Fragrance Bans – The Obvious Next Step

Workers Compensation

Smoking bans are now commonplace, but for those with allergies, asthma, multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), and other conditions, the fight for breathable air is far from over. There is a growing movement to ban fragrances from the workplace and from hospitals. The American Lung Association encourages instituting a fragrance-free policy to create a healthier workplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been fragrance-free since 2009. Employers who refuse to accommodate employees who are sickened by scented products have been found in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Far More Than an Annoyance

People who are not sensitive to perfumes tend to treat it like a joke but, in reality, exposure to scented products can make some people seriously ill, and can even be life-threatening. And the products go beyond coworkers’ cologne and plug-in air fresheners. Laundry soap and fabric softeners, virtually all types of personal care products, and cleaning products are typically scented. Fortunately, there are plenty of unscented alternatives on the market.

People who are adversely affected by exposure to scented products include those with:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Other chronic lung disease
  • Allergies
  • Multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS)
  • Migraines
  • Auto immune disorders

Reactions to scented products can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Asthma attack
  • Reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS)
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Migraine
  • Skin irritation
  • Hives
  • Eye irritation and inflammation
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anaphylaxis

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA turned 25 this year, but many employers still fail to understand their duties under the law. The ADA is a federal law and its employment provisions do not apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, but many states have similar laws that do apply to smaller businesses. Successful claims have been brought against employers who under the ADA, when they failed to accommodate employees whose health was affected by fragrances.

In 2005, a federal jury awarded 10.6 million to Erin Weber, a former DJ who was fired after she complained to her employer about the allergic reaction caused by her co-worker’s perfume. Of the award, $7 million was is punitive damages. The award was later reduced to $814,000.

In 2010, the City of Detroit settled with employee Susan McBride for $100,000 after she sued under the ADA. As part of the settlement the city was required to post notices in the buildings where McBride works asking employees to refrain from using and wearing scented products. At one point, the city tried to have the case thrown out, claiming that McBride’s perfume allergy did not qualify under the ADA because it did not substantially limit a “major life activity”.

If you have been harmed by fragrances in the workplace, you can learn more about your rights and how you can recover damages for your losses by searching our directory to find a lawyer near you.

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