Gluten Intolerant in a gluten filled work environment
February 15, 2012 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I am Gluten Free, work in a small office, we all bring our lunch, but others' lunches make me sick! What do I do???

I work in a small office with 3 other people. I am extremely gluten intolerant, and recently one of my co-workers started the medi-fast diet, which is powdered food full of Gluten that fills up the air and makes me so incredibly ill. I have been open about how sick I am (without getting into the gory details) and we are trying things like opening the window, and getting an air purifier, but unless you are gluten free you don't understand the pain that i am suffering through! I feel like they don't take me seriously! What do I do? I can't just tell everyone to stop microwaving their lunch of choice (and they don't seem to be volunteering that route anyway). Any suggestions on how to handle this? I am so sick and totally at a loss :(
posted by glitrqn to Food & Drink (61 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can understand how powder in the air can upset you, but how does microwaving affect you?
posted by greta simone at 10:45 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gluten doesn't magically aerosolize; if it's actually triggering allergies, it's throwing a lot of powder in the air, and is probably bothering everyone. Talk to your boss about it.

Or go eat somewhere else at lunchtime.
posted by kagredon at 10:50 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


How much room is there? Is there a spare room, storage space or something that you could appropriate for yourself (if it doesn't impact other people) and have that as your pantry/kitchen, so that your food is kept separate from everyone else's. You could bring in your own microwave, a mini fridge even? If you have your own office, you might be able to do this set up there?
posted by unlaced at 10:51 AM on February 15, 2012


unless you are gluten free you don't understand the pain that i am suffering through

Gluten free is not a medical condition. A gluten-free diet is used by people with gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, or celiac disease, and also by people who do not have any of these medical conditions. I think you would get more empathy if you described yourself as having whatever medical condition you have.

Where are people eating? It seems like it would be reasonable to exclude people from eating at their desks if this is causing a health problem for you while you are working. If people are eating in a break room or similar, you should be able to find some other place for you to eat.

You might also consider using a N95 respirator.
posted by grouse at 10:54 AM on February 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


I don't understand how the gluten is being ingested by you enough to trigger allergies. Is it only during lunch time while the food is being prepared? Or is it all the time in the entire office?

If it's the former, can you go somewhere else for lunch? Or eat in your car? I know it sounds inconvenient for you, but unfortunately, I think in your position, it is better to inconvenience yourself rather than your coworkers.

If you're always sick even outside of lunchtime, are you sure this is the cause? It sounds very strange to me, and I would talk to a doctor--perhaps there's a different underlying cause?
posted by katypickle at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2012


WHen the food cooks in the microwave, it releases particles into the air, which then get into my nostrils and lungs, mix with my saliva, and end up in the small intestine. Regardless, the exposure to it makes my nose burn, my eyes water, and now my tonsils are flared up.

We tried moving the microwave to a separate room, while I open the window near my desk, but it doesn't seem to be helping. Since the person is on the Medifast diet, she makes something to eat every 2-3 hours so leaving the office isn't something I can do.

We all work in one room together, we have a conference room where the microwave was, but now it's in this little closet type room.
posted by glitrqn at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2012


If it's a medical condition could you get a note from your doctor stating that you have specific needs?
posted by arcticwoman at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


WHen the food cooks in the microwave, it releases particles into the air, which then get into my nostrils and lungs, mix with my saliva, and end up in the small intestine. Regardless, the exposure to it makes my nose burn, my eyes water, and now my tonsils are flared up.

See, if that were the case, you'd be having having issues hours after you get home from work. Your small intestine isn't the first stop on your digestive tract.
posted by Oktober at 11:02 AM on February 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Gluten doesn't magically aerosolize; if it's actually triggering allergies, it's throwing a lot of powder in the air, and is probably bothering everyone.

Actually, someone with celiacs etc can be made very sick by the tiniest trace amounts of gluten. Gluten-containing powders do aerosolise fairly easily (have you ever seen where the flour gets when you bake?), and even small amounts of powder on the surfaces or in the microwave is more than enough to make them very ill.

OP, I think you need to be direct. Don't wait for them to offer, ask them straight out to stop bringing this stuff in. Either your co-workers stop contaminating your eating space or you'll need to go eat your lunch somewhere else (and, personally, I'd be expecting the company to provide me with somewhere suitable if possible). This is a serious health issue for you, not just you being fussy, and not eating in a contaminated area is an entirely reasonable accommodation for you to request. Also, feel free to describe how a gluten reaction causes the lining of your intestines to ulcerate and slough off and other such things, if more people understood the gory details then you wouldn't get stupid comments like the one above.

In the end you may just need to go eat elsewhere though (at your desk, outside, whatever works), taking care of your health should be your number one priority.
posted by shelleycat at 11:02 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do you know what specifically she's eating? A good chunk of the medi-fast stuff is certified gluten-free, so perhaps you could ask her to switch to those things.
posted by brainmouse at 11:03 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


See, if that were the case, you'd be having having issues hours after you get home from work.

Um, the OP probably is. The damage that gluten does to the intestine of someone that is intolerant isn't just passing, it can take weeks to recover from a flare up.

This is a real health issue that the company needs to accommodate, not just someone being fussy or weird.
posted by shelleycat at 11:05 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, someone with celiacs etc can be made very sick by the tiniest trace amounts of gluten. Gluten-containing powders do aerosolise fairly easily (have you ever seen where the flour gets when you bake?), and even small amounts of powder on the surfaces or in the microwave is more than enough to make them very ill.

This is absolutely true. I make 'gluten-free' stuff for events in my kitchen where I also cook gluten (and thus there can possibly be micro-traces of gluten in the air, on even a clean spoon, etc), and I know for a fact that one of my celiac friends can eat my gluten-free stuff without getting sick and another cannot - his food has to be made in a kitchen where no gluten is processed. IME, folks who are gluten-sensitive are varying degrees of sensitive, even if they have the same diagnosis. Just like you might know someone who is lactose intolerant can eat a small bite of ice cream without getting sick and someone else who can't eat any at all.
posted by Frowner at 11:08 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bringing a note in from your physician will give your concern the gloss of credibility that it might be lacking if you're feeling as if you're not being taken seriously. You can also discuss with your employer other accomodations that can be made at work so you can continue to do your job.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:08 AM on February 15, 2012


I have asked straight out for them to stop, but they don't want to. Which is why our next step is bringing in an air purifier for my area. And I said if that doesn't work I will need to work with a mask and they think I am being ridiculous.

It's definitely the oatmeal that sends me into a tail spin - and to answer someone else's comment - I am sick for days after, that's the biggest issue. If it went away when the air cleared I wouldn't be as upset, but this is going on for 2 weeks now and I can't function properly.

I have worked here for a year now and for the most part I haven't been bothered by the foods everyone makes. One person sometimes cooks these pasta meals and then I just leave for lunch on those days until the air clears. But with the medifast, it is cooked 3-5 times during one day, and each time it's terrible. The person making the meals is trying to eat only the GF items THIS WEEK, but at this point the damage is already done, and she has expressed that she plans on eating her oatmeal everyday once my symptoms go away so as to TEST the oatmeal again.

I think shelleycat is right, I need to demand it stop, and provide the gory details as to why. I feel bad that my diet affects her diet, but she isn't feeling very bad that I'm sick as a dog, so I guess I just need to be assertive about it.
posted by glitrqn at 11:09 AM on February 15, 2012


OK, if the reaction to airborne gluten is that strong, then that's well into the sphere of allergies not intolerance. IANAD, nor even particularly knowledgeable, but you really need to worry about sensitising to airborne gluten before you start getting proper anaphylactic reactions.

The alternative is that the allergic symptoms in the ear, nose and throat are psychosomatic. In which case you need to be taking anti-histamines, getting yourself talking to a dietician (not a nutritionist), and checking out what the cause of your gut symptoms is, because it doesn't sound as if the diet you're following is controlling your symptoms.

Cœliac disease isn't generally thought to show symptoms at levels of exposure below 1mg/day, if that's the gluten intolerance you have. Other causes of gluten intolerance aren't so well understood.
posted by ambrosen at 11:11 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


she has expressed that she plans on eating her oatmeal everyday once my symptoms go away so as to TEST the oatmeal again.

That's going straight into asshole territory right there, and unfortunately I think that means she's not going to stop on their own. Is there someone else in the office with the authority to tell her to stop?
posted by kagredon at 11:11 AM on February 15, 2012


If you are having an extreme autoimmune reaction to workplace conditions, you need to see a doctor & meet with your HR department/person. You may have a legitimate medical issue but dictating what those around you can or cannot (or should or shouldn't) do is not the way to address it.
posted by gyusan at 11:12 AM on February 15, 2012 [59 favorites]


Yes, definitely be more assertive. I'm not sure about the power structure but a meeting with your boss is good to. A note from your doctor is absolutely essential and presumably obvious, so I'm just going to assume you've already done that, talking about the severity of your condition.
posted by brainmouse at 11:13 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've just had a look at the medifast website. First off, that stuff is *expensive* (/irrelevant), but anyway, this seems to be a super sensitive allergy... Can't the food be covered when it's cooking (saranwrap over the top of it or something)?

More out of curiosity than anything else, are you set off when you go into places that sell bread or gluten-based products (supermarkets, restaurants etc)? My girlfriend is coeliac and she's able to eat oatmeal for a few meals without any adverse effects (any more than that though and she starts getting tired and bloated), but the more I learn about it the more I realise it's a continuum rather than a dichotomy.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 11:14 AM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oatmeal is very low gluten/gluten free. Are you celiac or just gluten-sensitive? Celiacs can have reactions to oats.

If you are celiac you should get a doctor's note and discuss this with HR. It sounds like you are having an extreme sensitivity to something in the air other than gluten. IANAD, but I think gluten is probably too large of a protein to really aerosolize.
posted by sararah at 11:15 AM on February 15, 2012


Unfortunately the offending person IS the boss, and we are so small we don't have an HR department. Hence why I turned to you guys...

It is asshole territory, thank you. That alone just made me feel better, lol.

And yes, I have reactions if I step into a bakery, etc, or anyplace where the flour is flying around.

I have talked about my allergy in depth with her too, so it's so frustrating she won't stop eating it. Mind you, the woman is 5 feet tall, and maybe 95 pounds, she doesn't even need the darn medi-fast, just eat healthy! UGH!
posted by glitrqn at 11:17 AM on February 15, 2012


Get a gluten-free microwave. Ask your coworker to buy gf oats. Get a letter from your doctor and present it to your supervisor.
posted by 200burritos at 11:17 AM on February 15, 2012


In light of your most recent comment, quit.
posted by 200burritos at 11:19 AM on February 15, 2012 [16 favorites]


hate to agree with 200burritos cause it just seems so wrong that this should affect your job.... but fighting with the boss on this issue when the boss is the one making the issue seems like a losing battle. it would come to litigation if you fought it hard enough, and that really wouldn't be worth it. if you can find another job, do consider it.
posted by saraindc at 11:28 AM on February 15, 2012


Is teleworking an option? Because if your gluten sensitivities are so severe that merely being in the same office space as microwaved food containing gluten sends you into a flare, it's not safe for you. You can't reasonably expect that your coworkers adopt a gluten free diet, and it sounds like the office space isn't large enough to have a safe space for you.
posted by crankylex at 11:29 AM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Have you looked into Bubble technology?

In light of your most recent comment, quit.

Seriously, this is actually the best answer. It isn't going to get any better. All the doctors notes in the world aren't gonna shift your boss off of this.
posted by Sphinx at 11:34 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


It sucks that you have this illness, but asking a bunch of other people to follow a gluten-free diet isn't reasonable. The person who plans to "test" your reaction to oatmeal is a jerk, definitely, but other people do need to be able to eat their normal diet.

I think a face mask when other people are cooking is probably your best bet. That way you're responsible for your own health and you're not impacting other people.

If they think you're crazy, well, who cares?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:42 AM on February 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


According to this analysis of the Medifast products,
"... only the shakes and one soup option contain some gluten. Specifically, the 55 and 70 shakes and the chicken noodle soup were culprits. But, the shakes only contain < (less than) 10 PPM which is a very low amount that would be considered safe in Europe. The soup contains a higher amount which she should steer clear of, but there are many other flavors available that doesn’t contain anything that is off limits. And, the ready to drink shakes are gluten free. In a nutshell, only a very small percentage of foods ending up being objectionable to my coworker."
Are you sure that the Medifast products are causing your reactions? It will be helpful to your cause to be sure you are both operating with the most complete, scientifically-sound information possible, especially if you feel your concerns are being dismissed as psychosamatic. Please do share with her some authoritative detail and data on your condition, from your doctor and elsewhere, and try to keep a calm, fact-based and solution-oriented focus in your discussions with her. It's terrible to feel ill, but your frustration seems to be getting the better of you in comments like your judgement that she "doesn't even need the darn medi-fast, just eat healthy! UGH!" and the claim that she's cooking these meals up to 5 times a day, which seems like quite a lot unless you're working 12+ hour days with her. Best of luck.
posted by argonauta at 11:47 AM on February 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Just for the record -- the Medi-Fast website thinks that the oatmeal contains wheat and gluten, that analysis notwithstanding
posted by brainmouse at 11:58 AM on February 15, 2012


I think agonauta has a good point. You are making rather swift pronouncements about the cause of your problems and then asking others to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate you. That is a lot to ask in the absence of more information. Your boss may indeed be acting like a jerk, but I don't think it is "jerkish" to perhaps do some testing to see what is bothering you specifically. After all, you are asking others to change their lifestyles. Otherwise you could be viewed as a hyper-sensitive high maintenance person that is a pain to be around.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 12:03 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately the offending person IS the boss, and we are so small we don't have an HR department. Hence why I turned to you guys...

There's theory and practice.

In the theory you're firmly in the right and your boss must stop nuking food in the office space. Refraining from in-office cooking and eating would fall very comfortably into the reasonable accommodation category of the ADA. You've raised the issue verbally and it's been mostly ignored. At this point you could document this and deliver it in a very no-fucking-around way.

In practice, if your boss is determined to be a jerk you may win this battle and lose the war. Or if the boss refuses to play fair, lose the battle. After all if s/he just outright fires you then it's on you to pursue legal action over it. You probably have a better chance of winning then than you do if they stew over it for a few months and then decide to drum up an excuse to fire you.

You may want to just go work for someone who isn't a jerk, perhaps in a larger venue where you're more likely to get organizational support or you'll at least not be in a communal space like that.

BTW, there's no minimum employee requirement for ADA that I am aware of - it just comes down to different standards for what constitutes 'reasonable' accommodation. But you should get more concrete advice on this than some random dweeb on the internet before you use it as a basis to pick a fight.
posted by phearlez at 12:06 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanks everyone! For the most part I got some great answers. And I do apologize for any jerkish comments I may have made, as I don't really mean it, I am just sick at the moment and cranky and helpless and it isn't showing my best side.

To those who are aware of celiac disease and gluten intolerance, I appreciate your help. To those who are ignorant, maybe you shouldn't post comments to questions like this until you educate yourself.

Thanks for the tips!
posted by glitrqn at 12:10 PM on February 15, 2012


I haven't seen you give any indication here that you've actually been diagnosed with any kind of gluten sensitivity. This person probably doesn't believe you. Actual gluten allergies, especially in the absence of celiac's disease are pretty damn rare, and whether it actually happens or not, your story about the microwave aerosolizing gluten and that making you sick sounds extraordinarily implausible. That and the sudden fashionability of going gluten-free makes your complaint easy to dismiss.

You need to get a doctor to confirm your condition, if only to satisfy your boss who's apparently not going to come out and say to you that she thinks you're a hypochondriac.
posted by cmoj at 12:13 PM on February 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


I was just going to say what phearlez said about requesting an ADA accommodation, because this reasonably-accommodatable medical issue is affecting your ability to perform the duties of your position. I strongly suggest you research that route.
posted by rhapsodie at 12:13 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah, so you are saying you have celiac. Doctor's note.
posted by cmoj at 12:14 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


yep, you need to go the ADA accommodation route. Which will require certification from your doc, most likely.
posted by yarly at 12:16 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if I were getting no support from my boss on this, I guess my next move would be to get a small microwave for my desk. They make little mini desktop fridges that could keep your lunch cold. And the boss can't exactly object to you having that.

My move after that? Looking for another job with a less jerky boss.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:17 PM on February 15, 2012


Actually, someone with celiacs etc can be made very sick by the tiniest trace amounts of gluten.

My immediate thought was "no they can't" but upon consideration I realized my tiniest trace probably had three to six more leading zeros than most people's.

Anyhow, what I actually came in here to say was, some of the symptoms you're describing do not sound at all like Celiacs. In your shoes, I'd strongly consider talking to an allergist.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:18 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly your boss is acting like someone who doesn't believe you but isn't willing to break the social contract by saying that out loud. A doctor's note would probably be the way to go, in this case.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:20 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne, that suggestion of an allergist sounds like a very good idea. Because the symptoms do sound very wrong. And I think whatever gluten has aerosolised would be by your definition of tiniest trace, not the ordinary person's.
posted by ambrosen at 12:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


>To those who are aware of celiac disease and gluten intolerance, I appreciate your help. To those who are ignorant, maybe you shouldn't post comments to questions like this until you educate yourself.

I hope you aren't coming off like this to your boss.

Nthing that you will need heavy medical documentation for ADA.
posted by cyndigo at 12:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [27 favorites]


The Americans with Disabilities Act (assuming the OP is in the United States) does have a minimum employee threshold. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees. State or local laws regarding disability may apply to smaller employers, though, so it's worth checking that out.

Even if there's no legal requirement for your employer to accommodate, you can still ask to talk with your boss to work out some accommodations as argonauta and some other posters suggest.
posted by bbq_ribs at 12:24 PM on February 15, 2012



To those who are aware of celiac disease and gluten intolerance, I appreciate your help. To those who are ignorant, maybe you shouldn't post comments to questions like this until you educate yourself.


Nowhere have you mentioned speaking with a doctor or a formal diagnosis. In that case, the push back makes sense.
posted by liketitanic at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think I would've been wearing a mask after the first day, and probably in most public places.

Wear a mask while pursuing solutions with your boss.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:46 PM on February 15, 2012


Glitrqn, I found this question very frustrating, and obviously others did, too-- and I imagine right now you are saying to yourself, "that is because you are all coming from a point of intolerance and ignorance!"

Actually, though, I am really familiar with strong allergic reactions and sensitivities myself (just got over a serious case of hives and throat closing up due to meds and my own weird immune system).

What made this question frustrating was your insistence that the microwaved food is causing all your problems, without EITHER the explanation OR diagnosis you later provided.

So I just want to put it out there that it might not be your health issues but the way you are addressing your coworkers about them that is causing the majority of your problems.

Even in this thread, you weren't specific with your Dx, and you didn't seem to want to provide needed detail. You would have gotten better answers with something as simple as, "I have celiac disease, and it's so severe that my gluten intolerance kicks in if I just walk into a bakery or anywhere gluten-rich foods are being processed. How can I get my coworkers to respect that their behavior, like when the boss microwaves oatmeal several times a day, makes me so physically ill that I cannot function at my job? Help!"

So, at work, if you just insist that your boss stop making HER food in HER office and then go on about being sick 'because of the microwave' it's no wonder she is dubious (and defensive) about stopping. Just because you have told her you have health issues in the past (and how specific were you? Did you just say you don't eat gluten, or are gluten intolerant, or did you explain Celiac's to her?) doesn't mean she is going to connect all the dots, let alone get her to stop eating her own diet.

She may very well feel that she has just as much right to her special diet as you do to yours, and not see why she has to be the one to give on the issue. That might be where the assholish, "I want to test this theory by microwaving more oatmeal!" came from.

And that's why, despite your not wanting to provide it, she may well need that doctor's note everyone here has been suggesting you get!
posted by misha at 12:50 PM on February 15, 2012 [58 favorites]



Nowhere have you mentioned speaking with a doctor or a formal diagnosis. In that case, the push back makes sense.


That, and the symptoms described are not typical of either gluten intolerance or celiac disease (which the poster seems to use interchangeably despite being separate conditions.) The symptoms described would be a better fit for allergic rhinitis (hayfever - which is not always caused by pollen!). Its implied that there are other symptoms - I wouldn't class describing hayfever has 'gory details', I would take that to mean the gastrointestinal stuff.

From your answers and the way you're skirting around the actual diagnosis, it very much seems like you are self-diagnosing - understandable, gluten intolerance/celiac disease are difficult to get a firm 'official' diagnosis and at the end of the day, if a gluen free diet cures your symptoms, why bother with invasive medial tests but I would urge you to see an allergist and in the meantime, try taking an antihistamine every morning. Allergies are not something to be messed with, especially when the allergen is something you're in daily contact with.
posted by missmagenta at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Actually, someone with celiacs etc can be made very sick by the tiniest trace amounts of gluten.

My immediate thought was "no they can't" but upon consideration I realized my tiniest trace probably had three to six more leading zeros than most people's.


Sadly, actually they can. I have a niece who has celiac disease, who when she was diagnosed via the blood test had levels that were almost off the charts. When I visit her I have to scrub my hands up to my elbows & be super careful around her, because she breaks out in rashes and gets severe reactions to even minute traces of gluten. I bake, a LOT, so I often find that I have whole wheat flour in my jeans, and then I'll sit her in my lap, and the small amounts of flour in my jeans that come in contact with her skin cause problems. I've seen the severe reactions she has and it's not pretty.

If you don't have an official diagnosis I would really recommend that you do pursue that. There are a lot of resources for celiacs these days that they can hook you up with. Good luck.
posted by lyra4 at 1:24 PM on February 15, 2012


If you are having an extreme autoimmune reaction to workplace conditions, you need to see a doctor & meet with your HR department/person. You may have a legitimate medical issue but dictating what those around you can or cannot (or should or shouldn't) do is not the way to address it.

This. I'm not an asshole, but from the outside, you do seem to be a little ridiculous (even if it's valid) and if someone in my office was getting this upset over my eating oatmeal - I would probably be acting the same way. You are the exception, not the standard, so the inconvenience should be placed on you and not everyone else.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 1:46 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it's only the oatmeal, there is gluten-free oatmeal. Maybe you could provide some to your boss.
posted by ShooBoo at 2:22 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are the exception, not the standard, so the inconvenience should be placed on you and not everyone else.

This is not the way the law works, by the way. For workplaces of more than 15 persons, the employer must make "reasonable accommodations" to a disabled person who is otherwise qualified and able to perform their work. However, OP, it's important to get a doctor to document your disability.
posted by Chris4d at 2:38 PM on February 15, 2012


So let me tell you that here in Massachusetts--one of the most employee-friendly states around ADA issues--it would not be considered a "reasonable accommodation" for other people in a shared office space to have to change their diets. Of course I don't know the laws or enforcement standards in your state.

Some "reasonable accommodation" strategies for severe food allergies I have heard of include the employer purchasing an air purifier, a separate microwave and/or toaster oven for your use only, and even finding an alternative space for you to eat your lunch in and/or to work in while other people in the shared office space are working.

Let me recommend the work of Sloane Miller, who is living with severe allergies herself, and who is a consultant to individuals and institutions wanting to create allergy-safe spaces.

I am also someone with severe environmental allergies myself, including an allergy to wheat. So on one hand, I have both sympathy and empathy for what you're coping with. On the other hand, I have to join in with the folks here who are suggesting that you find another way to present your issues so that people understand them more clearly.

Using accurate terminologies, having specific diagnoses and action plans from doctors--these are the kind of things that get results. If you're talking about your issues with your boss and co-workers the same way you're talking about them here, I am not surprised they are confused and don't know how to react.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:47 PM on February 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Sorry, I meant "while other people in the shared office space are eating" at the end of the second paragraph. And I should have added "or preparing food."
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:53 PM on February 15, 2012


The most reasonable accommodation would be either to get fitted for an N95 respirator, as mentioned upthread, or to discuss telecommuting options. If microwaving oatmeal in another room is causing you this much grief, I can't imagine that you would be okay if there was flour on someone's clothes, or they ate a muffin for breakfast, or a million other things that are not being an asshole, but just parts of living within the constraints of their own lives. This is something that will continue to be a problem virtually anywhere you work in the vicinity of other people.

I would strongly recommend talking to an ADA lawyer if you go forward with demanding your boss to change her diet, because I can see that not going very well.
posted by fermezporte at 4:31 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the future, here are some things to consider:

- Because of your Celiac's, you may need to choose employment that allows you to live happily. This could be telecommuting.

- If you are going to be in a workplace outside the home, try to find places that are large enough to have an ADA infrastructure and/or an HR department.

- Upon signing a contract with a company (not before), you need to give them a list of accommodations that you need. Be friendly, polite, and matter-of-fact about it. Use the correct terminology and specifically frame it as a medical issue (which it is) rather than gluten-free, which is a designation for a type of food. Example: "I have Celiac's Disease, which means that I have a gluten intolerance. In fact, I cannot even eat from the same plates or cookware that has touched gluten. Also, if there is gluten in the air, I may have a reaction."

- But you need to accommodate too. Leaving at lunch makes sense, but I totally understand how it would be hard to leave 3X/day.


Seriously though, you need to think about leaving this workplace. It doesn't work with your disability/health status.
posted by k8t at 5:04 PM on February 15, 2012


In regards to requesting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, unfortunately, a "reasonable accommodation" doesn't mean "I get whatever I want," or "whatever sounds reasonable to me." People tend to toss around those words as if they constitute a magical phrase that grants your wish upon speaking it. I don't want you to think that simply requesting a reasonable accommodation means that the situation will be changed to your satisfaction.

When you request accommodation under the ADA, your employer is legally required to engage in a dialogue with you to try to determine what changes, if any, could be made to your work or work environment to accommodate you. Your employer is legally entitled to ask for documentation confirming you have a disability that also addresses your functional limitations and need for accommodation. Finally, your employer isn't required to provide the specific accommodation you request. If multiple options are discovered, your employer has the final say to choose from among them. Finally, I don't know much about your workplace, but it may be possible that, say, decreeing that no one is allowed to eat any foods with gluten would create undue hardship.

It sounds that your gluten sensitivity is so severe that you aren't able to enter many common public places without risking a reaction. If that's the case, perhaps working from home is your best option. Even if your co-workers did refrain from eating foods with gluten at work, they'd probably be eating them sometime. Gluten residue, so to speak, could linger on jackets, coats, pants, etc. Unless everyone adopts an entirely gluten-free lifestyle, which obviously isn't going to happen, I don't see a way to totally sanitize your workspace.
posted by pecanpies at 5:47 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Considering you have no documentation of having Celiac's, communicate in extremely vague ways about your illness, mention triggers of illness that are exceedingly rare, are prone to irritability when discussing your needs, and aren't familiar with how the ADA can help you, it's not surprising that you're not getting desired results at work.

You may want to try approaching this issue in a way that assumes people want to help you, and then give them enough info and context to do so. She's not being an asshole if she's simply saying "my (apparently) arbitrary food preferences are as valid as yours". I'm sorry that you apparently endure a particularly unkind illness, but you present your needs in the same manner that a fussy hypochondriac might.
posted by anildash at 6:18 PM on February 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


There is a lot of good advice here, but I want to nth those who suggest a face mask or particle respirator. I have to wear one occasionally for work, and find them to be much more comfortable and much less of a hassle than I ever would've expected. It sounds from your description like you could get away with wearing it while she's cooking and until it "settles down", so even if she is cooking multiple times a day, you wouldn't have to wear it all day.

You seem to speak of the mask as a last resort, but I would think of it as mandatory Personal Protective Equipment in this scenario.

Lowes or Home Depot carry some particle / dust masks for very reasonable prices, you may have to go to some sort of workplace safety store to get a full fledged respirator. You may be able to get your supervisor to pay for it.

(I do find it strange that you seem to be saying that "regular" lunches being heated up doesn't bother you, but this medifast diet food does. So I think the above advice to see an allergist is a good one, just in case there is another issue going on.)
posted by pallas14 at 6:40 PM on February 15, 2012


Agreed with those who say that, from the information you've provided, a mask sounds like your best bet. Assuming that you can provide documentation, I would suggest negotiating with your employer to cover the cost of a) mask fit testing and b) the respirator masks themselves.
posted by purlgurly at 6:56 AM on February 16, 2012


Could you ask you boss to add the oatmeal to the liquid before she gets to work so the amount of it in the air is greatly reduced? I imagine that the act of opening it, shaking it in to a bowl and then stirring milk or water in to it is more likely to distribute the particles than the nuking with plastic wrap over the top.
posted by taff at 12:39 PM on February 16, 2012


OP, has any of this been helpful? Hope that you can find something that works for you.
posted by cyndigo at 9:27 AM on February 17, 2012


So let me tell you that here in Massachusetts--one of the most employee-friendly states around ADA issues--it would not be considered a "reasonable accommodation" for other people in a shared office space to have to change their diets.

I don't think it rises to the level of asking people to change their diet, just mandating the work area not be used for food prep and consumption. Which is inconvenient but there could easily be accessible alternatives. It's also not all that unusual - I've worked at places that banned eating at one's desk.

Sidhedevil - is there any sort of precedent about accommodation for folks with severe peanut allergies? That's the only sort of reaction I've heard of that occurs to food that parallels what's being asked about here, what with a response to particulates in the air.
posted by phearlez at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2012


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