Dilemma of The Month: Fragrance in the Work Place

I recently developed a sensitivity to fragrances. I get headaches, suffer from vertigo and generally feel awful. My boss allowed me to post signs that say “Fragrance-Free Zone,” but some people persist in wearing fragrances. Once, a perfume-wearing coworker came to my cube and I felt a migraine coming on. I explained my problem and asked her to step back. She was offended and told my boss my behavior was completely inappropriate. I’m non-exempt and can’t work from home: Part of my job is to take notes in meetings, and the biggest fragrance offenders are in these meetings. What can I do?

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14 thoughts on “Dilemma of The Month: Fragrance in the Work Place

  1. “Unfortunately, depending on your level of sensitivity, you might have to ask people to change everything in their whole household — from deodorant to laundry detergent to hand soap.” Really? That isn’t going to happen. I am not changing my preferred brands for one coworker and I wouldn’t ask my entire staff to do that, either. If I were the affected worker, I wouldn’t ask that much. Wow.

    1. Wow, indeed, to your lack of compassion. You could just use different stuff just for work purposes so the other person doesn’t have to suffer all day and then use your preferred brands when not at work. I have to do something similar when visiting my mom who is highly sensitive. Sure, it’s a huge pain but I think you’d feel quite differently if you were that coworker. But you’re not, so you have no idea how much they’re suffering, not just from the scents but from the scorn from people like yourself.

      1. It actually IS a lot to ask of people. That’s not to say that compassionate people won’t make those changes, but it means buying two of everything (one for the rest of the family, one for you the coworker for the office). And scents can really be important to people. My mother, for example, is very scent oriented. She loves scents, and I honestly think they actually help combat some depression for her (there was even an article about people who suffer from depression tending to wear more perfume).

        1. It is a lot to ask, especially if the laundry soap that is OK for you gives my husband reactions, as an example.

          1. Thanks, Scooby & LJL. Yes, it IS a lot to ask. It is a lot to ask MANY to change for the benefit of ONE. It is much easier for an employer to make accomodations for the ONE rather than change the rules for the entire company and cause inconvenience for the MANY.

            Our entire society seems to be going the way of the ONE over the MANY… but alas that is another discussion for another day…..

  2. I’m of the firm belief that in a couple of decades we will see a significant decline in scented versions products like detergents and cleaners and the like. Fragrance sensitivity and allergies is growing, just like nut allergies have been, and science is showing a lot of it just isn’t good to put in your clothes or on your skin.

    Until then people like me get to be on medication not just for allergies to certain scents but the migraines and swelling and other things caused by them.

    1. I hope you’re right. But it’s also scents that are added to make something “non-scented.” The ingredients used have their own scents so often other scents are used to cover up that smell. I know someone whose husband is sensitive to everything and she struggles to find laundry detergent, deodorant, lotion, etc.

      1. You’re right. There is a fragrance called “Unscented”. It’s terribly unfair that packaging laws allow that.

        What your friend wants to look for is “fragrance free” on the labels. That means that there are no added scents of any kind.

        (I personally don’t care for added scents, but my wife is actually allergic and gets migraines from them.)

  3. I agree we will likely see a reduction in fragrances, which usually aren’t good, in general. However, I am wondering why there seems to be an increase in nut and fragrance sensitivities? We are living longer as a species but seemingly becoming less biologically “fit” (not fit as in athletic but fit as in natural selection to our environment). Maybe it’s toxins and pollutants, maybe it’s something else, but I soon see a world where it becomes logistically impossible to accommodate all the conflicting limitations.

    1. It’s my understanding that the increase in peanut allergies is believed to be caused by a lack of exposure to peanuts by pregnant women and very young children. Allergists have actually been able to decrease children’s peanut sensitivities by — gradually — exposing them to increasing amounts of, say, peanut butter.

  4. I used to work in a small office with 4 others. One woman wore more and more perfume until one day I couldn’t breathe. I went to my boss who said I had to talk to her. I did and she wore less perfume. But she complained about how I treated her and I got in trouble.

    I hope things go better for the letter writer but often you’re treated badly.

  5. Ahh, migraines triggered from getting “over fragranced”. Been there, done that. Hard if you’re a male and you need to ask a female to wear a bit less: almost guaranteed to be sexual harrassment. I’ve tried to make sure I’m near a window that can be opened.
    Sometimes it’s not just women and perfume, lots of guys overdo it with cologne too. But the men are a bit easier to say something to, just tell them they smell like a girl and to ease up. Perfumes and colognes are supposed to be subtle, not smack me in the face.

  6. I feel like I could’ve written this about fragrance sensitivity.

    Sadly, some people just don’t get it. I don’t have any words of wisdom, I just wanted to show my support.

  7. I’m that person. I am that person who has asthma attacks triggered by fragrances. Right Guard, perfume, etc. And I am the one who had to go to the emergency room in an ambulance from jury duty and had to go home early from work because the assistant manager didn’t believe that his cologne could cause any problems.

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