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I am a member of the Joint Health & Safety Committee in the company that I work for, and we are currently looking at some Air Quality complaints stemming from the overuse of Cologne and Perfumes.

There was some discussion back and forth between the members of the committee revolving around whether or not a policy like this could be clearly defined, as much of what could be defined by the policy is subjective (e.g. How much is too much, are favorable scents OK, who determines which-is-which, etc)

Some of these questions have straight forward answers. For example regardless of the pleasantness of the odor, if the workplace is scent free it is prohibited. Others are much more subjective.

Without going into too much specificity, the air quality complaints have been all put forward by an individual with a sensitivity to odors. We've gone directly to people who have had a negative impact on this employee but the issue is not resolved. When the individual in question is exposed to a strong odor, he needs to leave the area immediately and return after it has dissipated.

We cannot pursue further action in any regard until management signs off on a policy relating to the matter... but there are concerns relating to the subjective nature of the problem.

We have looked online for resources, but most of what we have found are part of the Americans with Disabilities act, and not subject to our organization as we are in Canada.

How can we create a definite policy for something that is inherently so subjective? I was hoping someone who has a similar policy might be able to come forward and offer some insight into the steps necessary in the development of a policy.

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As an asthmatic, I can sympathize. I once worked with a person who was a heavy smoker... and thought using buckets of cheap perfume would cover up the smell, thus turning herself into a walking asthma-attack trigger. –  James Adam Jun 6 at 17:57
    
@JoeStrazzere That is the knee-jerk reaction from the managerial rep for the committee. I was hoping someone who has a similar policy might be able to come forward and offer some insight into the development of the policy. I will edit my question to include the clarification I just made. –  Ahrotahntee Jun 6 at 18:11
    
I'm sorry, how are you going to prove that someone is breaking the policy? –  Raystafarian Jun 6 at 19:18
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There is no such thing as scent free. Human body odor, soap, the smell of rubber on shoes, of paper, etc. You would have to start by figuring out what definitions of smell even exist - like lumens and candles for light, or decibels for sound. –  atk Jun 6 at 23:54
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What happens if you ban perfumes and someone has a particularly bad body odour? –  Ben Jun 8 at 16:47

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Strong perfume is a real problem with people with allergies and other respiratory ailments. Hospitals often have signs such as: http://lindasepp.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/ccohs-scent-free-zone-poster1.jpg. Perfumes can trigger asthma attacks which are very unpleasant and even life-threatening.

Talk to your legal department / attorney and see if the complaining individual can litigate if they suffer an asthma attack or they believe they are being subjected to unreasonably poor working conditions.

It is easiest to just have a policy that says something like "no perfumes or colognes are permitted"

or maybe

"Outside of residual laundry detergent, shampoo or bath soap, no perfumes or colognes are permitted"

You could also go the route of "No unprofessional attire, body art, hairstyles or fragrances are permitted on site."

You then can decide if the rule is absolute with no exceptions or if you want some leeway: Maybe look the other way if someone has a very slight fragrance but take action if it is strong to the point your eyes water or otherwise think it poses a risk to someone.

No makeup and perfume policies are common and strictly enforced in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries as they don't want them adulterating products that get implanted or injected into people.

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Scent-Free Policy for the Workplace would be a link from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety site that should be where I'd start. A sample policy:

Sample: Scent-Free Policy

Policy:

Due to the health concerns arising from exposure to scented products, ABC Company Inc. has instituted this policy to provide a scent-free environment for all employees and visitors.

Definitions:

The use of scented products will not be allowed within the building at any time. In addition, all materials used for cleaning will be scent-free.

A list of locally available scent-free products is available from the health and safety office.

Procedure:

Employees will be informed of this policy through signs posted in buildings, the policy manual, promotional materials and will receive orientation and training.

Visitors will be informed of this policy through signs and it will be explained to them by their host.

This policy is effective on 01/01/13.

The Lung Association of Canada also has a document for developing a Scent Free Policy in the Workplace for another resource.

Ontario Human Rights Commission also has a page about "A scent sensitive workplace" that could be useful.

I'm aware that hospitals will have "Scent-Free Zone" areas that could be useful if you want a place that actually does implement these.

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Thank you for the resource link. We had already reviewed the sample policy provided by the CCOHS, but felt it was too vague and required more specificity. The problem lies in defining the specificity. –  Ahrotahntee Jun 6 at 18:17
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Usually it's as easy as... No Cologne, perfumes, strong deodorants, scented hair sprays, etc. (It's best to be an all or nothing policy, the only real challenge is deodorants... I mean people need these to not stink themselves, but these can also be obnoxious... You could specify "accepted" or "banned" brands/scents in such a case... –  RualStorge Jun 6 at 19:19
    
@RualStorge Bath soap and shampoo can be scented too, but you want people to bathe. (Granted, "no perfume/cologne/hair spray" would be an excellent start.) –  Monica Cellio Jun 6 at 23:18
    
@MonicaCellio good catch, like deodorant they'd need an list of soaps that are okay or a list that is not okay. These are the things that get tricky. –  RualStorge Jun 9 at 13:06
    
Right, if somebody starts trying to regulate people's deodorant or bar soap, I don't think that'll end well. I think the best you can do is to focus on the gratuitous scents, like perfume, that serve no other function. –  Monica Cellio Jun 9 at 14:50

How can we create a definite policy for something that is inherently so subjective?

Are you sure you need a policy, other than "discuss it with your manager"?

It's very hard to legislate everything in the workplace. And when you try, you invite the inevitable "country lawyer" responses both for and against such a policy. (For example, everything has an odor. Some of the odors are faint. Some of the odors are so neutral that most people cannot detect them, yet dogs can.)

In addition, you open the door for everyone with a condition (or everyone finding something "objectionable") to expect policies on their behalf as well. (For example, some people would react badly if coworkers don't use deodorant at all.)

In my experience "less is more" applies here. Find a way to have the individual and the individual's manager work out an accommodation where possible, and leave the general policy unstated.

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These concerns have been taken up with the individuals manager previously. The manager's response was to make inquiries with the Health & Safety Committee (which is where I come into play). I told him that there was no explicit policy, but since the complaint is logged the managerial rep wants to investigate whether or not a policy is required. –  Ahrotahntee Jun 6 at 18:09
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To be honest, while I generally tend to have little issue with scents, I have seen where they just ruin people, a policy isn't a bad thing here... typically just ban scented things in general. Then deal with specifying what is acceptable in places a total ban isn't reasonable (Deodorants) –  RualStorge Jun 6 at 19:22

Make it part of the dress-code policy. I don't think wearing a lot of cologne or perfume is very professional. How much is too much? Hard to measure, but it shouldn't be highly noticable when shaking hands. Body odor would fall into this category as well. Your clients aren't going to want to smell it either.

I don't think you can post it like some sort of no smoking policy. What do you do when a client walks in with too much purfume? Tell them to go outside?

Another part of the management policy is to let this person with the hyper-sensitivy know he should continue to excuse himself when an area has an odor. There are polite and discrete ways to do this.

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If you have an asthma attack to coughing fit due to the scent what is the discrete way to excuse yourself? –  Mark Jun 7 at 22:51
    
@Mark: I struggle on-and-off with asthma and normally, I simply say, "I'm sorry, I'm having an asthma attack right now, please excuse me." At other times, I will say, "Excuse me, I need a drink of water/need to get a cough drop," or something similar. The fact is, someone is bound to be offended either way it goes no matter how discrete you are. The other fact is, most people are and ought to be mature enough to not take it personally that someone has asthma. –  Aith Jun 9 at 11:01
    
@Aith That was my point there is no discrete way - I was asking JeffO is explain –  Mark Jun 9 at 12:10

Would you let an employee who never showered continue working without at least talking to him about it? No, probably not. What's the difference? Societal expectations are just about it.

For something subjective like this, I would say follow a policy similar in determination (perhaps not in repercussion though) to sexual harassment; It's just too hard to pin down where a line is because everyone is different. If an individual is bothered, it's up to them to decide (with "review" by you of course). If it comes to it, just have a sit down with the offending employee and ask them to tone it down or stop using cologne. If it persists, attempt to reduce contact with the two employees (move them to distant cubicles).

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