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Avoid a big stink: Don’t make ADA disability call on your own

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Some employees claim they are ultrasensitive to scents commonly found in detergents, perfumes, deodorants and other products. It’s not clear how far employers have to go to create a fragrance-free environment, but smart employers are willing to take at least some measures to help employees bothered by the scents of co-workers.

As the following case shows, simply denying that chemical sensitivity is a disability just won’t cut it.

Recent case: Susan McBride claims she is chemically sensitive, and perfumes and other common products cause her headaches, chest pain, coughing and nausea. When a new worker arrived in her office, McBride asked management to direct the woman to stop wearing perfume. The scent bothered McBride so much she was absent frequently, had to take additional drugs and even had to stop fertility treatments because the drugs that countered the effects of the perfume interfered with her fertility drugs.

The employer turned down her request, insisting that chemical sensitivity is not a disability. When she sued, the company asked the court to toss out the case.

No go, said the court. McBride will get a chance to prove that her sensitivity affects a major life function. The court thought breathing and reproduction might qualify as major life functions. (McBride v. City of Detroit, No. 07-12794, ED MI, 2007)

Final note: Accommodating McBride might have been the cheaper approach: for example, by moving her to another workstation.

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