Solving the Smelly Problem of Fragrance-Induced Disabilities
Employee sensitivity to synthetic fragrance and other chemicals is an increasing complaint in today’s workplace. Employees may report a wide-range of symptoms triggered by exposure to common items, such as perfumes and scented products, cleaning agents, fresh paint, adhesives, air fresheners and deodorizers, and emissions from office equipment.
Although not uniformly recognized in the medical field, the condition is sometimes referred to as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). An estimated 4% of the population, or more than 11 million people, may suffer from MCS. People with MCS report a wide range of symptoms, including migraines or severe headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, muscle aches, and dizziness.
Employers sometimes struggle to accommodate an employee with a condition like MCS. As with other possible disabilities, employers should engage in the interactive process with the employee, including seeking information from the employee’s health-care provider.
The most frequent MCS accommodation involves implementing a fragrance-free workplace policy, or a fragrance-free zone within the workplace. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has information about ways employers may accommodate an employee with MCS.
Additional accommodation suggestions from JAN and other sources include:
- Post warning signs in restrooms and other sites in the workplace about fragrance use
- Limit proximity to air fresheners and the ventilation system
- Utilize air purifiers as needed based on testing results or individual sensitivity
- Regularly engage an industrial hygiene professional to test the air
- Allow the employee to wear a respirator mask
- Utilize electronic communications or teleconferences to limit exposure to others
- Designate scent-free meeting rooms
- Allow rest breaks as needed
- Educate management and co-workers about how to create and maintain indoor air quality by limiting exposure to scented products
- Develop a fragrance-free policy
If you have questions about implementing a fragrance-free workplace policy, or other disability accommodation questions, please contact the Foster Pepper Employment and Labor Relations Practice Group.