Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Year’s accommodation story

We spent part of our winter vacation on a quick family trip to Washington D.C.  The Old 97’s, my 8-year-old daughter’s favorite band, was playing two nights, and we decided to pack up the car and make the drive to our nation’s capital to catch the less raucous New Year’s Eve Eve show (and to see some of the of the sights).

My younger child, Donovan, who’s 6, has Celiac Disease. Traveling with someone who has a food allergy is tricky enough. When that same person is your typical 6-year-old picky eater, it’s darn near impossible.

Before we left home, I called the concert venue, where we planned to eat dinner during the opening act, to ask about gluten-free options for kids. They assured me that the wait staff and chefs were well versed in gluten-free preparations. For example, they could serve a bun-less cheeseburger (not his favorite, but he’d manage). When they told me that they had a dedicated fryer for french fries, I knew we’d be fine. He loves fries, but most restaurants can’t accommodate him because of the risk of cross contamination from shared fryers.

When we sat down for dinner, however, the server told us that the downstairs concert hall has a different, more limited menu then the upstairs restaurant, and they they don’t serve a kids menu or fries downstairs. Uh oh! I explained my son’s dietary issues, and that I had called ahead. She explained that they were really crowded and could not make any promises, but that she would see what she could do. No more than 5 minutes later she returned with a thumbs up, letting us know they a bun-less kids cheeseburger with gluten-free french fries would be on their way. Crisis averted.

Employers, there is a lesson to be learned from how the Hamilton handled our issue. It would have been easy for it to stick to its, “We’re too busy” story, leaving Donovan with nothing to eat. Yet, given how simple it was for them to take an extra minute and go upstairs for the burger and fries, I would have been offended had they said no.

Don’t  take the easy way out with your employees when they ask for accommodations for a disability, religion, or other protected reason. Even if you are legally right (and, the odds are good that you won’t be), you will leave the employee feeling offended and upset. Those feelings breed discontent, which, in turn, breed lawsuits.