Should Your Practice Implement a Fragrance Policy?

By Practice Growth July 20, 2021

For everyone, some odors are pleasant and others less agreeable. Where odors lie along that spectrum is likely a bit different between any given two individuals. For some people, however, fragrance can be off-putting and instead cause a physical reaction. Fragrance sensitivity is a real yet often underrecognized condition with symptoms that range between mild sinus issues and asthma attacks.

Good Housekeeping | Hearst | Multiple chemical sensitivity, Fragrance free  products, Sick building syndromeEmployers may be unaware that fragrance sensitivity can be a condition protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So, when an employee asks for an accommodation for fragrance sensitivity within an eye care practice, an employer may not know how to handle it and perhaps even be dismissive of the request. That would be a mistake, risking losing an otherwise capable staff member and even opening the practice to a discrimination lawsuit.

Determining a solution can nonetheless be tricky, as it may involve others in the eye care practice. Achieving a 100% fragrance-free workplace is near impossible with patients coming through in addition to tackling the hygiene habits of other staff members. A middle ground may still exist that constitutes a reasonable accommodation that creates an environment where the fragrance-sensitive individual can perform essential duties without becoming an undue hassle for everyone else in the office.

When an individual requests accommodation for fragrance sensitivity, the first step is to learn more.  Is your colleague dealing with multiple chemical sensitivity or are they simply sensitive to a particular fragrance? Ask questions to discover what fragrances are irritants, the severity of symptoms, and what things have worked to make that individual comfortable in the past. After all, this person has not been living in a vacuum and has already made adjustments at home and even in the prior workplace. Whether the sensitivity is severe enough to constitute a disability or not, workable solutions may emerge from a simple conversation.

Possible solutions to this issue include:

·         Requesting those working closest to the individual to refrain from wearing fragrance

·         Moving the employee’s workstation to a less-trafficked area

·         Using plant-based and fragrance-free cleaners

·         Permitting extra break time to get fresh air

·         Allowing the employee to work remotely part or all of the time

While some of these may be easier to implement than others, the most common action taken by employers is to adopt a fragrance policy and add it to the employee handbook.

Why one person's sweet scent is another's foul odour | UNSW NewsroomA fragrance policy addition to the handbook not only addresses a current sensitivity issue but can benefit future employees and even patients with fragrance sensitivities. This sort of policy addition should be considered even in the absence of an accommodation request, as health issues stemming from indoor air quality cost businesses over $20 million per year in decreased productivity and performance along with increases in employee illnesses and absences. Crafting such a policy to mitigate these issues is relatively simple.

In developing a fragrance policy for the workplace, the following components are often included:

·         Statement that scented products may not be used in areas shared by staff

·         Statement that scented hygiene products should not be worn in the practice

·         Prohibition against use of unauthorized air fresheners and candles in the workplace

·         Designation of what unscented cleaning products can be used in the practice

Outside of the employee handbook, such a fragrance policy can be communicated in signage with wording like “This is a fragrance-free establishment. Thank you for not wearing any scented personal products.” A statement that the business is fragrance-free can also be added to email signatures, business cards, and meeting invites.

In communicating a fragrance policy in an eye care practice, avoid the phrase “100% fragrance-free.” That simply isn’t possible. By taking measures to reduce exposure to olfactory irritants, however, those with fragrance sensitivities are more likely to be comfortable while also improving the air quality for those who didn’t even know they needed it.

Let’s not forget as practice owners and practice managers that the change starts with us. We need to lead by example with our own policies. As much as we may love that new perfume, cologne, or hemp, shea, lavender, organic, plant-based, aluminum-free deodorant we picked up at Wholefoods, we run the risk of putting off patients with the odor. Nowadays there are tons of fragrance neutral options; let’s be proactive and update our fragrance policies to mitigate these workplace and patient pitfalls.   

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