Fragrance or chemical sensitivities can cause a large number of health issues, including coughing, difficulty breathing, migraines, nausea, confusion, anxiety, skin irritation, and more. When someone is faced with symptoms like these as a direct result of irritants in the workplace, it’s only reasonable to try to do something about it.
Adopting a fragrance-free policy is one option, but there are a lot of pros and cons to this approach. Let’s take a look.
Fragrance-Free Policy Pros:
- It attempts to eliminate problems for individuals who have fragrance or chemical sensitivities.
- If it does not eliminate problems, it still shows the employer is making an effort to do so.
- If an employee’s chemical or fragrance sensitivity can be classified as a disability (which it might, in some cases), then taking steps to remove the chemical from the work environment could be a part of the interactive process in the search for a reasonable accommodation.
- Some people may not realize they’re having symptoms from workplace chemicals; removing these chemicals could help people who don’t even know they’re experiencing an allergic reaction.
- Implementing such a policy may reduce the number of absences or illnesses for employees who have sensitivities, which can help with overall productivity.
- Implementing a companywide policy makes it easier to directly speak to individuals who may have problematic fragrances after the policy has gone into effect. (Trying to do so before can be more confrontational, and they may feel singled out.)
Fragrance-Free Policy Cons:
- Becoming a fragrance-free environment is more complex than it may seem—chemicals and fragrances come from more than just the obvious sources like perfumes; they are also found in shampoo, soap, deodorant, candles, cosmetics, detergents, and more. Asking all employees to refrain from using scented versions of all of these items is a major undertaking.
- This type of policy may not solve the problem at hand, especially if the offending chemical is unknown.
- It is difficult to enforce, particularly for workplaces with customers, vendors, or contractors.
- Removing many common chemicals also often involves removing things that others may find beneficial, so there may be employee pushback and impact on morale.
- It may not solve the problem. There are chemicals in building construction materials, paint, and even smells coming from outside. You may go through all of the effort only to not solve anything. Because of this, employers typically will not be required to implement such a policy, even when trying to accommodate an employee who has fragrance or chemical sensitivities.
Given the difficulty of the situation, many employers ask employees to voluntarily limit or eliminate the use of fragrances. This alone can show steps are being taken and may, with luck, help the situation without as much of a negative impact on morale.
Remember that there are a lot of other possible accommodations if you have employees with fragrance or chemical sensitivities. Some examples include:
- Allowing them to work from home
- Separating these employees’ workspaces and changing the airflow with fans or vents
- Installing air purifiers
- Allowing additional breaks so they can get out of the workspace
What has your experience been with fragrance-free policies? Does your workplace have one? Why or why not?
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.