Accommodating employees with environmental sensitivities
“Our goal is to be sensitive to employees with perfume and chemical sensitivities.
Once an accommodation has been requested, the employer should initiate an interactive process with the individual.While there is no precise test for what constitutes a reasonable accommodation, courts consistently have held that an employee's request for a completely fragrance-free or irritant-free environment is unreasonable because it involves numerous irritants and is generally difficult to enforce given the large number of scent-producing agents one finds in the workplace. 17, 2012), the employee had a severe chemical sensitivity to a certain perfume and evidenced difficulty breathing upon exposure to this single scent. Employers are not obligated to provide the specific accommodation requested by the employee; rather, employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation. If an employer is considering implementing a fragrance-free policy, the policy should generally include the following language: • In consideration of employees, clients or other visitors to our office who may have sensitivities or allergies to various fragrances or scented products, our office maintains a fragrance-free workplace.Although an employer may have to provide some form of a workplace modification, the ADA does not require an employer to create a wholly isolated workspace for an employee that is free from potential irritants, because it would place an undue financial and administrative burden on the employer. The court granted summary judgment to the employer on the employee's failure-to-accommodate claim because the employee rejected the employer's reasonable accommodation of requesting the staff not to wear the particular perfume to which the employee was sensitive. 22, 2011), the court suggested that the employee was responsible for the breakdown in the interactive process where she would not allow the employer to discuss with her doctor her alleged allergy to carpet cleaner after attempts to accommodate her were unsuccessful. That said, an employee may refuse a reasonable accommodation offered by the employer; however, if the employee cannot perform the job without it, the employee will not be considered "qualified" under the ADA. • This means employees should refrain from wearing fragrant products in the workplace that others can smell, such as perfumes, colognes, powders, scented body lotions and similar products.This site is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace the examination, diagnosis and treatment of a licensed physician and no such claims are inferred.MCS America will not be responsible for misuse of this information or the misuse of any information provided by its member organizations., the non-profit organization suggests that employers take a number of steps before implementing a fragrance-free workplace.
These include maintaining good indoor air quality an air purification system.
It would also require the employer to identify and rid the workplace of many other common, scent-producing agents, such as cleaning supplies. • A system whereby if the employee was sensing an irritant, he or she could notify the supervisor and exit the area until the problem was remedied. In requesting documentation, employers should specify what types of information they are seeking regarding the disability, its functional limitations and the need for reasonable accommodation. If an employer institutes a fragrance-free policy, the employer does not have to prevent all violations of the policy. 2007), the court held that it was unreasonable to expect the employer to prevent all violations of its perfume policy, because the fragrances were not necessarily noticeable by others, so it would have been difficult to identify employees wearing lightly scented products before the employee with the sensitivity was exposed to them.
Interestingly, at least one court has suggested that if the employee can pinpoint the particular fragrance or substance, it may be a reasonable accommodation for the employer to ban that particular substance in the workplace. • A combination of a special seating arrangement, intervention with specific employees that wore irritating fragrances and a department-wide memorandum from management encouraging employees to be considerate of individuals with sensitivity to fragrances and perfumes. In its Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship, No. Further, the individual can be asked to sign a limited release allowing the employer to submit a list of specific questions to the employee's physician. Courts have held that it is unreasonable to expect an employer to create a perfectly sealed environment, explaining that demanding a completely scent-free environment to be policed by supervisors and enforced with disciplinary punishments would not only be impractical, but virtually impossible. The court held that the employer fulfilled its obligation because when employees were suspected of wearing scented products, the employer responded appropriately, reminding employees of the importance of keeping a perfume-free environment.
However, there are limitations to an employer's obligations in this regard, because the law recognizes that there is only so much avoidance that can be done before an employer would essentially be providing a bubble for an employee to work in. Specifically, the employer made no fewer than 20 accommodations, including: special equipment; a private bathroom; training other employees; a voluntary scent-free policy to discourage fragrances that might trigger the employee's allergies; and specialized seating and scheduling to minimize the employee's contact with other employees. 2013), the court held that the employee with the chemical sensitivity was not a "qualified individual" under the ADA because she refused to try the employer's proffered accommodation of a partial-face respirator.
To ensure compliance with the ADA, employers should consider the following guidelines to make sense of their obligations regarding scents in the workplace. The court rejected the employee's claims that the company's unwillingness to provide further-improved ventilation, a mandatory scent-free workplace or permission to work from home was unreasonable. The court explained that because the employer offered the employee a reasonable accommodation and she refused it, the court would not consider the possibility that she could have been reasonably accommodated by a transfer.
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