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Record retention is complex and time consuming. However, in addition to complying with various federal and state laws, keeping good, well-organized records can be very helpful in documenting and supporting an organization’s employment actions.
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This special report will discuss how you can ensure your records are in good order, and establish a record-retention policy.

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March 10, 2005
Your Cologne Is Making Me Sick! Fragrances, Allergies, and the Workplace

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.

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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 (, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL):

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • 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 to have 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 Industry Analyses

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 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.

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