Fragrance Sensitivities in the Workplace

Though not legally required to provide a smell-free workplace, an increasing number of companies are providing fragrance-free workplaces. For those of us who have sensitivities to smells, including fragrances from perfumes and shaving lotions, a fragrance-free workplace can make the difference in whether or not you feel fine or struggle through the day with a headache, coughs and sneezes.  It can be extremely difficult to be productive when a co-worker is wearing a fragrance (whether perfume, shaving lotion, hair spray or hand cream) to which you are either sensitive or allergic.  Some employees have such severe reactions to smells that they may qualify as having a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In these cases, employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation, if available.

Employers are not required to provide a smell-free workplace. It may sometimes be impossible (or certainly not reasonable) to provide accommodation for an employee who is allergic to many different smells in the workplace.  How about the employee working in the shoe department next to the cosmetic counter in a department store?  How about the employee working as a receptionist in a nail salon?  Under the ADA, an employer may not be required to totally ban fragrances from the workplace because of the difficulty of enforcement. The exception is when the fragrance is unique to the work environment, minimal and/or the employer has more control over it.

The Best Practice may well be to provide a smell/fragrance-free workplace. If that is not considered practical by the employer, the next Best Practice would be to always take requests for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act related to a fragrance sensitivity/allergy seriously and try to make a reasonable accommodation on a case-by-case basis.  Actions to consider include:  moving the employee to another area, providing an air purification system designed for the irritant, providing a closed-door workspace, designating certain areas as fragrance-free, using unscented cleaning products or allowing the employee to work remotely.

For those who enjoy wearing fragrances, this can be quite annoying. Some cannot believe that their expensive, favorite perfume actually makes some co-workers ill.  Legal guidance indicates that employees who are requested to not wear fragrances and who continue to do so can be disciplined for insubordination.

Our recommended Best Practice is a fragrance-free workplace!

 

Julia Aguilar