O'Brien said that beginning in 2008, the Americans With Disabilities Act expanded the meaning of the term disability to include "hidden disabilities" -- conditions that might not be immediately observable or active all of the time but that are capable of disrupting a "major life activity" such as breathing, eating, sitting, and normal cell growth. Food allergies are included in that expanded definition.
The amended laws also state that employers are no longer able to consider whether the effects of a condition can be mitigated through medication or whether other treatment can alleviate symptoms. These amendments make it harder for the employer to argue allergies are not disabling, even if flare ups only occur during exposure to certain foods.
O'Brien said this means employers have an obligation to accommodate employees who suffer from food allergies, but within reason. For example, it is much easier to protect someone from a peanut allergy who works in an office versus someone who works in food service.
The best way for adult peanut allergy sufferers to protect themselves in the workplace, O'Brien advised, is to write a letter to their employers, clearly describing their condition backed up by a note from a physician and then ask for a meeting with a supervisor to discuss the issues.
"It helps if you are clear and practical with your requests and ask nicely," she said. "Yours is just one request of many and reasonable accommodation is the bottom line."
Food allergies can pose a serious health risk to the 8 percent of the population that suffers from one or more of them, according to the American Academy of Asthma and Allergy Immunology.
Food Allergy Tweet Chat Today at 1 p.m., ET
Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical correspondent, will host a one-hour tweet chat about food allergies on Twitter today from 1-2 p.m. ET.
Representatives from the Food Allergy Research & Education, American Academy of Allergy Asthma &Immunology, Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network as well as medical experts from top hospitals and universities and allergies sufferers from all over the world will be tweeting their thoughts about this important topic.
Want to participate? Here's how. Follow the conversation or jump in with comments and questions of your own.