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Do you restrict the use of perfumes or fragrances in your workplace?

Do you restrict the use of perfumes or fragrances in your workplace?

By Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., Managing Editor, HRinfodesk.com---Canadian Payroll and Employment Law News, June 2010

The issue of employees being allowed to wear scents at work is becoming more and more prevalent. This is because perfumes, colognes, body sprays and grooming products used by co-workers, as well as chemicals in the cleaning products, can trigger reactions ranging from headaches to breathing problems in people who are sensitive to them, making it difficult for them to work effectively. Although there are no specific provisions in law regulating environmental sensitivities in the workplace, employers still have an obligation under the general duty clause of provincial and territorial Occupational Health and Safety legislation to provide a safe workplace; and under Human Rights legislation to investigate and try to accommodate the employee suffering from scent sensitivity if it meets the definition of disability.

That is why we wanted to know if employers are becoming aware of the real need to restrict the use of perfumes and fragrances in their workplaces. Out of 332 poll respondents, 133 (40 percent) are being proactive and voluntarily banning fragrances in the workplace, while 199 (60 percent) still do not feel the need to. Several respondents have indicated that It is difficult to know what to do or how to handle the ill effects when it is a matter that many employers and employees continue to consider “insignificant”, especially those that are lucky enough not to be affected by such sensitivities.

Thus, we can conclude that a growing number of companies are voluntarily responding to employee requests and have set up policies that ask all workers to voluntarily go scent-free. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety estimates that up to a third of Canadian workplaces have some form of restriction on scents worn by employees; however, the organization cannot be sure.

Here are some of the interesting comments we received from poll respondents:

  • We have had to restrict perfumes in the office because the person in this position previously had allergies and was super sensitive to all fragrances. Myself, I have had a part of my lung removed and have problems with stronger scents, but am ok with milder ones.
  • My question is regarding dealing with co-workers that are offended when told that their scent is too strong and bothers some of us with breathing. The one in particular just doesn't seem to get it.

  • The Township of **** does not have a “fragrance-free” policy in place unfortunately. It is well known that there are a few of us that suffer immediately and intensely within that type of environment, and yet colleagues continue to “spray”. It is difficult to know what to do or how to handle the ill effects when it is a matter that continues to be considered as “insignificant” to those that are lucky enough not to be affected by such an environment.
  • In our place of employment we do not restrict the use of scents and perfumes, but I wish we did! More and more I personally find the extensive use of chemical scents disturbing, and I know I am not alone. Having sensitivity to them, I am very conscious of their presence in the world. It has become an addiction for many—few seem able to use any personal body care product without strong perfume scents; nearly every home and a growing number of businesses have continual perfume scenting of the air, either with perfume sticks or misting perfume aerosols.
  • Enough! It is causing distress to an increased number of people's respiratory systems. I was encouraged that the recent upcoming HRIA Conference made a point of restricting fragrances and perfumes for one of the keynote speakers' sessions due to a scent allergy.

    I think this will become a bigger issue over the next few years. Interestingly, I am not disturbed by pure essential oil scents.

  • We do not restrict the use, but have had this come up as an issue from time to time. Rather than introducing a policy, we've taken a two-pronged approach:
    • Sending out an occasional reminder to staff about the allergic effect these products have on certain people, and asking them to consider this when making the choice whether to use these products or not.
    • Recommended to any employees who complain they are affected, if the “offending” employee is a co-worker they work closely with, to discuss their reaction with that person. HR advisor would be available to coach or facilitate the discussion.

It is important that employers understand the nature of environmental sensitivities and the things they can do to assist and accommodate their employees so they remain healthy and the workplace remains productive. The HRinfodesk database already includes several articles on the topic. You can consult them at article numbers: 15446, 25617, 22802, 32498 and 32479.

There is also a post on our blog First Reference Talks at http://blog.firstreference.com.