NFIB Maryland: Food Allergy Bill Just Another Nuisance for Small Business

Date: March 25, 2014

Related Content: News State Maryland

Annapolis
(March 25, 2014)
– A
bill requiring restaurants to ask patrons about food allergies and force
employees to complete a training course won’t improve the public health but it
will cause headaches for small business owners, said the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) today.

“It’s hard
to imagine what they’re trying to accomplish here,’” asked NFIB Maryland State Director Jessica Cooper.  “All of this will be redundant to people who
know they have allergies.  It can’t help people
who don’t know they have allergies.  And
for the business owner it’s another legal hazard and another set of hoops to
jump through.”

The bill,
SB 409, would cover eight food allergies, including cow milk, egg, peanut,
fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and tree nuts. 
It’s on the agenda this afternoon in the House Health and Government
Operation Committee.  Under the measure,
restaurants would have to include language on menus and menu boards urging
customers to notify their servers if they have an allergy.  And servers would be required to ask before
they take an order.

What if
customers would rather be discrete and order something they know they can eat
rather than announce their personal medical conditions? 

“That could
be an awkward thing for people to discuss at a dinner meeting or a first date
or any number of social circumstances in which you don’t feel like talking
about your allergy,” said Cooper.  “And
restaurants shouldn’t be forced to make their customers uncomfortable.”

Restaurant
employees would have to complete a course and pass a test in order to be
certified, under the bill.  It would
require someone with training to be on duty at all times.  And first-time violators could be convicted
of a misdemeanor punishable with a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

The bill
would impose some costs, like printing new menus, for example, as well as fees
for the certification courses.  There
would also be the cost of paying employees for taking the course when they
would otherwise be working.  But the real
risks are lawsuits, said Cooper.

“What
happens if a customer refuses to disclose an allergy and then gets sick?  How can you prove that your employee asked
the question if the customer claims otherwise? 
How can you prove that the illness wasn’t caused by the food?  What if the patron doesn’t speak or read
English?  This bill raises a thousand
questions and doesn’t answer any of them.”

Cooper noted
that even if restaurants win in court, they must still bear the costs and
sacrifice the time necessary to mount a legal defense.

“If they
lose they lose and if they win, they lose,” she said.  “There’s nothing that small businesses fear
more than a frivolous lawsuit and this bill invites more of them.”

Cooper said
that while food allergies can be serious, restaurant owners already know that
and they’re trying hard to accommodate their customers.

“They have
nothing to gain and everything to lose by harming or even disappointing their
customers and this bill would do nothing to change the incentives or make
anyone safer.  They are already
responding to customer demand for special menu items.  They are already training their staffs to be
sensitive and well informed.  And
customers already have the ultimate power that comes with having more choices and
more information today than ever before. 

“This is a
solution in search of a problem and the only people who will benefit are trial
lawyers and bureaucrats.”

For more
information about NFIB please visit www.nfib.com.

 

Related Content: News | State | Maryland

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