Esther Lander Quoted in SHRM on Fragrance Sensitivity in the Workplace

Akin Gump labor and employment partner Esther Lander has been quoted in the Society for Human Resource management article “Fragrance Sensitivities Raise Bouquet of Legal Issues,” regarding workplace accommodations that must be made under the Americans with Disabilities Act when they are requested by an employee with a fragrance sensitivity.

The article notes that fragrance sensitivity can run the gamut, from mild, such as seasonal allergies, to severe, setting off acute migraine headaches or asthma attacks. Small adjustments in the workplace may be all that are needed.

“As a best practice, employers should seek to accommodate an employee who has fragrance sensitivity regardless of whether the symptoms rise to the level of a disability, as defined by the ADA,” said Lander. She suggested the following accommodation options:

  • Moving the employee’s work location to an area with a closed door and a clean-air filter.
  • Creating a fragrance-free zone or floor.
  • Using unscented cleaning products.
  • Creating a fragrance-free bathroom or break room.
  • Allowing fresh-air breaks.
  • Adopting a fragrance-free workplace policy.
  • Allowing the employee to phone in for meetings with a higher likelihood of exposure to fragrances.
  • Allowing the employee to telework.

Lander pointed out that there are times when there is no reasonable accommodation, such as with a worker in a retail or food services environment that caters to the public. One caveat, she added, is that “employers should ensure that they are applying the fragrance-free policy or requests consistently to all fragrance-wearing employees to prevent claims of disparate-treatment discrimination, such as where an employer asks only women to refrain from wearing perfume, but takes no action with regard to men who wear cologne.”