Smelling “good” at the office can make others miserable

canstockphoto2921530We all want to smell good – right? But smelling too good in the workplace can be a problem for others who are sensitive to scents. This has led many businesses to create “fragrance-free” workplaces.

Dr. Paul Shapero of Bangor, who specializes in treating patients with allergies and asthma, agrees that scent-free workplaces are important to protect both employees and patrons.

This is especially true in health care facilities.

“A lot of people are sensitive to scents and have respiratory issues. Soaps, lotions and cigarette smoke can create symptoms for others so it’s important to have a fragrance-free workplace,” said Paige Hagerstrom, director of human resources for St. Joseph Healthcare.

St. Joseph’s policy states, “Due to increased incidence of reactive airway disease, employees are asked to wear minimal fragrances at work. Perfume, after shave, body wash, soap, body lotion must not carry a pervasive odor. Any odors deemed to be offensive will be handled appropriately by the respective department director.”

Hagerstrom adds, “In addition to protecting our patients, if an employee goes home sick due to experiencing respiratory issues, someone else has to cover.”

Health care institutions aren’t the only businesses with fragrance-free policies. The private sector also recognizes the importance of having a policy in place, especially when workers are in close proximity to each other and sharing common space.

This holds true for L.L. Bean.

“Lots of people have varying degrees of sensitivity to scents – from allergies, to headaches or dizziness, to asthma,” said Carolyn Beem, senior public affairs manager for L.L. Bean. “Therefore, we encourage employees to minimize or refrain from using products that may carry scents into the workplace out of respect for their co-workers.”

Hagerstrom and Beem agree that often times an employee isn’t aware that he or she may be “overly scented” and a simple reminder is usually all that is necessary.

“Most often they are understanding and maybe a little embarrassed but rarely are they offended when reminded of our policy,” Hagerstrom said.

Employees and customers are not the only ones who can be affected by scents in the workplace. Products can be harmed, too. Take vodka, for example. The owner of Twenty 2 Vodka, Scott Galbiati, said that any scent in the manufacturing plant can find its way into the vodka.

“Back when we were first learning the distilling — when we would taste the high-proof alcohol coming off the still by dipping our finger in the liquid coming off the still, if you just had your hands in your pants pocket, you could taste the laundry detergent that we washed our clothes in,” Galbiati explained.

Today, the company has policies and procedures in place to ensure no fragrances find their way into the products.

If you’re thinking about establishing a fragrance-free policy in your workplace, Anne-Marie Storey, an employment and labor law lawyer with Rudman Winchell in Bangor, notes that “A private employer does not have an absolute obligation to provide a workplace entirely free of scents because doing so is likely not practical or reasonable.”

However, there are situations in which the presence of those products can fall under the Americans With Disabilities Act and Maine Human Rights Act. In the event an employee has an allergy or other physical reaction to such products that may constitute a disability, there is an obligation to make efforts to reduce or eliminate them as a form of reasonable accommodation.”

“Such accommodation might include asking employees not to wear strong fragrances and/or allowing the affected employee to leave the area when experiencing symptoms or to wear protective equipment such as a face mask,” Storey said. “The appropriate reaction will depend largely on the specific circumstances but employers must be aware that they have to respond to such requests and should consider whether to have a workplace policy addressing scents in the workplace.”

So the next time you grab that bottle of aftershave or cologne to spray on as you get ready for work – think twice. What smells good to you might be problematic for a co-worker or customer and make them want to distance themselves from you. Perhaps it’s better to save it for the weekend.

Deb Neuman

About Deb Neuman

Deb thinks Maine is a great place to do business and loves telling the stories of Mainers proving that it can be done! An entrepreneur at heart, she enjoys helping others with the same drive to create and innovate!