking how to let her new manager know about her Celiac Disease. Ask a Manager is an interesting blog dealing with issues at the workplace (hiring, firing, funny/annoying coworker stories, and other HR related advice or stories). I always like and appreciate Alison’s answers because she’s straightforward, diplomatic and doesn’t play games.

Her answer to this person’s question was in line with her normal style, and she suggested the individual say something like this:

“I realized that you mentioned there will be a series of lunches when I start. I have a bunch of boring food allergies that often make it hard for me to eat out — is there a way for us to do those meetings in a context other than lunch? Alternately, if they’re in the office, I can bring my own stuff in to eat, which is what I normally do — but I wanted to mention it to prevent you from going to any special trouble to arrange food for my benefit!”

There were many interesting comments from people who suffer from Celiac Disease or food allergies too.

I agree with the approach she recommended. In a professional setting, we don’t want to come across as sickly, picky or excessively demanding. Being matter-of-fact without getting emotional is the best way to handle the food allergy explanation, both at the workplace and in dating.

One person commented saying she has severe food allergies and has shown her colleagues how to use her Epipen in case she needs it. Depending on your comfort level, this may be a good approach. While I do have anaphylactic food allergies, I have never shown anyone at work how to use it. Some people know about my food allergies and some know I carry an Epipen, but I just haven’t felt it necessary to show them how to use it. I bring my own food almost all of the time and typically eat it in my own office, at my desk. At this stage in my life, I know not to eat anything questionable. I very infrequently eat anything brought in by colleagues, unless I’m 110% sure it’s safe, which is almost never. (I always tell people that both the best and worst thing about Celiac Disease and food allergies is that you can’t eat all the goodies your coworkers bring in!)

My workplace is actually quite accommodating and for our monthly Pizza Lunches, they order cheese free pizza for someone with a dairy allergy, gluten-free pizza for me, and vegetarian pizzas for vegetarians, which is much appreciated. When we have potlucks or other lunches, I usually eat only what I brought and have a soda or something.

What are your thoughts on handling food allergies and Celiac Disease in the workplace?

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17 Responses to “Food Allergies and Celiac Disease in the Workplace”

  1. musingsoftheamusingmuse March 12, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    It’s not easy, that’s for sure. The Holiday season was the worst between vendors bringing in treats that I politely refused and after continued pressure to “HAVE some”, had to say, “I can’t.” Then the boss scheduled the holiday party… pizza and beer. Afterwards when I was asked if I was going, and I said “No”, he looked shocked then remembered that he set up a pizza and beer party at a place that has no gluten free pizza (or beer). Granted, there were other factors, but I felt left out and forgotten with what was scheduled.

    • Amanda March 12, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      Do you work for a big company or small? I work for a small company, so I think it helps a bit in that regard. When vendors brought in treats over the holiday, I’d just thank them and when they left, hand them out to my colleagues. Luckily, none of them stayed to watch me eat it! But if they had, I’d just say I’m sorry, I’m allergic to these, but my coworkers will love them! Thank you so much!”

      That’s too bad that your boss couldn’t include you in some way for that pizza and beer party! I would have felt a bit excluded, too, on principle. Have they made any more of an effort since then to accommodate you?

      • musingsoftheamusingmuse March 12, 2013 at 9:46 am #

        I work for a very small company, as I like to call it “a dysfunctional family”. They suggested I could order a salad, which we all know is NOT the same as pizza. I don’t think they meant to exclude me, it’s just the way it happened.

  2. achemistinthekitchen March 12, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    I go for the “bunch of boring allergies” route, but usually end up speaking with the caterer on my own to ensure that I get free food that is still safe (plus the just-in-case food that I bring with me). My girlfriend also does this in some cases (like a pizza party), but if shellfish or peanuts are involved, she can’t even be in the same room so it requires more conversations.

  3. Kathryn Chastain Treat March 12, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I like the answers that have been provided. I have gone to family gatherings and felt left out because they didn’t think to ask me if there was something I could have.

  4. hédi March 12, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Until now, it’s not too difficult. I keep on telling everyone, what the matter is and they either accept it or they want to know more about it … But yeah, it’s difficult, because people, who do not have to think about what they eat, forget, what i told them :-/

  5. SStitches March 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    I work from home, so I don’t currently have to worry about this issue. I have, however, always had food allergies/intolerances, and explaining them can be hard. When I was a teenager, I was a manager at a BBQ pit (I managed mostly myself, as it was so small.), and I basically told the owner, “I’m not going to eat anything from your shop, so don’t worry about me snacking on breaks.”

    Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever worked at an office where lunches were anything but pot luck. In special meetings where outside catering has been brought in, I just make sure I pack a snack. I’ve only had a few side-eyes from those I didn’t know; I just tell them I’m on a diet. It’s true, just not in the sense they think. I AM on a special diet.

    • Amanda March 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

      That’s a good way to put it! And more than likely, no one will give a second thought to it, either. I personally don’t care what other people are eating or not eating. I only care what I’m eating (or not eating, as the case may be). I mentioned it above, but I work for a small company so we don’t bring in catering often, but we have before. I typically just go and USUALLY there is SOMETHING I can eat – a piece of fruit or salad or something. But my work environment is probably much more informal than other people’s so I can see why it would potentially be more uncomfortable.

      I would love it if I worked from home and never had to think about this!

  6. Mary Kate March 12, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    I work in a small office and they know most of my stuff because I’ve been finding it out while I’ve worked there. I manage the whole office birthday treats in a way that makes everyone happy — I bake, so I can eat it. No one has ever complained.

    Mostly, at potlucks, I eat my own foods, but occasionally someone makes something I can try, and if it’s someone I feel knows my allergens pretty well, I’ll give it a go. If I’m going elsewhere, I just bring my own food.

  7. Mags March 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Not entirely on subject, but related enough that I’d like to share: I’m attending a 3-day conference next week and was shocked that the registration form did not ask anything about dietary restrictions (in this day and age?!?) After not getting a reply at all to my polite e-mail a few weeks ago, I finally had to call today to ask if they are providing any meals and if so, whether or not they would be able to accommodate special diets.The person on the other end of the line said she would have to ask their caterer and asked me to send an e-mail to another address with the list of what I can’t have… I find caterers are much more accommodating than restaurants, so here’s hoping!!

    So much more complicated traveling and going to work events like this! Coworkers don’t understand why I’m always so reluctant to take advantage of these kind of opportunities.

    • Amanda March 13, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

      Definitely on the subject! Work lunches, conferences, work parties … It’s all relevant.

      I hope they’re able to accommodate you at least in someway. And hopefully it won’t be just a boring salad. Good luck!

      • Mags March 14, 2013 at 8:31 am #


  8. Allergy Warriors and Gluten Free Gal March 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    I often wondered how my daughter would handle things like this when she gets older and goes to work. It cannot be easy!

  9. fussybunsmama March 21, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    I actually just went through this! I started a new job and within the first week my supervisor wanted to have a potluck in my honor. I know most people would have been excited, but I was nervous about disclosing all of my food allergies. They ended up doing a taco bar. I brought one of the main dishes, just to ensure that I could eat it. It ended up being great! And I didn’t end up feeling sick. Everyone seemed really understanding, so I was appreciative of that.

    • Amanda March 21, 2013 at 6:18 am #

      That’s awesome that everyone was supportive and that you didn’t get sick!


  1. The Social Side of Celiac Disease and Food Allergies | Celiac and Allergy Adventures - March 25, 2013

    […] Do you mention it to them and suggest a restaurant? The only time I’ve encountered this, it was a vendor and I briefly explained and picked a nearby restaurant, which could accommodate me. He asked a couple questions during the meal about it, but it wasn’t a big deal.  Read more on my post about Celiac Disease and food allergies in the workplace. […]

  2. Keeping The Workplace Safe Gluten Intolerance And Food Allergies - August 18, 2013

    […] your coworkers and supervisors know. Food allergies and intolerances are so common that they probably won’t bat an eye. If they don’t seem to take it seriously, try to explain what your reactions look like so they […]

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