I have celiac, and if I ingest gluten, about 2-3 hours later I will suddenly get sick. I'll spare you the details; suffice to say I will be unfit to drive for several hours, and unable to work the rest of the day. By "suddenly", I mean that I would probably not make it home even if I left immediately when I started feeling bad. (My current commute is 40-60 minutes. I've second guessed symptoms before and thought it was a false alarm, ten minutes later... nope.)

I'm worried that one day I'll go out to lunch with my coworkers and my order will get screwed up somehow. I try to be careful, but this has happened multiple times (most recently with a restaurant that claims to specialize in gluten-free cooking!).

To address the obvious:

  • I don't have local friends or family who could come pick me up
  • I don't want to be sent to a hospital, as there's no point (the one time I went, they just gave me some fluids and a large bill)
  • For the purposes of this question, assume none of my coworkers will offer to drive me home. (It's entirely possible someone would, but I haven't asked anyone in advance - would that be a good idea or too imposing?)
  • I am not willing to never eat out. As bad as this sounds, it's only happened ~5 times in the last 4 years, so I feel it's worth the risk rather than missing out on team bonding.

How can I best prepare for and handle the rare occurrence of dealing with the repercussions of consuming gluten at work?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 22:34

11 Answers 11


At my previous job I had a coworker with a similar problem to yours. On the few occasions when he ate something that made him sick, no one on our team was anything but sympathetic as he spent the majority of the afternoon looping from his desk to the bathroom and back.

So one solution would be to stop worrying about what your colleagues think, and just go to the bathroom as required. If you still get work done inbetween, all the better.

Ideally, talk to your manager about this in advance, and possibly inform some coworkers you trust, so they will understand what is going on when it happens.

  • 2
    How does this answer the question?
    – svick
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 1:31
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    It seems to me to answer "Are there other options I could consider?" with "spend the majority of the afternoon looping from your desk to the bathroom and back", and "I would rather my colleagues don't see me that way, but maybe they would be understanding." with the anecdotal evidence that Dan's team was universally sympathetic. But it could be more explicit, what parts of the question are answered by this one experience. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 2:11
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    @SteveJessop: Good points. I took the liberty of adding that to the answer. Hope Dan Neely does not mind. Dan: Feel free to re-edit if I did not correctly interpret what you wanted to write.
    – sleske
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 9:14
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    +1, this is definitely useful. Glad to know it won't be seen as bad form to tough it out at work.
    – user812786
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 15:33
  • This completely depends on what you are doing. It simply isn't professional to impose your health issues on others at work. If you are feeling that bad, then leave. Hiding it in the bathroom is an alternative but running around the office all day isn't the answer.
    – blankip
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 19:15

Unless you have a very close friend at work I would leave this to someone outside of work.

If you ask someone when you are in this condition, this is something that you are putting on someone, as it will be hard to say no. And if they do drive you home and you get sick and it makes them sick... well that is not a good experience. And they may feel sorry for you but also may associate you with negative things - even though that isn't your fault.

I would call a taxi. Or I would just wait it out. If your condition is that bad I would also not "chance" eating out. I personally eat out at lunch 3-4 times a year. If you have a condition I would refrain from taking chances given that you are so far away from your work. It certainly isn't like you are asking for a 10 minute drive you are asking someone to cart you an hour away then go back to their home. If it is a close friend they might do it a few times a year, if it isn't a close friend you got way too personal too quick and maybe have put that person in a very awkward position.

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    Note that generally speaking, gluten intolerance illnesses like celiac are not contagious.
    – Nzall
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 7:43
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    I interpreted "And if they do drive you home and you get sick and it makes them sick" as, literally, making them sick, as in giving them some kind of disease.
    – Nzall
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 7:53
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    @Nzall - "You vomit and make them nauseous". (Two meanings of the word "sick"). Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 7:56
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    I have had to do this, being sick as a parrot and using a company-provided taxi to get home from the airport. I told the taxi-driver "I am feeling really bad and may be sick, please be prepared to stop". I also had some plastic bags handy so I used these. The driver didn't find it too upsetting, indeed when I got home she made sure there was someone there to take care of me. But that was puking and not "having to use the bathroom".
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 9:59
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    I had one case where I was driving someone who was sick, and it made me sick (as in "having to throw up", not "getting a virus"). I would not put that on someone who I have to work with. Get a taxi (though if a taxi driver sees you in a questionable state, they very likely can refuse to transport you as well).
    – AnoE
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 12:43

You should consult your company policy for this.

For my company, it says that if the employee is not able to get home safely due to various reasons (e.g. too late, bad weather, drinking on company events), They should take taxi home and the expense will be reimbursed.

If there is no company policy on this, you should bring it up to your manager and/or HR so they will be aware of the issue, and potentially cover this situation in the policy.

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    Our handbook doesn't have anything like that, unfortunately. Good idea to check though!
    – user812786
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 22:13
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    Especially if there is no company policy (specifically) covering this, you may want to take it up with your manager. It's better to agree on what they (won't) do for you beforehand, and get it in writing, should you ever need it.
    – CompuChip
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 12:35

I might look into hotels close to you. Renting a hotel room for several hours (or even the night) might be a good way to avoid having to impose on your coworkers.

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    Don't forget to keep some spare clothes and toiletries on hand if you do
    – R-D
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 0:22
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    This is more of a comment than an answer. An answer explains why it is the best way to go. not just saying what to do. Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 19:46

I don't know how common this is in the US, but it might be worth checking if your company has a first aid room.

In my own work environment (research institutes in Germany) this is a very standard thing to have in almost every building. The first aid rooms are equipped with a medical couch to lie down. These rooms are not exclusively for first aid after accidents, but they are also explicitly meant to provide a temporary privat space for recovery in case of a sudden illness. In some cases a different room (e.g. a library or storage) might double as the first aid room.

If such a room exists, I would suggest to check it out in advance. Find out if it is freely accessible. See if there is a sink and how far it is to the nearest toilet. Depending on your own needs you might even be able to add more equipment (e.g. sick bags).

Also find out who is responsible for the first aid room. The same person has likely also gotten some first aid training and (if they volunteered for the job) is probably not one of the most squeamish of your coworkers. In the case of a sickness tell them that you are going to lie down, whether to call someone or not, and if you would like to be checked on or are fine on your own.

I think knowing of a good place to retreat to for a few hours might often be preferable to taking a long car ride home immediately (even if not driving yourself).

  • 2
    This is what I thought of too... my jobs have all had a sick room or a place for people who are sick to recover in privacy. Perhaps they aren't as common in the USA.
    – user5621
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 11:50
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    Such rooms are very rare in the US from my experience, being limited to facilities such as very large buildings/factories/campuses that have one or more on-staff medical professionals (infirmary in a school, for example).
    – alroc
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 12:27

If it were me, I'd have a few trusted co-workers on the ready. But maybe your relationship with them isn't good enough and that's why you don't want them to see you like that.

I'd probably always bring my lunch from home to minimize the chance of problems.

It makes sense to take a taxi home until you are feeling well enough to come back and get your car.


Modern American office redesigns often include, along with the traditional men's and women's group restrooms, one or two larger single-occupancy restrooms to collectively accommodate those with disability issues, non-binary gender, privacy desires, and associated issues. Commandeering a single-occupancy bathroom for a few hours would be much less disruptive to your co-workers than spending that time being sick in a restroom shared with all co-workers of your gender. (I'm assuming American restroom patterns here.) You may wish to suggest this the next time your office is remodeled or moved.

As a shorter term solution, the suggestion offered elsewhere of a nearby motel room may be cheaper and safer than taking a cab home and back the next day.

  • My building has (per labeled gender) one single-occupancy restroom on my floor, and a two-stall room on the other.. I was worried about inconveniencing coworkers on this floor, but they would probably prefer that over being in a stall next to a sick person!
    – user812786
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 14:39

My current commute is 40-60 minutes
Are there other options I could consider?

Yes, move closer to the workplace, or (as Grzegorz Oledzki points out) find a workplace closer home.

  • Moving closer has the double benefit of saving $$$. Commute distance is crazy expensive. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 12:49
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    @BrianKnoblauch - Unless you move from outside of a city where the costs are a lot lower and it is safer to live and raise a family, to the city areas where it is less safe and costs alot more. Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 19:49

To an extent, this should be something you can put on the restaurant.

You asked for a meal that would not make you unfit to drive*. They have instead delivered a meal that makes you unfit to drive.

If the most you're asking from them is that they pay for your taxi home and back, they're getting off light.

Beyond that, this is a medical condition. You shouldn't be ashamed to ask for gluten-free, it's an option on most menus. And if you were suddenly taken ill for another reason and had an anaphylactic attack, your colleagues would be anxious to help you.

Bottom line, if you have an active condition that requires you to seek help, seek help. Don't be afraid to mention it in vague terms as in "I'd like to come to lunch, but if they accidentally poison me, I might need people to help pay for a taxi home."

*: As you point out in a comment, ALWAYS TELL THEM, because it makes it their responsibility. Plus you get horribly ill less often, which is a nice bonus

  • I don't know on most of which menus gluten-free is an option, but in most cases, I find it difficult to even find out if something is lactose-free, and lactose intolerance is something that 70% of world population is touched by.
    – user50700
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 11:24
  • That would be irrelevant to my answer, which is concerned with the gluten-free concerns of the OP, not your own illness. And wrt your ignorance, most of them
    – deworde
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 11:29
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    Good idea. The time I went to the hospital, the restaurant's insurance did cover it for me. The magic words seemed to be "yes, I told the waiter I have an allergy". After that I've been careful to let them know and confirm my food is GF before ordering. The last times I got sick I just toughed it out at home, but it makes sense to ask them to cover costs in this situation.
    – user812786
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 14:37
  • @whrrgarbl In the words of the Poet Burns "shy bairns get nowt" (source disputed)
    – deworde
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 14:38

This happened to me on Friday.

I was just happily eating a muffin, when suddenly had that suddenly-cold, all-blood-left-my-face sensation that sometimes precedes vomiting. Stopping only to grab the security card, I walked quickly out of the offices, across the hall, round the corner, up to the bathrooms, through the door would I make it would I make it there's a stall free, push open the door, kneel, YES! Made it.

Had no idea what was happening, but told boss I was off home. Made it as far as the toilets again, for half an hour.

Felt good enough to stand, walked down to car, drove as far as the front gate of the campus before pulling over with emergency flashers and kneeling on the verge.

Drove another ten minutes, thought I might make it, then a red light on a left turn. Two lanes of traffic either side. Slow light. Gorge rising. Wind window down. Lights go green. I'm driving, turning, there's a park to the left, I might just make it, indicate, make the turn, stomach is starting to convulse, it's in my mouth, key out, belt off, door open, on my knees in the grass again.

Five more minutes home. Wife greets me at the door, I walk past her to the bathroom without even acknowledging her presence.

An hour later it was over. Don't know what it was. Four days later, my chest still feels bruised from the force of it.

So, yeah. I'd recommend just camping out in the company toilets for a couple hours. Save yourself this. Nobody giving you a lift is going to love you if they give you a lift and you barf, barf-bag or no.

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    While related, most of this is an anectdote that does not answer the question.
    – sleske
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 9:09
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    I now understand why the OP wrote "I'll spare you the details; suffice to say I will be unfit to drive for several hours[...]".
    – Nras
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 10:30
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    I appreciate the perspective from someone who has been there, hope you are feeling better :(
    – user812786
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 14:42
  • @sleske: stating one's premises is part of any good answer to a question. If you can improve on this answer, feel free to suggest edits, or provide your own answer. If brevity is what you're after, however, I regret you will find very few of my answers to your taste. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 23:03

Is there a "support group" (social media, etc) for people with celiac disease in the area you are working? Could it be possible to find enough people with a common problem so that you can get help from the "mass"? Help each other out by notifying the group when you have lunches at unfamiliar places and help each other if the worst scenario happens? If everyone is like you then you would have to help someone else commute home 4-5 times over a 5 year period in order for this combination matrix to add up. Is that feasible?

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