“About 20 of us work for an alfalfa harvesting company based in California’s Central Valley. Our boss Charlie – who we all love — recently began dating Lucy, and she is proof of the saying, ‘With perfume, less is more.’
“She just reeks of cinnamon and citrus. Our office cat and both dogs panic when Lucy arrives, running away from her.
“Charlie just began using a man’s version of the same cologne. Fortunately my desk is in a different room, because when I am close to him, I start to sneeze and do not feel well. Others react in a similar manner.
“She put a can of long-lasting floral air freshener spray in the bathroom which is irritating to many of us, even when we do not use it. My skin crawls, I feel itchy, begin to sneeze, cough and my eyes water. A couple of us have had asthma attacks and we have all complained to Charlie, but his reply was, “If you can find an air freshener with no fragrance, we will use it, but until then, I don’t want to upset Lucy.
“We don’t want this to turn legal, but what are our rights? Is there such a thing as a fragrance-free air freshener — I’ve never been able to find one. Thanks, Samantha.”
As we learned from the people consulted for this story, these employees have significant rights and if Samantha makes a stink, Charlie could find himself in costly, legal hot water. Sensitivity to fragrances is an increasing health issue, but, fortunately, we found a something which might just clear the air, as you’ll see in a moment.
Americans With Disabilities Act includes chemical sensitivity
“Under the ADA — and under fair employment law in California — a chemical sensitivity can fit the definition of disability,” Connecticut-based attorney Joan Farrell replied when our reader’s email was read to her. She is Senior Legal Editor with Business and Legal Resources.
“Depending upon the severity of the reaction to fragrance, this could very well be seen as a physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity and, if an employer does not try to resolve this issue, could result in an expensive lawsuit,” she points out.
“When an employer becomes aware of fragrance issues, common sense and the law requires making a reasonable accommodation for affected employees. Once it’s explained that fragrance is harming the health of employees, most employers cooperate and can create a fragrance-free workplace policy, also discontinuing the use of fragranced products.
“As it appears — aside from the allergic reactions — to be a good work environment, I recommend that several employees sit down with their employer and tell him how this is affecting their health and morale and to please cut out the cologne and bathroom spray. It’s worth a try and will resolve the problem a lot faster than a lawsuit,” Farrell concluded.
Over 30 percent of the population is sensitive to fragranced products
“Exposure to air fresheners can cause headaches, seizures, asthma attacks, breathing difficulties and other health problems. Over 30 percent of the U.S. population is sensitive to fragranced products such as air fresheners.
“Chemical and fragrance sensitivity is an epidemic and the reactions of your reader and her co-workers are extremely common,” Professor Anne Steinemann of the Department of Infrastructure Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia, told us.
Steinemann is considered one of the world’s leading experts on consumer products and indoor air quality.
“I’ve analyzed a range of air fresheners, including ones called green and organic and they all emitted chemicals classified as toxic or hazardous. But virtually none of these chemicals were disclosed to the public.
“While fragrance-free does not guarantee non-toxic, based on my studies, a fragrance-free product is less likely to cause an adverse reaction than a fragranced product, Steinemann underscores. ”
A Zero Odor spray might just solve the problem
We took up Samantha’s challenge to find a room spray with no fragrance or odor and did.
From our research, there is one product on the market — only one —intended as a room spray with, quite literally no odor, which recently hit the shelves in some markets. This could easily be a solution to Samantha’s workplace problem. It’s called Zero Odor and, as in our office we also have one employee who is highly sensitive to fragrances of all types, were curious to try it out.
Finding it at Target, in the bathroom and sprayed it over a sink filled with left over pizza covered in onion slices. It worked amazingly.
Co-founder of the company, Jim Huffstetler, explained that it changes the molecular structure of small odor molecules, binding with and neutralizing them, permanently.
Their website is worth a look: www.zeroodor.com.