The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

How to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Restaurants and Other Food Service Employers


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is frequently asked questions about whether restaurants and other food service employers risk violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they base employment decisions, such as whether to exclude an employee from the workplace, on local public health rules modeled on the Food and Drug Administration's Food Code. The EEOC is issuing a Guide titled How to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Restaurants and Other Food Service Employers (Guide), to assure employers that they can follow rules based on the Food Code and also comply with the ADA. The Guide also explains how the ADA applies to food service employers and people with disabilities who work in restaurants.

The Guide is written in question/answer format and has three parts. The complete Guide is available at: The following summary provides a brief overview of the Guide.

Part 1: Basic ADA information

Part 1 of the Guide is designed to answer basic questions about the ADA and who it protects. In short:

The ADA protects qualified persons with disabilities.

A reasonable accommodation is a change in the application process, in the way a job is performed, or to other parts of the job (like training or benefits) that allows a person with a disability to have equal employment opportunities.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities, unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on their business.

Part 2: The ADA and the FDA Food Code

Part 2 of the Guide answers questions about the FDA’s Food Code and the requirements of the ADA.

Under the ADA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must annually publish a list of infectious and communicable diseases. The list is made up of pathogens, such as viruses and other microorganisms, which are substances that cause diseases. The ADA has special rules for people who have diseases due to the pathogens on the CDC list.

The FDA Food Code addresses the issue of employee health for those employees who work around food. One of the Food Code's intentions is to protect the public from diseases transmissible through food. The 2001 Food Code discusses four pathogens included on the CDC list:

These pathogens are called the Big 4. They are easily transmissible through food.

The FDA Food Code states that employees diagnosed with a disease due to one of the Big 4 pathogensshould be excluded from the food establishment.

The FDA Food Code also states that employees with certain symptoms (diarrhea, fever, vomiting, jaundice, or sore throat with fever) should be restricted from certain duties, including food handling.

Most people who have a disease due to one of the Big 4 pathogens are not disabled by that disease. Diseases caused by the Big 4 pathogens are usually short-term and/or minor. It is even more unlikely that people who only have a symptom listed in the Food Code, but who have not been diagnosed with a disease, would have an ADA disability due to the symptom alone.

But, if a person is disabled by one of the diseases caused by a Big 4 pathogen, the employer must consider the ADA in addition to the provisions in the FDA Food Code. The ADA says that an employer may refuse to assign or continue to assign an employee to a food handling position if the employee is disabled by one of the diseases on the CDC list and the risk of transmitting the disease cannot be eliminated by a reasonable accommodation.

This means that when an employee claims to be disabled by one of the diseases listed in the Food Code and requests reasonable accommodation, you must follow these steps:

The ADA also has rules about when employers may ask applicants and employees questions about their health, including questions about diseases transmissible through food.

Part 3: ADA rules prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities

Part 3 of the Guide focuses on ADA rules that prohibit employment discrimination against qualified people with disabilities.

Providing Reasonable Accommodation

There are many different types of reasonable accommodations, including: providing special equipment, removing minor tasks from a particular job, allowing time off, and reassigning an employee to a different job. Other examples of reasonable accommodations are provided in question 27.

Performance and Conduct

Charges Against Employers

This page was last modified on October 28, 2004.

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