An employee prepares to serve pizza during lunch in the cafeteria of the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. office in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg
Dear Ask Bankable:
I’m a vegetarian. Can I insist that the company cafeteria accommodate my diet?
Career Coach says:
In a word – no, not generally, but as with everything, there are exceptions. For example, if your vegetarianism is part of a “sincerely held” religious belief, or if you have a health-related reason for abstaining from meat, you might be able to demand some sort of accommodation. Otherwise, however, it is not necessarily prohibited discrimination to serve beef stroganoff or meat-lovers pizza instead of a caesar salad wrap.
That being said, it should be the rare cafeteria which has no vegetarian options, and “accommodation” doesn’t necessarily mean a full slate of vegetarian options. If nothing else most cafeterias will have a salad bar, where you can get creative with toppings and ingredients, and probably various sandwich or wrap options which do not include meat. Vegans have it a little more difficult since cheese and other dairy products are a common substitute for meat in many vegetarian dishes, but as long as there are some sort of “on demand” dishes, there should be options for almost anyone.
Of course, salads and sandwiches only go so far, so if you find yourself gazing enviously at the hot dishes which aren’t vegetarian you could (and should) suggest that the employer consider some vegetarian options for those main dishes as well. After all, as my (sometimes vegetarian) wife points out, it’s not really all that hard to make a lot of dishes vegetarian by simply making the protein an optional add-in rather than an integral part of the dish. For example, by leaving the meat off of a flatbread or pizza until shortly before it is served, both vegetarians and meat-eaters can be accommodated. There are also a lot of dishes, like Fettuccine Alfredo or Eggplant Parmesan, which aren’t necessarily thought of as vegetarian, but which don’t contain meat.
As early as 2009 vegetarian options in school cafeterias were becoming more prevalent. As the kids in those schools enter the workplace, employers would be well-advised to meet the increasing demand for meals without meat. Cafeterias are businesses, and employees are customers, so consider making a business case – how many cafeteria customers are there who would likely buy vegetarian meals and how often? What are some popular dishes which are vegetarian but which are also popular among the general non-vegetarian populace? What dishes could easily be adapted to accommodate both meat-eating and non-meat-eating employees? A brief, well-thought-out business case may result in tastier vegetarian options than a legally-loaded demand for accommodation.
European companies probably have to take a more expansive view of their requirements under certain equality rules and guidelines. For example, according to this report in the Telegraph, UK employees from vegetarians to druids should be protected from requirements or circumstances which would go against their “deeply held beliefs.” Most US employers won’t know much about druids, but apparently modern-day variations on these Celtic wizards are also mostly vegetarian or vegan. In any event, while vegetarians in the US can expect continued progress on the cafeteria front, I expect American druids have a longer wait ahead of them.