Posts Tagged ‘allergies’

Dueling Disabilities

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Emily Kysel, 24, is highly allergic to a common item: paprika, a spice made from ground bell and chili peppers. Inhaling the colorful spice can send her into shock and could even kill her. “It’s like someone poured acid down your throat,” she says. So family members raised $10,000 to buy her an allergy-detection dog, a golden retriever named Penny. When sensing the presence of paprika, Penny jumps up on Emily, who then presumably high-tails it out of the area. This might prove socially and professionally awkward, but it apparently works.
The City of Indianapolis’s Department of Code Enforcement hired Emily. Well aware of her unusual condition, they approved her bringing Penny to work and alerted supervisors and co-workers to Emily’s plight. Employees were asked to forego the paprika on hummus, chili, buffalo chicken wings, etc.
So Emily shows up for work, Penny at her side, and a co-worker immediately has an asthmatic reaction: not to Emily, of course, but to the dog. Emily’s boss makes an on-the-spot management decision to void Emily’s accommodation; he tells Emily that she cannot bring Penny to work. Forced into the limbo of neither working nor being unemployed, Emily files suit, alleging discrimination and failure to accommodate.
“I was crestfallen, angry,” Emily said. “I thought I had jumped through all the hoops to get permission, but then it immediately felt they were favoring this other individual.”
Emily points out that the city allows the use of guide dogs for blind individuals – though it appears that no blind folks work in the Department of Code Enforcement.
Christopher Kuczynski, assistant legal counsel for the ADA division of the EEOC, declined to comment on the particulars of this case. But he did say that “what’s important when you have two people with disabilities is you don’t treat one as inherently more important than the other.”
Management Conundrum
So what’s a manager to do? Where is the balance between the dog that is needed and the dog that is the problem? Would it be possible to establish a reliable “Paprika free zone” and thus eliminate the need for Penny? (This seems somewhat feasible, although paprika is often a hidden ingredient, as in hotdogs and sausages.) Could Penny perform a spice “sweep” at the beginning of the workday and then go home? (How would workers feel about a dog sniffing their lunches?) Or could they find a hypo-allergenic, paprika sniffing dog (thereby relegating the loyal Penny to the proverbial dustbin of history)?
So many questions, so few answers: this case of dueling disabilities presents an interesting conundrum. By creating a safe workplace for one employee, another employee is put at risk. We note in passing that any allergic reactions – whether involving Emily or the co-worker – would likely be compensable under workers comp. In this particular situation, however, comp appears to be the least of management’s worries.