Fragrance Sensitivities: Is it You or the Workplace?

    [fa icon="user"] Cheryl Durr Patry [fa icon="folder-open'] Workplace, Fragrance


    Navigating and creating a work space

    Do you get dizzy or get severe headaches when sitting next to co-worker doused with perfume?  Do you find it hard to breath or feel nauseous when passing by a department store perfume counter? Do you feel like someone has you in a choke hold which leads to coughing with certain air fresheners, deodorizers or laundry detergents?

    Many Americans suffer from fragrance sensitivities from toiletries, cosmetics, air fresheners, cleaning products and pesticides which can trigger chemical insensitivities and result in a severe or life threatening health risks.  Fragrance sensitivities can profoundly impact production at the workplace and this is a real condition that permeates all aspects of life. 

     So who can help and what resources are out there?

    Let's explore fragrance sensitivity and the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA has defined a disability as a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities and these disabilities must be meet the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations. So here is the deal, some people with fragrance sensitivities will have a disability under ADA and some will not.   Clear as now what?

    By referencing this link, employees and employers can determine whether a person has a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA). For the employer, accommodations are not typically costly and the benefits usually far outweigh the costs, so what do you have to lose! The employer should always talk with the employee to accommodation a reasonable request for fragrance sensitivities. Such as:

    • fragrance_Sensitivities.jpgMoving the employee's work location to an area with a closed door and clean air filter
    • Creating a fragrance-free zone or floor
    • Using unscented cleaning products
    • Creating a fragrance -free bathroom or break room
    • Allowing fresh-air breaks
    • Adopting a fragrance-free workplace policy
    • Allowing the employee to phone in for meetings that have a higher likelihood of being exposed to fragrances
    • Allowing the employee to tele-commute

     With that said, David Fram, director of ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity Services for the National Employment Law Institute, stated  that if someone is allergic to many different smells in the workplace, the employer may not be required to provide a smell-free workplace.  That is would simply not be a reasonable, however reasonable accommodations must be determined on a case by case basis. 

    A Movement Towards Fragrance-Free Workplaces

    Many of the fragrance free workplaces or businesses are initiated by the employer or a grassroots effort, such as an office green or sustainability team.  There are many sites that guide you through how to implement and advocate for a fragrance-free health care zone for example the Massachusetts Nurses Association, “Fragrance Free! Creating a Safe Health Care Environment” 

    Many governments and organizations recognize that fragrance sensitivity is a true impairment and a debilitating condition. A shout out from coast to coast hospitals like Brigham and Women Hospital in Boston, Mass that have implemented a fragrance-controlled work place policy to Harrison Medical Center, Bremerton, WA that has established a no scent policy. Just check out this list of colleges, universities and government agencies that have embraced the importance of fragrance free policies throughout the United States and Canada.  Inspiring, isn't it? 

    If you want to do a deeper dive into this topic, please reference and partner with resources below. We would love to hear about your success stories! 


    Job Accommodation Network
    The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free consulting service that provides information about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the employability of people with disabilities.

    Office of Disability Employment Policy
    The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor. ODEP provides national leadership to increase employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities while striving to eliminate barriers to employment. 

    Environmental Health Network
    Environmental Health Network (EHN) was one of the first organizations to support and advocate on behalf of the chemically injured. EHN has a Support and Information Line (SAIL), a newsletter, The New Reactor, and a Website with extensive resources pertaining to chemical injury, including fragrance sensitivity

    Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse
    The Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse is a Web resource that provides links to articles on indoor air quality.


     This month the Savvy Women's Alliance is exploring tips, stories and ideas on how you can impact your health and home by becoming Savvy about the Fragrance Revolution . Are you ready for another spritz? More "Fragrance" Tips and Posts 


     EEOC Regulations To Implement the Equal Employment Provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as Amended, 29 C.F.R. § 1630 (2011).

     EWG Statistics  

     Job Accommodation Network

     Society For Human Resource Management

     The Safety Training HR Strategies for Odor and Allergy Accommodation: How to Pass the Smell Test.


    Cheryl Durr Patry

    Written by Cheryl Durr Patry

    Co-founder and past president of Medfield Green. Currently, serving as the Community Legislative Liaison for Safer Chemicals at Medfield Green. Active Board Member with Alliance For a Healthy Tomorrow by helping with lobbying and community outreach on laws and policies that result in the phase out of toxic chemicals in consumer products and replace them with safer alternatives. Love to learn, research and educate how to live healthier and lighter on the planet, passionate about exercise and nutrition, mom of four unbelievable kids.

    Subscribe To Blog

    Find A Chapter Near You

    Share the Love: 


    Lists by Topic

    see all

    Recent Posts

    Posts by Topic

    see all