Dear Workforce: How Do You Control the Smell?

April 30, 2000
Dear Workforce:
We are having a problem with an employee using so much fragrance that it's causing others to have an allergic reaction. We have tried to request that the employee tone down the amount, but to no avail.
During orientation, we mention that we have a no-smoking building and some people are also allergic to fragrances. We request that everyone keeps perfumed items to a minimum. That's always worked before, but not with this employee. Any suggestions?
-- Overfragranced
Dear Fragrance:
Your situation isn't so uncommon. In fact, employers could potentially have a legal duty to ask people not to wear offensive smells. I imagine people in the medical field are especially careful, as doctors, nurses and support staff don't want to cause patients to have allergic reactions.
In addition to crafting a policy, now is the time to discretely sit this employee down and have a frank discussion. Perhaps you've been trying to be tactful, and this person remains blissfully unaware.
You can draft a written policy to the effect that the excessive use of perfume/cologne is to be avoided. You could define "excessive" in your work environment as creating distracting or uncomfortable work conditions for others, an assault on the senses in the same league as blasting the stereo or wearing overly provocative clothing in the office.
But someone should also spell things out a little better for the employee. You need to be as nice as possible but also firm. The fragrance might be lovely, but in the confines of the office it's causing allergies, which is making the workplace unpleasant (if not hazardous) for others.
The amount must be drastically toned down so it is not obtrusive to others, or not worn at all. Use the written policy to back you up if need be, but perhaps all the employee needs is to be aware that this isn't simply management imposing its own preference, but a necessary step for others' well-being.
Good luck!
: Kelly Dunn, Workforce, April 2000 and Epstein, Becker & Green (EBG), a New York-based law firm.
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