The Fragrance-Free Workplace
With the lower standards for disability, due to the ADA Amendments Act, individuals with medical conditions that make them fragrance- or irritant-sensitive might be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as having an actual disability and entitled to reasonable accommodation in the workplace.
Although the request for a fragrance-free work environment may seem to some to be highly unusual, perhaps even unreasonable, employers who receive requests for fragrance- or irritant-free environments should consider the request and determine various ways to potentially implement the request or otherwise satisfy the employee’s fragrance concerns. If a worker’s request is going to be very difficult to implement, its recommended that employers obtain sufficient medical information from the employee and then determine if they fall within the ADA’s definition of disability.
One way to accommodate employees requesting a fragrance-free environment would be to create a fragrance-free policy, to the effect of:
“The use of heavy perfumes and/or colognes may be a potential irritant to co-workers, whether or not they are disabled, and as such, employees are encouraged support a light fragrance or fragrance-free work environment for the benefit and comfort of all employees.”
Irritants in the Environment
The irritant might not be fragrance worn by co-workers, but chemicals within the environment, such as carpeting. In this case, employers are encouraged to consult an environmental expert for suggestions on how to create a sufficiently irritant-free environment for the employee to work.
An irritant could also be a particular food odor, such as popcorn or peanut butter, which for some with extreme food sensitivities can trigger an allergic reaction.
Whatever the case, whether there is an issue of fragrance, irritants or food allergies, employers are not required to institute completely fragrance-free workplaces, nor are they required to bar workers from using perfumes or other scents. But. be aware that it is much easier to prove disability under the ADA Amendments Act, which entitles a fragrance- or irritant-sensitive worker to reasonable accommodation.
This installment of our blog is partly a summary of the article “Employers Have Options When Accommodating Fragrance Sensitivities” authored by Allen Smith, J.D., SHRM’s manager of workplace law content.