Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues-everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
My daughter suffers from migraines related to most scents. Is there anything she can ask her employer to do about others wearing perfumes to work? When I was working it was understood that fragrances were not to be used, it was considered rude at the very least.
There are offices that have implemented fragrance-free policies for reasons like this. But they can be really tricky because so many things have fragrances that you might not immediately think of. Fragrances from laundry detergent, body lotion, hair products, and even soap can all linger, particularly if they're strong to begin with. That means that truly effective fragrance-free policies end up having to restrict more than just perfume and aftershave; they often have to address a whole range of products that people use, which can end up feeling intrusive to some.
Because of that, there's wide variation in whether or not an employer will be open to trying a fragrance-free policy, to say nothing of the variation in how coworkers will respond to it. Some people take great offense to being told what personal products they can and can't use. Others, of course, are more sympathetic, but your daughter should be prepared for a potential range of reactions.
But it's absolutely a reasonable thing for her to raise and see if a solution can be found. The key thing here will be to stay away from framing other people's scent choices as rude; she should frame it solely as an issue of the impact on her health and her ability to do her work without being made ill. If she can stick to how it affects her, sometimes simply explaining the problem to other people is all it takes (and of course, other times it's not.)
From a legal standpoint, how much she'll be able to push her office to take action probably comes down to how severely fragrances affect her. Federal courts have ruled that some employees with asthma and chemical sensitivity to scented products could pursue claims against their employers under the Americans with Disabilities Act for not accommodating their disabilities, but in most of these cases, the employees' reactions to fragrance were fairly severe, such as difficulty breathing that eventually resulted in emergency medical treatment.
But your daughter probably doesn't want to have to pursue this legally anyway and would rather her office just help her out on this. She might take a look at some of the resources out there on fragrance-free workplaces, like this one and this one, to help prepare her to talk to her employer.
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