Fragrance sensitivity and the workplace
|Common Pollutants - Fragrance|
Many individuals in our society today are puzzled as to how their favourite perfumes can wreak havoc in the workplace. A growing number of people suffer from reactions to odours that waft through the workplace environment, including fragrances. Some workplaces have banned fragrances because some employees have complained about the problem. In some cases people have left their jobs because of fragrances worn by other staff members who have little consideration for the ill health they can cause sensitive individuals.
Tracie DeFreilas Saab, M.S., of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) a service of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and author of the article, "Individuals with Fragrance Sensitivity" found on the JAN website (www.jan.wvu.edu), notes some of the common symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarse voice or loss of voice
- Difficulty concentrating
- Tingling of the lips and skin
- Muscle and joint pain
According to DeFreilas Saab, some medical conditions that are exacerbated by fragrance sensitivity are asthma, allergy, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and migraines. More recently individuals with fibromyalgia blame fragrances for triggering episodes. The main issue is whether employers should mandate fragrance-free workplaces which is due to everything being fragranced, from perfumes to personal-care products and even cleaning supplies and soap. Experience shows that some employers who have adopted such a policy experiencing difficulty with enforcement.
The Maine Department of Labour (DOL) adopted a voluntary fragrance free policy for its employees in 2005 to increase accessibility to its one-stop job centers. Employees and visitors are asked to voluntarily abide by the policy so that the Centers and other DOL work locations will become fragrance-free environments. Maine DOL has recognized that many people suffer from symptoms related to their sensitivity to fragrances that can result result in serious health problems. According to a statement released by Maine DOL: "We want to educate our workforce and clients about the real effect chemicals and fragrances can have on individuals with sensitivities. Many people are unaware that the scents they use can actually make another person ill."
Fragrance sensitivity and the Americans with a disability Act
DeFreilas Saab claims that employers need to decide whether they should mandate a work environment that is fragrance free, or simply make adjustments for employees with diagnosable ailments that may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). "To determine whether a person would be considered to have a disability, one must look at the definition of disability as defined by the ADA," says DeFreilas Saab. "According to the ADA, an individual may have a disability if he or she has an illness or condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a history of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment."
Whether is necessary or not an for employer to make accommodations for fragrance sensitive employees, Human Resources (HR) might consider actions such as;
- developing an information campaign to raise employees' awareness of the issue surrounding fragrance use and its health impacts, and by asking them to not to use their favorite fragrances during working hours.
- Management could evaluate the effectiveness of its ventilation system to ensure good air quality and adequate air circulation
- Arranging for cleaning personnel or management services to purchase and use fragrance-free soaps and cleaning products.
- Ridding the work environment of fragrances that employers can control.
Together with raising employees' awareness of fragrance dangers may assist HR in preventing potential employee requests for work accommodations related to their fragrance sensitivities.
More on fragrances in the workplace
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2009 filed a lawsuit accusing a grocery store of violating federal law by refusing to accommodate a pharmacy worker who is severely allergic to cosmetic fragrances. EEOC alleged the female employee requested that Jewel-Osco ask her co-workers not to wear fragrances, such as cologne and after-shave, while working in the pharmacy with her because of her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. EEOC claimed that on one occasion, the employee passed out in the workplace and had to be transported to hospital because of a severe allergic reaction to a co-worker’s fragrance. EEOCs Chicago Regional Attorney, John Hendrickson, claimed that Jewel-Osco could have raised the issue with the employees who worked in the pharmacy and the charging party who had COPD. The action could have explored how the disability could have been accommodated to satisfy both the woman and her coworkers without any undue hardship for Jewel-Osco.
- www.blr.com September 10, 2009. Bias Suit Involves Other Employees' Fragrances
Last Updated (Sunday, 22 November 2009 02:45)