A reader writes:
I am a third grade elementary school teacher and our school holds a "potluck" lunch for the staff every other Friday. Due to my numerous and severe food allergies, I have politely excused myself from attending these gatherings and therefore I do not sign up to contribute.
Since the economic downturn, it has been decided that sign-ups will now be by the entire grade level, rather than by individuals signing up, to keep costs lower. (We have 60 staff members, so it does get expensive to bring food for that many people!) The seven other teachers on my grade level are now expecting me to contribute, even though they are well aware that eating potluck food could jeopardize my health and I still would have to bring my own lunch anyway. Do you have any advice for me in this "sticky" situation?
Why the hell is the school having so many potlucks? Every other week?! I'd be curious to know if the majority of other teachers like having them be so frequent, or if others feel put-upon as well.
I would simply talk to the other teachers on your grade level and explain: "I'd love to participate, but I have so many food allergies that it would be an enormous imposition if I expected others to accommodate me. So I'm going to be skipping them and hope you guys understand." If you really want to soften it up, add in: "Maybe we can do our own occasional lunches on a smaller scale sometimes, although I totally understand if dealing with allergy restrictions is more of a hassle than people feel like taking on."
Notice the words that were used there? You're bowing out for their convenience, so that they don't have follow your allergy restrictions when they cook. Never mind that they obviously hadn't been planning to anyway; this reframes it in a way that should be easier for everyone to swallow.
Also, let's take this opportunity to broadcast a public service announcement to everyone in a position to influence this stuff: Biweekly workplace social events of any kind are too frequent -- and if you're going to do it anyway, under no circumstances can you hold it against people if they choose not to participate. If you want to expect people to attend and frown upon it if they don't, try twice a year. Jeez.