Ask the Experts: Office Policy and Strong Perfume

ThinkHR Questions Ask The Expert

Question: Can I counsel an employee about wearing strong perfume in the office?

Our View:  One of the touchiest subjects we handle as managers is the overall body odor issue – whether it is poor hygiene or overly strong perfume, it’s still tough as it is such an individual issue. Some individuals might believe that this is a disability issue under the ADA. The ADA generally defines disability if the impairment limits one or more major life activities. For more information about how to determine whether a personal has a disability under the ADA, visit http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/adaaa_fact_sheet.cfm

You have the following options when dealing with fragrance sensitivity: (1) Remove the fragrance to the extent you can; (2) Remove the employee with the concerns from the area (telework, work in a private office or different department, etc); or (3) Reduce the employee’s exposure to the fragrance.

Practically speaking, here is what we recommend: Definitely talk with the employee using the strong perfume. The employee may not even realize the effect the scent is having on others. Use a tactful approach to explain to your employee wearing the perfume that fragrances can cause allergic reactions to many people, which can either be minor productivity issues (like headaches) or more major safety concerns (like sickness and lost time from work). And you personally have noticed this employee’s scent and have received complaints that it is bothering other people. In the interests of your workplace harmony, productivity, and safety, you will have to respectfully ask him/her to not wear it to work. You could also let him/her know that you are not singling him/her out but will also address the issue with others as needed.

You could also have your facilities management department evaluate the effectiveness of your air ventilation systems to make certain they are working well and are at their full capacity. Arranging for cleaning personnel or outside services to purchase and use fragrance-free soaps and cleaning products is another good idea. Ridding the work environment of fragrances that employers can control and raising employees’ awareness of the problem may assist you in preventing potential employee requests for work accommodations related to their fragrance sensitivities.

Make this a part of your company’s professionalism or dress and grooming policy. Please note that the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, offers a number of suggestions for accommodating fragrance or chemical sensitivities in the workplace. Along with sample language for no-fragrance policies, JAN suggests various accommodations that employers can make for chemically sensitive employees. For more information, visit http://www.jan.wvu.edu/media/fragrance.html