A Perfume Free Zone? – Perfume In The Workplace

Bad Smell

“Exactly HOW MANY sprays of Poison are you wearing?!”

The European attitude to perfume is very different to that of our American counterparts. Some parts of Europe in particular have a, let me be diplomatic here, shall we say ‘relaxed’ attitude to bathing and perfume can be used to cover up the husky odours of the body that might be missed during said relaxed bathing rituals – think ‘Italian shower’ and you’re on the right track.

Whilst this may be a little of an over exaggeration, because in these modern times generally everybody bathes quite regularly, including myself I hasten to add. Where we definitely are relaxed is in the perfume department. We don’t mind what perfume you wear, when or where you wear it. We also tend to favour the larger, richer perfumes to the fresh, clean one and as long as you’re not deliberately trying to send someone into an Angel-induced coma then you’re fine. Across the pond things seem to be quite different.

This week I was reading an article, about the banning of perfume in the workplace, something that seems to be happening more and more in the US. Now this interested me for two reasons; firstly because I am a perfume-nut and I love my big perfumes, and secondly because I am a Human Resources professional by trade and this sort of thing is a big conundrum and an absolute minefield for us HR people.

So it got me to thinking – should perfume be banned in the workplace? Or is this a case of the PC Police taking things one step too far? Can I see my workplace implementing a ‘No-perfume policy’ or designating itself a ‘Perfume Free Zone’ anytime in the near future? The more I started to think, the more I realised that it is in fact, quite a complex issue.

You Make Me Sick

The recent news that the State of New Hampshire attempted to implement a bill that would ban the use of perfume, and scented personal products for those state workers in customer facing roles was surprising to me. The reasons behind the bill are simple; “An increasing number of people with sensitive noses are having severe allergic reactions to strong scents. Symptoms include sudden migraine, fatigue and nausea.” [1] but does that make it right?

I can’t help but think that it’s a case of the government interfering just a little bit too much. Who are they to say what you put on your body? Where is the scientific evidence to support these claims? Where does it stop? A complete ban on fragrance altogether? Of course there is a responsibility to public health, but does perfume present such a huge risk? We’ve been wearing perfumes for thousands of years, and only now do we feel need to start banning it. That really says something about the effect that it has.

My opinion is that you should be able to wear what you like to work, but you should always be respectful of those around you. That means, don’t wear excessive amounts of perfume and don’t spray perfume around those that you know will have an issue with it. It comes down to personal choice and most importantly, consideration for others. Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’ who gases anyone within a 100 metre radius with 10 pumps of Kouros.

I work in an office environment and wear any perfume that I like to work. If a colleague was to say that a particular perfume I wore gave them a headache or made them feel unwell then I wouldn’t wear it again, I am after all, a respectful person, or I like to think I am. But shouldn’t it be my choice whether I wear perfume to work, not my employer’s?

Peg Nose

There are of course a number of professions where perfume would not be suitable, for example; the medical profession and any profession that involves working with food.

In professions such as these, it would be reasonable for the employer to have a ‘fragrance free’ policy, because when working with people in a vulnerable position or with food, perfume may not be entirely appropriate

For an employer, and this is where I place my HR cap firmly on my head, this issue brings up an interesting argument in terms of disability – would we consider somebody with a severe allergy or reaction to perfume to have a disability? If so, then under UK law, namely the Equality Act 2010, employers would be required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for that person and failure to make these adjustments could mean that the employer is leaving themselves open for claims of disability discrimination.

What exactly would we consider as these reasonable adjustments? A scent-free environment? Or perhaps a lightly scented environment? How exactly would you enforce this policy and is it reasonable to take disciplinary action against people, or even dismiss them for wearing perfume? Of course it all depends on the severity of the problem and as yet I haven’t been able to find any UK case law that suggests that allergies to perfume have been considered as a disability.

In a survey conducted by Asthma UK, 40% of respondents said that things at work exacerbated their asthma, with 14% citing perfume/air fresheners as a reason. This is interesting when compared to the fact that dust (62%), cigarette smoke (38%) and stress (27%) were all seen as stronger triggers for asthma, so are we over-exagerating the issue and does this mean that we should also ban dust and stress from the workplace?

The issue of perfume in the workplace is surprisingly complex and I realise that this post raises more questions than it does answers, but I do feel that it is a hot topic that needs to be discussed. I very much stick by my stance that perfume should not be banned in the workplace, and that we all need to apply a degree of common sense to the situation rather than acting in a purely reactionary manner. What do you think?

Join the Discussion!

What do you think of banning perfume at work?

Do you live/work somewhere where perfume is banned?

Do you wear perfume to work? Do you wear your usual perfumes or do you opt for something lighter?

What do you do if someone at work complains about your perfume?


[1] myfoxboston.com
[2] asthma.org.uk

Image 1 mama–cita.blogspot.com
Image 2 piercemattiepublicrelations.com
Image 3 theblogfacebookforgot.blogspot.com