people in cubicles at work smelling one person's perfume

Perfume Allergies in the Workplace

I’m sure you have that one person you work with, or maybe a family member or friend, that drenches themselves in some sort of fragrance. More often than not, it is a stranger on the street or in a store. I always wonder, “Doesn’t it cost a lot of money to use that much perfume or cologne?" The dreaded perfume or cologne cloud may appear at any time, but it can be especially difficult to deal with if it permeates the office you work in.

Perfume and fragrance triggers in the workplace

If you have allergic asthma, chances are fragrance is one of your major triggers. Unfortunately, so many products contain fragrance; perfume, cologne, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, deodorants, and soap. Additionally, there are other scented things found in the workplace, such as strongly scented cleaners, hand sanitizers, air fresheners, and even scented trash bags! Being triggered by fragrance or perfume while working at your job can be detrimental. It can cause you to experience a worsening of asthma symptoms, leave you gasping for breath, and, in turn, negatively affect your work.

What you can do about perfume triggering your asthma

Rather than approach your coworkers directly and ask them to stop wearing fragrances, approach your employer. It is more effective for your employer to address your entire office on eliminating fragrance from your office. Singling out others can cause them to feel embarrassed, or even cause tension.

According to JAN (Job Accommodation Network), there are three things an employer can do when you approach them regarding your allergy:1

  1. Remove the offending fragrances.
  2. Remove the employee from the area where the fragrances are located.
  3. Reduce the employee's exposure to the fragrances.

Since every office is different, these three steps will likely differentiate throughout workplaces. Your employer may require fragrance-free products in the office and ask all employees to stop wearing fragrance. If you work in a larger environment with more coworkers, it may be better for you to be relocated within the office.

Asthma and allergies as a disability

Let’s be honest; your breath is more important than someone else smelling good. Having an allergic reaction and worsening asthma symptoms while trying to work will probably result in you not really working. If fragrance or perfume in the workplace disrupts the activity of breathing and prevents you from working, your allergy may be classified as a disability under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).2

The ADA website states, "To be protected under the ADA, you must have, have a record of, or be regarded as having a substantial, as opposed to a minor, impairment. A substantial impairment is one that significantly limits or restricts a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning, or working".2 Therefore, asthma and allergies are usually considered disabilities under the ADA.

Understanding your workplace rights

If your allergies are classified as an ADA disability, this may help your employer better understand your situation, and take you seriously. Legally, an employer is required to provide "reasonable accommodation" to an employee with a disability; unreasonable accommodation meaning the accommodation(s) in question would require significant difficulty or expense.2

If you feel disrespected by your employer and coworkers, one option you have is searching for a new job. If this is out of the question, try to follow up with your employer. Be an advocate for yourself, and try to explain why the environment you work in is harmful to your health. Work with them to try to determine what reasonable accommodation may be. If they continue to ignore your requests, you do have another option.

If your asthma and allergies qualify as a disability, your employer has ignored your communication, and not made an effort to reasonably accommodate you, then you have the option to take legal action. You can file a complaint through the US Department of Justice, or even file a private suit.3 You can review your rights here. To call an ADA hotline to discuss your rights, you can call 800-514-0301.

Accommodating perfume triggers for workers with asthma

Your workplace should be an environment where you are comfortably able to complete your job duties. Asthma and allergies can get in the way of this but, hopefully, your employer can listen and accommodate your needs. If you have asthma and allergies that require you to receive reasonable accommodations, you do have certain rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These rights ensure you are treated fairly in the workplace, despite what disability you may have. It is best to try to work out reasonable accommodations with your employer first, but do remember you are able to file a complaint if you are discriminated against or disrespected in your place of work.

Have you needed to approach your workplace about making accommodations for your perfume or fragrance allergies? Share in the comments below!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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