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I suffer from chronic migraines and am currently taking a prescription medication with the hope that it will help relieve them. The medication doesn't seem to be working yet, but I will not be able to take the full dosage till next week so, till then, I will not be able to tell if it is helping or not.

Anyway, a coworker of mine tends to wear an extremely strong perfume that I, right now, sitting some fifteen feet away, can still smell. Unfortunately, strong smells like this tend to trigger migraines for me.

What should I do to address this issue? Should I talk to the coworker? Talk to HR? My boss? What should I tell them and how should I address it if this issue arises again in the future?

  • While I'm aware that yours is a medical situation and not 'just' impairing productivity, I still think, this question would be a possible duplicate of What can I do about a very loud coworker? as the same answers would apply here. – CMW Jan 20 '14 at 16:05
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    @CMW while the answers may apply here, the questions are different. In the case of a loud coworker people can tell you to just "suck it up", and that stinks but you can't do anything about it. A medical issue, on the other hand, is a different problem. Also, I'm not sure we want to collect all the sensory-invasion situations into one question; noise mitigation is different than smell mitigation is different from lighting problems etc. – Monica Cellio Jan 20 '14 at 16:26
  • @MonicaCellio Maybe we don't want to aggregate all sensory-invastion questions, but on the other hand I'm not sure we want to aggregate the same answers over and over again. And we do try to aggregation similar issues for different professions rather than giving each one a profession-specific answer. I'm thinking the same applies to invasiveness of different sorts. Looking at the answers to the mentioned question the strategy is probably the same (1. Talking to them; 2. Taking measures to protect yourself; 3. Talking to superiors). – CMW Jan 20 '14 at 16:34
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    That's a good way to get general, generic answers, but none of that addresses the sense-specific issues. For the things they all have in common, answers should link & summarize. But a good answer here will talk about things you can do to mitigate odors, while a good answer there will talk about noise mitigation, etc. I don't want to see a lot of cut & paste either, but I think we can strike a balance if we're careful. (Maybe we should move to meta?) – Monica Cellio Jan 20 '14 at 16:39
  • @CMW There's also a difference between this post in which the perfume is causing migraines, a medical issue that can't just be ignored, and the post you claim is duplicate, in which the other coworker's behavior is just annoying. – S. Cazorla Jan 12 '16 at 17:03
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Of course should talk to the coworker; you can't pass him/her.

Just tell very plainly what the situation is: you have chronic migraines, triggered (among other things) by smells. You noticed that his/her perfume is such a trigger. Would you do me a favour and see if you can try other or less perfume?

In all likelihood, your colleague has no idea that this is happening. See if you can experiment both until you have a situation that works. Like the medication, you'll have to find out what works and what not.

And if you are unsure about asking this, or how to ask this, that's fine. It could be a bit awkward for both of you, because you don't want to insult the other person. You can just acknowledge that you're feeling a bit awkward asking this (or whatever best describes your doubts).

  • As per my question, if the problem persists into the future (perhaps further coworkers wear strong perfumes, etc.) what can be done? I'm curious as other coworkers have worn perfumes in the past, but most don't work around me as I work in a rather large office. – DanteTheEgregore Jan 20 '14 at 16:33
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    Just take it one step at the time. It's not efficient speculating on all possible outcomes. – Jan Doggen Jan 20 '14 at 16:52
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    You could always strike up the conversation with; "This is a bit awkward.. But-" – Kialandei Jan 12 '16 at 15:47
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    Does having a container of coffee beans on your desk help at all? I think they use those at perfume desks to clear out the nose between trying on different perfumes. – Amy Blankenship Jan 12 '16 at 16:52
  • Although this is a first step, I have an asthmatic reaction to perfumes and had the case where they didn't care and wore perfume anyway. Or worse, they would try different perfumes and then come to me in the morning saying "can you still breathe with this one?". At that point, you have to go to your employer. People have sued employers (and won their case) when the employer didn't change the office rules to accommodate this disability. allgov.com/news/unusual-news/… – Keeta Nov 21 '16 at 14:03
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I also had the same situation. She was in another department but cubicle offices does not cut off odors especially when she has to pass my cubie to get to hers. I smell her perfume every time she passes by. Since I have no interaction with her, I felt uncomfortable speaking to her. I went the anonymous route. I wrote a little note and left it on her desk after work. The next day I hear her discussing the note with her coworkers and they surprisingly agreed with the note about her perfume. She still continues to wear perfume but has toned it down. I cannot smell it unless I bump into her when heading to my cubie. Problem solved.

  • Welcome to the site Cabee. While I usually wouldn't advise leaving anonymous notes it seems to have worked out in your case. I think you might be able to improve your answer by reproducing or paraphrasing the note you wrote, if you can remember. The tone and explanation will probably be quite important. – Lilienthal Jan 12 '16 at 17:02
  • Was your issue that you just didn't like the perfume, or that it was causing a medical issue for you? I think that would be relevant in this case. – Kate Gregory Jan 12 '16 at 17:34
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We all prefer to assume that everyone behaves in a professional and appropriate manner in the workplace. However, I have seen all too often that some individuals can take offense to some of the most unnecessary of requests and claims.

This fellow co-worker might be very approachable and friendly. If you feel that is the case then, by all means, speak directly with them. However, if there is any chance that the co-worker may have a slightly volatile response, then their is no harm in mentioning your needs to HR and requesting that all employees in the office be sent a memo stating that another, fellow employee in the office has a specific need due to excessive migraines.

This email should be explicit in the need but should not mention you by name-- it should simply state that management would appreciate if all employees in the office would be considerate of a fellow co-worker who has a few specific needs.

This may seem a bit passive-aggressive but the end goal is not to stand up for yourself but to create an environment where ALL employees feel welcomed and can be productive.

It benefits no one for such a simple issue to start any form of in-office grudge. As such, it is best to just contact HR and have them help you address this need in a manner that is not alienating to either you or your fellow co-worker.

  • Going to straight to HR instead of talking to this other employee first might cause some bad feelings here. It also makes it look like you can't resolve your issues on your own. I'd recommend talking directly to this person first, even if they will probably not respond very well. Then you can say to HR: "I tried speaking with HeavilyPerfumedEmployee about this issue but they told me to f*ck off" At least in that case you can say you tried to resolve the issue on your own. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 20 '14 at 17:26
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    The reason I disagree is because the asker does not have a direct, inter-personal conflict with the individual. The asker has a personal issue and, professionally, has to right to both pursue a solution and help maintain a healthy work environment. The point is not to "tattle". It is to first engage a department whose purpose exists to help employees with such tough situations. Yes, most people won't mind such direct request. However, we all know of "that individual" who has a chip on their shoulder. HR should have the tools to help resolve this issue and minimal collateral damage. – RLH Jan 20 '14 at 17:37
  • And, to be clear, I think going directly to the individual is the best course of action. However, if there is any doubt that the request could cause any issue, it is best to involve a third, neutral party to help resolve the issue. – RLH Jan 20 '14 at 17:39
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    From second hand experience, if a co-worker unknowingly cause someone to have migraine attacks and refuses to do something about it, that will cause a huge issue. The co-worker's hurt feelings are nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the pain of a migraine attack. It's like having a broken leg and asking a co-worker politely to stop kicking the broken leg. If the co-worker has a problem with that... – gnasher729 Jan 12 '16 at 16:57
  • I like this because you have a medical issue and the workplace, in the US at least, is obligated to make accommodation if you inform HR. Everyone needs to know to avoid perfumes not just the worst offender. Then if she ignores that policy sent from HR, you can approach her directly. – HLGEM Jan 12 '16 at 21:57
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You should make your boss or HR aware that you have to take medication to alleviate migraines when someone wears too much scent. I not only had migraines from perfumes and scents, but I also had seizures. I was a teacher and could not keep the students from wearing their scents to class, and had little help from my boss at first. They would even spray it inside my classroom and in the corridor outside my door. I had to be taken away in an ambulance twice. It may seem silly to some people or that you are overstepping social boundaries to ask someone not to wear so much perfume, but it is a serious medical condition. If your migraines are disabling your employer has the duty to comply with ADA modifications for scent induced migraines.

Smell/Fragrance Triggers:

•Implement a fragrance-free policy

•Request that employees voluntarily refrain from wearing fragrances

•Allow telework

•Move the employee to an area where the fragrances are not as strong

•Allow a flexible schedule

•Provide air purification systems

http://askjan.org/media/Migraine.html

  • ADA? Don't assume US if the OP does not say so. – Jan Doggen Jan 14 '16 at 12:01
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Solutions might be forthcoming. The entire state government where I am is now a "scent-free workplace". So that is that. Similarly, in another state where I lived, smoking was banned from all workplaces - to include all restaurants and bars, and even the cab of trucks driven for hire.

When problems get big enough, the big guns take them out. Nobody really needs to wear perfume. Usually the people who wear it become so desensitized that they no longer notice it.

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