If you suffer from extreme sensitivity to fragrances, chemicals, molds, or other irritants, and suffer effects at the workplace requiring accommodation of some sort, requesting reasonable accommodations for your condition can at times become a frustrating and stressful experience. Fragrance/chemical sensitivity may very well be one of the least understood health problems impacting employees in the workplace. An agency’s failure to grant a reasonable accommodation when you suffer from fragrance/chemical sensitivity may require the filing of an EEO complaint against an agency for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation. However, there are a number of tips to keep in mind when requesting a reasonable accommodation at your workplace to enhance your entitlement to this right and make the filing of a complaint less likely.
The Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. A disability, for purposes of the Rehabilitation Act, is defined as a “physical or mental illness or injury that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities.” If you suffer from fragrance/chemical sensitivity, because your description of your illness may impact whether your condition is viewed as meeting the definition of a disability when requesting a reasonable accommodation, you must be very careful in the way that you describe your illness. Your request for a reasonable accommodation should include a description of the underlying illnesses which are triggered by your exposure to fragrances, chemicals, molds, or other irritants, along with supporting medical documentation from your treating physician. Take care not to use terms that may not apply to your illness such as “sick building syndrome” or “multiple chemical sensitivity.” Work with your treating physician to describe the underlying illnesses which are triggered by your exposure to fragrances, chemicals, molds, or other irritants– for instance, when exposed to fragrances, chemicals, molds or other irritants do you suffer from asthma, respiratory problems, or severe allergic reactions? Focus on the underlying illnesses caused by your sensitivity, not the sensitivity itself.
You must also be prepared to describe the ways in which the fragrance/chemical sensitivity impact your daily life. Again, medical support and documentation from your treating physician are often keys to success. You and your treating physician should be prepared to describe what happens to you physically when you are exposed, and explain the following: a) whether your reactions to such exposures occur both at work and away from work; b) occur on a daily or intermittent basis; c) occur in a variety of circumstances; and d) the duration of the illness resulting from the exposure. If you are only impacted in certain circumstances, but not others, if you are impacted on an infrequent basis, or the resulting illness is not severe, you may not qualify for a reasonable accommodation. For instance, seasonal allergies will not trigger an agency’s obligation to reasonably accommodate you.
Take care in identifying the types of accommodations that will work for you. You should be prepared to submit medical documentation from your treating physician identifying the recommended accommodations. Bear in mind that, generally, an agency is not required to provide a fragrance-free environment, one in which your entire office must discontinue use of all fragrant products. And remember that upon requesting a reasonable accommodation, it is important that you engage in continuing dialogue with the agency regarding your medical condition and accommodation needs. Your cooperation in providing the agency information regarding your medical condition, a description of how your medical condition impacts you, and your accommodation needs is critical. Doctor support and medical documentation is vital.