Why the ADA Should Be Part of Your F&B Planning

Author: David McMillin       

When event professionals explore food and beverage options for attendees, the Americans with Disabilities Act may not feel like a main ingredient for the conversation. After all, feeding hungry attendees doesn’t feel like an act that permits any possibility of discrimination. However, Tyra Hilliard, Esq., Ph.D., CMP, believes that the ADAAA — the version of the law that was revised in 2008 — will play a key role in F&B planning.

“In the past, food allergies were consistently not treated as disabilities,” Hilliard said in a recent PCMA webinar, “Liability Risks in Today’s Tumultuous Times.” “The rationale was, ‘well, maybe you can’t eat peanuts, but you can eat something else.’”

That rationale is changing. Hilliard highlighted that the old approach was insufficient for guests and customers with severe food allergies. In the amended version of the ADA, one of the government’s definitions of a disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially [limits] one or more major life activities.” Those major life activities include eating and breathing — two activities that can be seriously disrupted by food allergies.

For example, consider a case between the U.S. Department of Justice and Lesley University in 2013. The government told the Massachusetts-based institution that it could no longer force students to purchase meal plans while refusing to provide food choices for students with food allergies. It’s easy to see how some event professionals could face similar legal challenges. If registration fees include meals, and those meals do not include alternatives for attendees with dietary restrictions, the organization could be violating the ADAAA. “Could this mean that there’s going to be liability to meeting planners?” Hilliard asked. “Potentially.”

Does the law mean that event professionals can be in trouble if they don’t have offerings for attendees on voluntary diets? No. However, Hilliard highlighted some important distinctions for interpreting the ADAAA in F&B discussions, along with updates on other potential liability risks for meetings and events. Click here to watch the webinar for insights to protect your organization, your attendees, and yourself.

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