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Scent-Free Workplace Policies

by Stan Mack

If you’ve ever stood in a packed elevator, you know strong perfume and cologne can be a problem. Some companies try to create a scent-free workplace by asking employees to avoid using such products. Designing and implementing a scent-free policy can be difficult, but if your efforts make the workplace more pleasant, your employees will thank you.

Prevalence

Tolerance for fragrance is a subjective issue. Some people like perfume, cologne, aftershave, air deodorizers and other generally pleasant scents. But about 30 percent of Americans find scented products on other people irritating, according to a study that appeared in the March 2009 issue of the “Journal of Environmental Health.” Nineteen percent reported negative health effects from air fresheners, and about 10 percent reported irritation from scented laundry products that were vented outside.

Reasons

Your employees might dislike being around strong odors for a number of reasons. For example, many women who favor scent-free policies cite environmental illnesses, while men often just find strong fragrances annoying, according to the book “New Age Capitalism: Making Money East of Eden,” by Kimberly J. Lau. People who have allergies to fragrances might have difficulty breathing in a closed office environment if a co-worker is wearing strong perfume or cologne. People with respiratory issues, such as asthma, also might feel uncomfortable in the presence of strong odors. Consequently, companies sometimes institute a scent-free workplace policy to create a safe and healthy working environment for all.

Creating a Policy

Many beauty and health-care products are scented, and there’s no simple way to define what counts as heavily scented or overly fragrant. Each business must design a policy that takes into consideration employee requests, physical location factors and what standards the business can reasonably expect its employees to uphold. A helpful first step is to ask employees not to wear cologne, perfume, aftershave, fragrant hairspray or other obvious culprits. Your policy may be to basically ask people to use common sense and to be considerate of others. If a stricter policy is needed, consider banning whatever scent in particular is raising complaints.

Customers

If your staff comes into close contact with customers, a policy that forbids strong scents makes sense. For example, a retail store might need a strict no-scent policy for sales staff, and a restaurant might need the same for servers. If your company receives any complaints from customers, act quickly to fix the problem. For every customer that complains, there are many others who don't complain, but they don't come back, either.

Food

If food odors are a problem, draft a policy that says employees may not eat at their desks. Set up a break room and ventilate it well. Put an item in your policy that says that if there is a particular type of food that is causing people distress, you will be asked to stop bringing it to work, or require you to eat lunch elsewhere.

Other Options

If a policy banning fragrances and odors isn’t enough, try switching cubicle locations, changing work schedules, installing air purification devices, adjusting ventilation grates and opening windows. Switching to milder chemical cleaners and avoiding the use of air deodorizers also might help.

About the Author

Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.

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