Do I Have Rights About Headaches From Fragrances?

Question:
Our boss has asked everyone to stop with the perfumes and other sprays as people have problems with this. I get really bad headaches-migraines and so do other people in our house. This is still happening and my boss is not doing anything about it. I have let her know this is still happening and that I have a migraine due to this and need to leave work for this reason. I do not feel like I should have to use my sick time or lose pay for this reason. Do I have any rights?
Response: 
I can very well understand your problem with fragrances—and many people have the same problem. We have a category, shown on the right hand side of our site, for “Perfumes and Odors”. One response among those questions incorporates several others, so I’m attaching the link. http://workplacedr.comm.kent.edu/wordpress/perfumes-wears-flare-nose/

Your question is specifically, “Do I have any rights?” Here is a link to another site that may help you with that question: http://labor-employment-law.lawyers.com/americans-with-disabilities-act/is-a-perfume-free-workplace-legal.html

Using those guidelines, it’s unlikely the matter of rights given to those with disabilities would apply to you, but they may, if your migraines are incapacitating. Talk to a doctor about the migraine pain and explain why you get it, if you haven’t already done so. Ask for a note from him about your sensitivity to fragrances. I’m familiar with a similar case in which the employee said she got migraines because of fragrances, but when HR asked her what medical treatment she received, she said she had never been to a doctor so she didn’t know if she had migraines or less complicated headaches and she had never been tested for other allergies. It weakened her complaint about it. So, get a medical person involved in the situation and use that fact to reinforce your problem with fragrances.

If your business has an HR section, talk to them about the matter and give them a letter from your doctor. If there is a boss above your boss, perhaps you can contact that person. But, if your boss is the owner of the business and has full control over things, you probably will not get any more assistance from her than you are now getting. It will be necessary for you to talk to the fragrance users and ask for their cooperation. If others are also experiencing headaches, perhaps all of you can ask for a staff meeting to discuss the matter.

In the link from our website, above, there are several word-for-word examples of ways to talk to people about their fragrance use. You may want to be more mild than those or more aggressive, but they at least can provide ideas for how to start the conversation. One thing to emphasize is that getting a headache from a fragrance is not necessarily because the person using it put it on too heavily. Sometimes it’s the combination of chemicals in the fragrance that does it. In those cases, merely using less won’t help. The coworker must completely stop wearing it.

It helps if you get along with your coworkers so they want to help you if you’re experiencing discomfort from their fragrances. Because of that reality, you will certainly want to be a supportive coworker in every way you can, so it is more likely they will want to help you.

Best wishes to you with this problem. I wish there was an easy and sure-fire answer, but sadly I realize that if you continue to work there, you may have the problem again. Hopefully you can reduce the amount of fragrance or the types of fragrance, to a level that is tolerable for you.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors