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Apr 08, 2016

Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity: Addressing Request for a Fragrance-Free Workplace

Q&ADisability 

Question: We have an employee who has indicated that he is allergic to all fragrances and has requested that we prohibit anyone from wearing perfume or cologne in the workplace, banning the use of any scented products. Do we really have to tell our employees what kind of laundry detergent they can and cannot use and that they can’t wear perfume or cologne to work?

Answer: Chemical sensitivity and allergic reactions to fragrance can be serious enough to constitute a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so you may have an obligation to make a reasonable accommodation for the employee.

Even if the sensitivity does not constitute a disability, there can be value in making sure employees are comfortable in the workplace. That said, courts have repeatedly ruled that a completely fragrance-free workplace is usually unreasonable. When an employee informs you that they have a fragrance sensitivity, don’t ignore it; ask for more specific information about the issues they are experiencing, what is triggering their symptoms, and look for ways to mitigate or eliminate the problem. One approach is to ask coworkers to refrain from using highly scented products, such as the heavy use of perfume or cologne. Sometimes raising the awareness level in the workplace is enough to solve the problem. Short of a complete ban on fragrances, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the Department of Labor, has published a white paper listing additional accommodation ideas, which include:

  • changing the location of the employee’s work station
  • providing an air purification system
  • improving indoor air quality
  • modifying the employee’s work schedule
  • offering options to work from home

If the employee’s sensitivity is severe, you may need to request medical documentation and engage in the interactive process. For help processing a disability accommodation request or for assistance updating your workplace policies, contact your Vigilant employment attorney. Existing members can also access our legal guide, “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process” and model form, “Fitness-for-Duty Report.”

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