New ADA Guidelines for Fragrance Sensitivity

Employers need to be aware that allergies to fragrance or multiple chemical sensitivities can be disabilities under ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act.


This was amply illustrated in a recent post on McBride v. the City of Detroit that ruled senior city manager Susan McBride’s chemical sensitivity was a disability under ADA because it interfered with the major life activity of breathing.


One of the major problems in that case was that the HR department for the City of Detroit simply refused McBride’s request, without any interactive process to uncover a reasonable accommodation.


According to the Job Accommodation Network or JAN, there are a number of ways that employers can accommodate workers with fragrance allergies or chemical sensitivities. JAN is a great resource for any employer dealing with an accommodation issue under ADA.


In the JAN guide on fragrance sensitivities, 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. Often, moving the disabled employee’s workstation or modifying his or her schedule is helpful. Employers should consider allowing the employee to communicate with coworkers by Skype, telephone or email, rather than face-to-face.


The most extreme accommodation is to implement a workplace policy asking or requiring all employees to use on fragrance-free products. This includes abstaining from perfume, cologne and aftershave as well as scented soaps and deodorants, and even using unscented laundry soap.


After the lawsuit with Susan McBride, the City of Detroit added the following section to its ADA Handbook:


“Our goal is to be sensitive to employees with perfume and chemical sensitivities. Employees who are sensitive to perfumes and chemicals may suffer potentially serious health consequences. In order to accommodate employees who are medically sensitive to the chemicals in scented products, the City of Detroit requests that you refrain from wearing scented products, including but not limited to colognes, after-shave lotions, perfumes, deodorants, body/face lotions, hair sprays or similar products. The city of Detroit also asks you to refrain the use of scented candles, perfume samples from magazines, spray or solid air fresheners, room deodorizers, plug-in wall air fresheners, cleaning compounds or similar products. Our employees with medical chemical sensitivities thank you for your cooperation.”

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