To you, it’s a lovely little air freshener that smells like spring rain. To your colleague down the hall, it’s a reeking time bomb that makes her feel lousy every time she catches a whiff of it.
According to WebMD, more than 2 million Americans suffer from fragrance allergies or sensitivities. For them, the products that make us nicer to be around in crowded elevators, such as colognes, perfumes, moisturizers, soaps, deodorant and aftershave, can be downright sickening. If they use fragranced products, they may develop a rash with redness, itching or blistering. And if they’re near someone who uses these products, whether on their body or in their environment (in the case of air fresheners), they may experience any number of symptoms – from sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes, to headaches, difficulty concentrating and dizziness.
Needless to say, not a good scenario for getting your work done. Which is why more and more workplaces are encouraging their employees to be considerate of their fragrance-sensitive coworkers – and keep the aromatic body and room “fresheners” to a minimum.
For city workers in Detroit, MI, they’re more than “encouraged” not to wear fragranced products. It’s more like warned, thanks to a federal lawsuit filed in 2008 by a city employee who claimed a colleague’s perfume made it challenging for her to do her job. (msnbc.com)
Warnings now appear in the employee handbook, in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) training and via postings that appear throughout city buildings.
In the case of my own company, the issue wasn’t as urgent, but one that needed to be addressed, nonetheless. Our Human Resources Manager sent a company-wide e-mail explaining fragrance sensitivity and asking everyone to be aware of it and take steps to “keep the air as breathable as possible at work.”
So what about your workplace? Have you had to address this issue and if so, how did you do it? For the extremely sensitive employee who lets you know about a fragrance allergy, could you be looking at a “reasonable accommodation” under the expanded ADA?