A fragrance policy pre-empts most issues related to strong odors and provides the company with strong grounds to take action against those who violate the policy. Without a policy, the employee may challenge any punitive action as a violation of their civil liberties.
Many public and private organizations have fragrance policies that restrict or regulate the use of substances emitting strong odors. Among government agencies, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Portland Police Department, and the City of Detroit have taken the lead on this issue. The policy at the CDC, for instance, bans the use and application of scented products such as perfume, cologne, air fresheners, deodorants, lotions, magazines, candles, and cleaning products in the work area, but permits scent-free versions of the same products.
A good policy regulates the type and nature of perfumes that employees can use at work. It may, for instance, declare an odorless work environment and ban employees from wearing any perfumes, aftershaves, colognes, or any other scented products, and/or prohibit them from carrying clothing, magazines, or personal items having detectable fragrances. A comprehensive prohibition also covers scented gifts, flowers, candles and other items. The policy should also specify the punishment for non-compliance. Options include asking the employee to wash off the scent, change their clothing, or return home and cover the absence with vacation days. Failure to comply with the rule invites disciplinary procedures, just as failure to comply with other rules would. Counseling is a recommended first step and termination as an extreme-case last resort.
A good policy extends the prohibition to suppliers and sub-contractors. The contracts executed with such channel partners should specify that the company would deny entry to representatives wearing strong fragrances. The tricky issue, however, is with visitors and customers. No business can afford to turn away customers just because they happen to wear a strong perfume. The only option is to display prominent messages at entry points that read something like “We strive to ensure the comfort and safety of staff and visitors by encouraging a smoke free and fragrance free environment" and then ensure that staff in direct contact with customers do not have an allergy or sensitivity.
The criticisms against such policies are that it violates civil liberties and inappropriately infringes on a person’s private habits. Individuals with chemical sensitivities can react strongly to offensive odors, and as such, employers are within their rights to insist on a fragrance-free work space to ensure a comfortable and safe working environment for all. Conversely, employers do not have to provide reasonable accommodation just because someone's perfume, aftershave, or the air freshener bothers another employee. The requirement for reasonable accommodation applies only when the odor cause severe hardship that renders the employee incapable of work.