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eqHR Business Tips: Fragrance Sensitivity- Do You Have to Accommodate?

Posted on October 13, 2015

As as business owner, did you ever imagine being involved with an employee’s complaint about their sensitivity to another employee’s fragrance?

Today, you must be prepared. This article was written to offer business leaders guidance to deal with employment issues.

For employees with certain medical conditions, such as asthma or allergies, the workplace can be a daunting miasma of irritating scents and fragrances. Especially in modern workplaces that favor more open space, if someone is wearing perfume or strong cologne, it can be almost impossible to escape the cloud of scents.

It can be intimidating for employers to navigate this issue. In fact, according to a recent NPR story, SHRM reports that fragrance policies are among the top five requests it receives from its members.

Employers should understand that individuals with medical conditions that make them fragrance- or irritant-sensitive might be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and entitled to reasonable accommodation.

Many employers are adopting light-fragrance policies instead of imposing fragrance free mandates. Light-fragrance policies can be beneficial to all employees, not just those with sensitivities, as heavy perfumes and colognes can be irritating and distracting to everyone.

Fortunately, fragrance free environments and policies have so far been viewed in the courts as unreasonable accommodations. However, as with any request for accommodation, the employer should engage in an interactive process with the employee to achieve a mutually satisfying solution.

When an employer receives a request for scent- or irritant-free environments, the employer should treat the request like any ADA accommodation request.

First, determine they have sufficient information from the employee’s medical provider to ensure the employee comes within the ADA disability definition. Next, the employer should consider the request and evaluate the challenges of implementing their request or if there are other solutions to satisfy the employee’s concerns.

Possible solutions include: asking a particular employee to refrain from wearing an irritating scent; allowing the affected employee to telecommute; moving the employee’s workstation; allowing the affected employee to call-in to meetings; if the irritating scent is from a cleaning product used by the cleaning crew, investigating using other products.

It’s important for employers to understand they have options when dealing with this issue and may sometimes have to be creative in finding solutions that are satisfying to all involved.

If you business needs help with your employment policies, employee handbook or any human resources assistance, please call 855-461-8808 or email info@eqhrsolutions.com.

This article was written by an eqHR Principal Consultant, Lauren Sims. 

Further resources on this topic can be found at www.shrm.com and http://www.npr.org/2015/09/22/442189543/what-s-that-smell-when-workplaces-try-fragrance-bans