How could something as innocent as the delicate floral scent of an employee's
favorite perfume wreak havoc in a workplace? A growing number of people have
allergies to odors floating through the workplace environment, including fragrances.
In some workplaces, employees are complaining loudly about the problem.
What are some of the symptoms you should look for in employees with sensitivity
to fragrances? Tracie DeFreilas Saab, M.S., author of a comprehensive discussion,
"Individuals with Fragrance Sensitivity," cites some of the common
symptoms found on the Job Accommodation Network website (www.jan.wvu.edu),
a service of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL):
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarse voice or loss of voice
- Difficulty concentrating
- Tingling of the lips and skin
- Muscle and joint pain
Associated Medical Conditions
Whether fragrance sensitivity becomes a medical condition is determined on
a case-by-case basis. According to DeFreilas Saab, some of the medical diagnoses
that are exacerbated by fragrance sensitivity are asthma, allergies, multiple
chemical sensitivity (MCS), environmental illness (EI), and migraines.
Should employers mandate fragrance-free workplaces? Experience shows that some
employers that have adopted such a policy have had difficulty enforcing it since
there are fragrances in everything from perfumes to personal-care products to
even cleaning supplies and soap.
One employer that adopted a voluntary fragrance free policy this year for its
employees is Maine's DOL, as part of its quest to increase accessibility
to its One-Stop Job Centers. By asking employees and visitors to voluntarily
abide by the policy, the Centers and other DOL work locations will become fragrance-free
environments. Maine DOL recognizes that many people suffer from symptoms related
to their sensitivity to fragrances that sometimes 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."
Possible ADA Issue?
According to DeFreilas Saab, employers must decide for themselves whether they
should make their work environment fragrance free or just make adjustments necessary
for employees with diagnosable ailments that may be protected under the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA). "To determine whether a person would be considered
a disability, one must look at the
definition of disability as defined by the ADA," says DeFreilas Saab in
a reminder to HR professionals. "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."
Suggested Measures to Take
Whether or not an employer must make accommodations for employees who are sensitive
to fragrances, HR might consider the development of an informational campaign
to raise employees' awareness of the issue, asking them to keep the use
of their favorite fragrances to a minimum during working hours.
An employer's facilities management function could also evaluate the effectiveness
of its 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 HR in preventing potential employee requests for work
accommodations related to their fragrance sensitivities.
Free Business Statistics, Benchmarks, and
Patrick O'Rourke, CPA, of Washington, D.C., has gathered a wealth of free
business information and data specifically geared to small businesses. Just
visit www.bizstats.com and find a wide variety
of statistics easily accessible at no cost.
For example, you may find employee productivity reports by industry and total
employment by industry over a 10-year period. There's also an online tool
that allows you to benchmark a company's profits, labor, and other operational
costs against the rest of your industry.