Workplace Fragrance Sensitivities: Preference or Health Problem?


Perfume and fragrance sensitivities are a difficult topic to tackle in the workplace. As fragrances become more common, showing up in everything from trash can liners to air filters, more people have begun complaining about them. The dislike of fragrances is often due to reactions that are so bad that they nearly incapacitate the person. Addressing the problem can be tricky, but it is possible.


What You Need to Know About Fragrance Sensitivities

There is no one condition that makes someone sensitive to odors. It’s very common to find one person in a group reacting badly to a particular fragrance, while others in the same group may react to something completely different. In other words, you could have an employee who is not troubled by bleach fumes but who could be figuratively knocked down by the scent of someone’s aftershave.

The symptoms that the sensitivities evoke range from allergy-like nasal symptoms and sinus pain to migraines, asthma attacks, and nausea. These symptoms may be invisible to you — you have to rely on the person who has them to say he or she has them — but they are no joke to that person.

ADA Coverage and Reasonable Accommodation

Sometimes the sensitivity results in the person just not wanting to sit too close to another person (think of every time you’ve encountered someone drenched in perfume and wanted to get away). However, the reaction to the fragrance can often be so bad it’s covered by the ADA. If you have an employee who complains about a fragrance, you should try to make reasonable accommodations for that employee.

Similarly, if you are an employee with sensitivities, you should be given access to reasonable accommodations. If you are denied reasonable accommodations, you may benefit from speaking with an experienced attorney.  This is a challenge that’s not going away, and addressing it properly may save you much trouble down the road.


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