Help for those who need a fragrance-free workplace

Q:  I have moved into a new role within my company.  There is
a woman who wears an excessive amount of perfume who sits very close to
my new cubicle.  She also has plug-in air fresheners within her
cubicle.  I have noticed that my migraines react to certain strong
fragrances.  Right now I avoid that area, however I can’t avoid her
forever.  How do I gently her encourage to reduce the fragrances in her
area?  I am not her boss but I am her peer.  Others joke about it but
it’s not a joke to me.

A:  Fragrance sensitivity issues are now a more commonly discussed
topic within our workplaces.  Those will allergies, asthma or other
respiratory disorders are often especially concerned, as fragrances can
be detrimental to their condition.  Those who suffer from migraines can
also be affected.

Many employers have adopted a ban on fragrances in the workplace. 
The American Lung Association has a sample Fragrance-Free policy on
their website
Employers can use this policy as a starting point or as a template for
their own policy.  It is a bit more difficult to ask visitors to comply
with such a policy but most will comply if they are aware of the policy
in advance.

Many employees wear colognes, perfumes and other scented products
without ever intending to cause harm to another person.  However, these
products can adversely affect another person’s health.

Ask your employer if they have considered issuing a fragrance-free
policy.  Some health professionals have compared fragrance-free
workplaces to that of smoke-free workplaces.  I expect that we will see
more employees asking employers for workplaces which are free from
excessive fragrances.  Health care environments, in particular, are at
the forefront of this movement.

It is difficult to ask another coworker to change their habits, like
their use of perfume or body lotion. However if they understand how the
use of these fragrances impact others, this may help them appreciate
your concerns.  You can also speak to your Human Resources department to
ask your co-worker (and maybe even others) to limit their use of
fragrances, air refreshers, etc. in the workplace. Additionally, some
employers are asking their janitorial service to use fragrance-free
products when cleaning offices.

For more information about chemical sensitivities, visit The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation at

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.