Will UK discrimination law force restaurants to open their doors to allergy sufferers?

I blogged earlier this week about the recent case of Wheeldon v Marstons, where an employment tribunal, at a preliminary hearing, decided that a chef’s severe allergy to nuts was a “disability” under the Equality Act 2010.

If it does become settled law that a severe nut allergy can constitute a “disability”, I wonder if this could have wider implications? In addition to employers, would businesses (as goods, facilities and service providers) then also have a responsibility not to discriminate against someone with a severe nut allergy?

What might the implications be?

In my view, if a severe nut allergy was a “disability”, then a private day nursery who charges higher fees for allergic children or an airline who refuses to allow people with nut allergies to fly, would be unlawfully directly discriminating against the allergy sufferer.

What about restaurants?

If a blind person went into a restaurant and the staff refused to read to him what was on the specials board, wouldn’t that be discrimination? In a way, they aren’t treating him differently, as their policy is that everyone needs to consult the specials board. Obviously, the problem is that his disability means he can’t do this. As businesses are under a duty to reasonably accommodate disabled people, they should be prepared to advise him of the specials.

Let’s say a person with a severe nut allergy goes into a restaurant, and asks whether they can cater for his allergy. Assuming that person’s allergy constituted a “disability”, could the restaurant turn him away? Could they shrug and say “sorry, we can’t guarantee any of our dishes are nut free” (which, practically, would have the same effect as turning him away)? Or would the law require the restaurant to reasonably accommodate him by saying “our nut free menu options are X, Y and Z”?

What do you think? I would love to hear your views.

One comment

  1. We had a manager lie to us saying that they cooked with peanut oil instead of Canola oil so they wouldn’t have to deal with serving my son who has a severe peanut allergy. It was a franchise within a chain. I notified the national customer service department and received an apology from the local restaurant within 3hours. Does not change the root problem though.

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