Can’t Ban Fragrances? Consider A Fragrance-Free Zone

May 15, 2019
Inside HR
Employee & Labor Relations
ADA & Accommodations
Read time: 3 mins

Employees with fragrance sensitivity often need a fragrance-free work environment to avoid triggering symptoms. However, it can be difficult to completely eliminate fragrances in some workplaces. Fragrance sensitivity can be triggered by not only perfumes and colognes, but also in some cases by personal products such as deodorant, shampoo, laundry detergent, and lotion. In populated workplaces or where the public has access, trying to control what products people use and enforcing a total fragrance ban can be virtually impossible.

So what else can be done? Some employees can telework, but what about those who can’t or who prefer to be in the workplace? One of the things we suggest employers consider is creating a fragrance-free zone, a smaller area of the workplace where a fragrance ban can be effectively implemented and enforced. This option may not work for everyone with fragrance sensitivity, but it’s worth exploring.

For employers who are interested in this option, here are some things to consider:

  • Locate the area away from areas of congregation and routes of travel used by employees or the public and provide an entrance that can be used only by those who are not wearing fragranced products.
  • Make the area large enough so multiple employees can use it. In addition to the employee who requested the fragrance-free work area, other employees may prefer to work in the fragrance-free area.
  • Check the ventilation for the area to make sure it’s not moving fragranced air into the area. If there is fragranced air moving into the area from the ventilation system, check with an HVAC specialist to see if that can be modified.
  • Provide air cleaners or purifiers in the fragrance free zone to help remove any stray fragrances that get into the area.
  • Designate the area as a fragrance-free zone and talk with the employee or employees about appropriate signage and notification, such as posting “Fragrance Free Zone” signs and making workplace announcements.
  • Provide a designated breakroom that is fragrance free if breakrooms are provided for other employees.
  • Designate a restroom as fragrance free and use soaps, air fresheners, and cleaning products that are fragrance free in that restroom.
  • Use fragrance free cleaning products in the fragrance free zone and throughout the workplace if possible.
  • Provide equipment and supplies needed to perform the job in the fragrance-free zone or provide access to these items away from commonly used areas in which coworkers may be wearing fragranced products.
  • Educate employees about why fragranced products are problematic for some people. Increasing awareness about the health effects of fragrances can help employees understand why the employer is asking everyone to refrain from wearing fragranced products.
  • If the employee with fragrance sensitivity must attend meetings, consider allowing the employee to attend remotely, for example using video conferencing. If the employee must attend in person, consider having fragrance free meetings if possible.

There may be other issues that need to be addressed, depending on the employee’s limitations and the job environment, which will hopefully be identified as part of the interactive accommodation process between the employer and employee. 

Source: Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant/Legislative Specialist for the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

Learn more by reading What’s That Smell? Addressing Odors in the Workplace, or visit JAN's A to Z: Fragrance Sensitivity. MRA members can also download a sample fragrance-free workplace policy.