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Perfume in the workplace – should companies have a scent-free policy?

Holly Hicks,

Perfume in the workplace should companies have a scent-free policy

Okay, so here we go. Everybody wants to smell nice, right? But, where do you draw the line when it comes to perfume and cologne wear in the workplace? Over doing the personal fragrances can be just as offensive as bad body odor. Is there such a thing as perfume etiquette? Why, yes, there most certainly is; but how do we measure how much is too much? Of course everyone should be comfortable in the workplace. Should the workplace be scent-free? This issue can spark a debate in most businesses. For example, in most healthcare facilities, employees are not allowed to wear perfume or cologne at all because an offensive scent may make patients more ill.

When working in a small office space or a cubicle, this can become a really big problem. When multiple people work in close quarters, there isn’t much air to circulate between them. Some people have allergies and sensitivities to strong scents. More sensitive individuals may also experience physical symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, headaches, nausea, or rash.  According to, “Severe allergies can be considered disabilities under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers have a legal duty to reasonably accommodate affected employees who request accommodation.” This is not safe, healthy, or comfortable in the office. The question now is, how do you tactfully address this issue?

In several situations, employees have had to go to a HR personnel to resolve the issue? But is this always necessary? This is where a policy needs to be put in place by the employer so that no one gets offended and everyone is courteous and considerate of each other.

What should your policy include? Well, first off, if you are approached by an employee about sensitivity to perfumes, you should do your best to accommodate them. A perfume/fragrance policy should definitely be considered. It is necessary to accommodate to an employee who experiences adverse reactions because when not accommodated, the problem could possibly escalate to a legal issue as it did in a case in Detroit where a worker won a $100,000 settlement because she had a disability according to the ADA. It may also be necessary to have employees refrain from wearing heavily scented products altogether. These may include: perfumes, colognes, deodorants, after-shave, hairspray, and body lotion. You could suggest that only mild fragrances be worn. Your new policy could also be included in the dress code policy.

It is important when implementing a new policy that employees understand that this is an issue of comfort and courtesy, and not an infringement on their personal rights. When announcing the new policy, hold a meeting where all employees are present and make it known why a new policy is important without violating the particular employee’s privacy.

It is also suggested by that the following reasonable accommodations be made:

  • Install an air purification system in the facility
  • Get a small air purifier for the employee to keep in their workspace.
  • Move the employee’s workstation to an area where they’d have less exposure to fragrances.
  • Designate certain areas of the workplace (e.g., meeting areas) as fragrance-free.
  • Reduce the employee’s face-to-face contact with co-workers or clients by permitting them to conduct business via e-mail, phone, instant messaging, etc.
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