Karla Miller of the “WorkAdvice” column in the Washington Post had a doozy last week.

I’m going to assume that all the people involved in this story are female. I’m probably wrong, but that will allow me to make up fake names for them.


The letter writer (let’s call her Zoey), had a peanut allergy and worked in a small office. Zoey asked a co-worker (let’s call her Addison) not to eat peanut butter in the common area because it made Zoey sick. Addison protested, and Zoey and Addison had a few more arguments over the peanut butter issue during the next few months. One day, Zoey “noticed my hand was bright red,” and she had a headache and a “tightening” throat. Then she noticed peanut butter on the back of her hand. She reached under her desk and found a big blob of peanut butter smeared there.

Zoey accused Addison, who denied it, and when Zoey called the boss, the boss totally sided with Addison, saying she didn’t believe Addison would do it and added that she (the boss) did not believe Zoey “should be able to dictate what others eat.”

Karla Miller’s answer and the comments were primarily focused on the Human Resources implications and whether the peanut butter spreader (whether it was Addison or not) could be criminally liable.

But there are some implications to this under the Americans with Disabilities Act, too.

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The “Onionhead” case: Fringe beliefs and reverse religious discrimination by employers

Posted in Corporate Culture, Discrimination

Onionhead is this incredibly pure, wise and adorable character who teaches us how to name it – claim it – tame it – aim it. He wants everyone to know how they feel and then know what to do with those feelings. He helps us direct our emotions in a truthful and compassionate way, which in turn assists us to communicate more appropriately and peacefully. We then approach life from a place of our wellness rather than a place of our wounds.

Peel it – feel it – heal it


For you employers who think “fringe” beliefs can’t be real religions, think again. In the normal religious discrimination/accommodation context, that means you have to try to accommodate your employees’ religious beliefs even if they aren’t part of an established or “generally recognized” faith tradition. (You may also be required to accommodate if the employee is part of an established religion but has a unique interpretation of his or her religious obligations.) If the belief is “religious” within the meaning of the law, and if the employee’s belief is sincerely held, then the employer can’t discriminate based on that belief and must try to accommodate if the employee needs an accommodation.

And for you employers who adhere to “fringe” or mainstream religious beliefs, beware of committing “reverse religious discrimination” by pushing your beliefs on your employees. In this case, the employer will have to go to trial against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on claims that the owners and managers — who used “Onionhead” as a team-building tool — discriminated against, harassed, and retaliated against a number of employees who were Catholic, Lutheran, and “nones” for not accepting Onionhead.

The decision is long, but fascinating. Although not as fascinating as the “Harnessing Happiness/Onionhead” website, products, and YouTube videos. May the Onionhead be with you!

Robin Shea is a Partner with the law firm of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP and has more than 20 years’ experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act), the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act; and class and collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage-hour laws; defense of audits by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs; and labor relations. She conducts training for human resources professionals, management, and employees on a wide variety of topics.


Which training method is of interest to you?


Which training method is of interest to you?

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