One of the first offices I worked in had a sign by the floor microwave: "No fish!," it said. While I laughed this off at the time as being a bit picky, it wasn't until I worked close to another office's kitchen that I realized how pervasive reheated mahi-mahi could be. While it may not seem like a little warmed salmon, heavily splashed Chanel No. 5, or post-vacation durian could mean that much, it's no laughing matter. A smell issue could harm workers and even land an employer in legal hot water if they don't think a stink means a thing.
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The worst thing a manager can do when workers complain about some kind of smell is to laugh it off, even if it's meant as a tension cutter. Fragrance allergies are no joke; for sufferers, a splash of perfume or a scented hand lotion could cause sneezing, headaches, hives, and a host of other unpleasant and potentially dangerous physical complaints. On the less-altruistic side, there's also the possibility that ignoring an employee's requests for a fragrance-free environment could result in a lawsuit against the company.
As an employee, you can bring up a workplace full of perfume, body odor, cooking smells from the lunchroom (or the grill downstairs), construction smells, or just about any odor that creates a problem in the workplace. Just because your boss "isn't bothered by it" doesn't mean it's not a serious issue for you.
Potential "No-Smell" Policies
Many workplaces opt for a "fragrance-free" environment that helps those with allergies to perfumes. Policies like these might also boost productivity for non-allergic folks; workers who spend most of their time moving workstations to get some air or gossiping about just who is dousing themselves in coconut lotion aren't getting much done.
Of course, you don't need a policy in place to start being a good neighbor and co-worker. Whether it's a few extra spritzes of Axe body spray or too much strawberry shampoo, smells can mean a lot more to those you work beside. Think about that before you decide to opt for that new perfume in the morning, and head off any potential problems at work by abstaining. Keep your signature fragrance for the weekends, when you're free to smell how you please.
Even the CDC has reasons to warn workplaces on odors. Many odors can be hazardous to your health, even if you don't suffer from fragrance allergies. Smelly carpet, paint, and even nearby dumpsters can become problems for employees. The National Institutes for Health (NIH) even suggests that strange or very unpleasant new odors could be a sign of a serious issue like a chemical spill.
When in doubt, bring news of a bad smell to the attention of your office manager or HR head. They're the best ones to determine who dealt it.
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