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Chemical or Fragrance-Free Zones

Employees with chemical or fragrance sensitivity often need a work environment free of the chemicals that trigger symptoms. However, it can be difficult to completely eliminate those chemicals in some workplaces. For example, fragrance sensitivity can be triggered by not only perfumes and colognes, but also in some cases by personal products such as deodorant, shampoo, laundry detergent, and lotion. In workplaces with a lot of employees or in which the public has access, trying to control what products people use and enforcing a total fragrance ban can be virtually impossible.

So what else can be done? Some employees are able to telework, but what about those who can’t or who prefer to be in the workplace? One of the things employers might consider is creating a chemical or fragrance free zone, a smaller area of the workplace where a fragrance ban can be effectively implemented and enforced or chemicals can be removed. This option may not work for everyone with chemical or fragrance sensitivity, but it’s worth exploring.

For employers who are interested in this option, here are some things to consider:

  • Locate the area away from areas of congregation and routes of travel used by employees or the public and provide an entrance that can be used only by those who are not wearing fragranced products.
  • Make the area large enough so multiple employees can use it. In addition to the employee who requested the chemical or fragrance free work area, other employees may prefer to work in the area.
  • Check the ventilation for the area to make sure it’s not moving chemicals or fragrances into the area. If chemicals or fragrances are moving in through the ventilation system, check with an HVAC specialist to see if that can be modified.
  • Designate the area as a chemical or fragrance free zone, but talk with the employee or employees about appropriate signage and notification, such as posting “Fragrance Free Zone” signs and making workplace announcements.
  • Provide air cleaners or purifiers in the designated zone to help remove any stray chemicals or fragrances that get into the area.
  • Provide a designated breakroom that is chemical or fragrance free if breakrooms are provided for other employees.
  • Designate a restroom as chemical or fragrance free and use soaps, air fresheners, and cleaning products that are chemical and fragrance free in that restroom.
  • Use chemical and fragrance free cleaning products in the designated zone and throughout the workplace if possible.
  • Provide equipment and supplies needed to perform the job in the designated zone, or provide access to these items away from commonly-used areas in which coworkers may be wearing fragranced products or in which chemicals may be located.
  • Educate employees about why chemicals or fragranced products are problematic for some people. Increasing awareness about the health effects of fragrances and chemicals can help employees understand why the employer is asking everyone to refrain from wearing fragranced products.
  • If the employee with chemical or fragrance sensitivity must attend meetings, consider allowing the employee to attend remotely, for example using video conferencing. If the employee must attend in person, consider having fragrance free meetings if possible.

There may be other issues that need to be addressed, depending on the employee’s limitations and the job environment, which will hopefully be identified as part of the interactive accommodation process between the employer and employee.

For more information about accommodations for chemical or fragrance sensitivity, visit JAN's A to Z.