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After some high profile deaths, I’ve noticed more and more restaurants and takeaways in England have signage refusing to serve people with food allergies. Is this legal, or is it disability discrimination?

(I’m prompted by England, but very interested to hear answers from many different jurisdictions )

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In the UK this is governed by the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against disabled persons. Official guidance as to what counts as "disability" can be found here, but the basic definition in the law (as paraphrased here) is "substantial" and "long term" difficulty in carrying out every-day tasks.

  • ‘substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, eg it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed

  • ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more, eg a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection.

Allergies are long-term, so the question is whether a food allergy presents substantial difficulty in carrying out every-day tasks.

The kind of every-day tasks that the guidance considers are things like getting dressed, preparing a meal, meeting work deadlines, typing or writing. The guidance does not specifically mention allergies. However the mere existence of an allergy would not create substantial difficulty in carrying out this kind of every-day task. So it would not be considered a disability.

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  • Even if it were considered a disability, is there some restriction on the reasonableness of the required accommodation? I watched a documentary about a chef whose career was dedicated to serving people with potentially life threatening allergies and the things the kitchen staff needed to do to ensure the food was safe was extensive.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 16:16
  • The laws in the United States are similar enough that this answer would basically apply here, as well. To @ColleenV's question, if food allergies were considered a disability, a restaurant would likely be unable to simply refuse service altogether. Instead, it would need to make reasonable accommodations for the customer. What accommodations are reasonable can change from case to case.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 16:33
  • @bdb484 One thing the show I watched pointed out was that it’s more than just washing utensils etc. The restaurant had to source everything from safe sources, like rice flour that wasn’t processed in the same facility that processes nut flours. I don’t know how most takeout places could guarantee the safety of the food they’re serving for certain types of allergies.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 16:50
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    I doubt they can guarantee that any more than the average restaurant can guarantee the absence of foodborne bacteria. But the law doesn't require those kinds of guarantees. If it were required to serve those with allergies, doing all those things would likely not be considered the kind of reasonable accommodation the law requires. Instead, it might be enough for the restaurant to simply inform the customer of their ingredients and potential cross-contaminants, and let the customer make his own decisions about whether to make a purchase or not.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 16:58
  • @bdb484 So instead of stating they won’t serve people with allergies, it would be better to post a notice that their food may contain certain allergens, similar to the US labeling regulations? One thing the chef in the documentary got really angry about was people staying they were allergic or had other dietary restrictions when they didn’t just to get special plates cooked for them because they thought they were higher quality in some way, but a business can’t call them liars and refuse to accommodate them while accommodating actually allergic people.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 17:28

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