Thursday, August 6, 2009

Scent-based discrimination in the workplace...???

Although the following scenario is about as likely as the Second Coming of Christ, this is nonetheless the type of employer that most of us would love to find ourselves working for:

The young lady sat comfortably back in her chair. She was brimming with confidence. The interview had been going swimmingly. She felt supremely confident that she would be hired on for this position. After all, she had the education, some previous experience, how could they not want to hire her?

"Miss Wilson", the interviewer stated, "you have a fine resumé here and you certainly seem to meet all of our expectations. I do have one question however... as I'm reading through your personal dossier, you state under 'allergies' that you have "MCS". What exactly is that...?"

"Oh, that...", she brightened. "That means that I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or MCS for short. I can't be around any scented products of any type or I get deathly ill. I would imagine that a company as advanced and as forward-thinking as yours seems to be, would already have a 'scent ban' workplace policy in effect, correct?"

The interviewer looked at her quizzically, closed her folder and slowly pushed it towards her. "I'm sorry Miss Wilson, but I'm afraid we will not be able to hire you on after all."

"But... I-I...", she stammered. "I don't understand... this was all going so well! I have every qualification you need for this position... I'm a very hard and reliable worker", she continued. "How can you simply say that you can't hire me? What is this decision based on???"

"Miss Wilson, please understand", the interviewer continued. "Your statement that you believe you suffer from MCS is unfortunately the one factor which closed this position to you."

'But...but... you can't do that!! THAT'S discrimination... isn't it???"

"On the contrary, Miss Wilson. If I were to hire you on with your specific condition, I would be in fact discriminating against the other 58 normal, healthy employees I already have working here for me. All of them good, reliable workers. All of them friendly and getting along very well with one another. If I were to hire you, their rights to enjoying their workplace, which includes their personal use of scented products for reasons of personal hygiene, self-esteem, self-expression and a feeling of well-being, would be jeopardized."

"Loyalty works both ways, Miss Wilson. My workers have been loyal to this company and it would be nothing short of treasonous and disloyal on my part, if I were to willingly put them in such a position. Surely you can't reasonably expect me to make them pay, because you were either born with or somehow acquired this disorder? Are you asking me to denigrate their rights, simply in the name of being "politically correct"? I might also add that you and I would both become pariahs, and with very good reason."

"If you and I were of a different species, you would either have been eaten at birth or left to starve in the woods. But being humans, we strive to allow all of us to live, regardless of our shortcomings, limitations or quality of life. And so here we are...".

"If I have learned anything over the years Miss Wilson, it is the value of loyal, dependable employees. I would not dream of subjecting them to this type of injustice. And so I'm afraid this interview is over. I do wish you the best of luck in your job search, however. Good day."


The following was taken from the website of SPEIAC (Scented Products Education and Information Association of Canada):

Typically, individuals who believe scented products make them unwell, also react to many other substances in the workplace such as building materials, upholstery fabrics, carpeting, diesel fumes, dry-cleaning residue, newsprint and inked papers etc.

Eliminating any single substance is not likely to have a significant effect on the long-term health of individuals who believe they have multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). Experience shows that whenever particular substances are removed from a sufferer's environment, sensitivities frequently develop to new substances.

Introducing a scent-reduction policy or a voluntary scent ban into a workplace is an important decision that affects the rights and responsibilities of all employees and visitors. It is also a complex decision with many implications. Before making a decision, it is important to consider whether allergies or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity are intended to be addressed by the policy. In the case of true, medically-diagnosed allergies, all potential contributors to allergies will need to be addressed, including dust, moulds, pollen, food odours, etc.

Although SPEIAC is not aware of any legal precedent, ruling or otherwise, we do not believe that an employer in Canada has a right to impose and enforce a scent-free policy. The issue of scents and a person's odour is extremely subjective and virtually impossible to enforce. This lack of enforceability and infringement on a person's rights are the two major reasons that no formal regulations have been passed anywhere in Canada at any level of government. Fragrances are regulated as cosmetics under the Cosmetic Regulations of the Food and Drugs Act. There is no health and safety issue related to the use of scents, as Health Canada, the industry, and the mainstream medical community have established that these federally-regulated products are safe.

It may be argued that where the employer has received 100% concurrence (a corporate ultimatum and/or coercion does not constitute concurrence, by the way...) from all staff to implement such a policy, and has some sort of defined test to indicate when a threshold has been exceeded, the policy may prevail. However, the introduction of such policies establish an extremely dangerous precedent and open the door to similar policies for body odour, garlic odours, smoke odours, flowers, and so on.

It is very important not to confuse dislikes with diseases. Everyone has dislikes and people can have strong reactions - even physical reactions - to things they dislike. This does not mean they have a disease.

Our society believes that the rights of individuals should only be restricted when clearly necessary for public health reasons. This is not the case with scented products. Individuals who believe they suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or allergies to scents should be encouraged to visit their medical practitioner for a complete diagnosis.

Indeed, fine fragrances and scented products have been enjoyed for thousands of years and most people use them because they contribute to personal hygiene, self-esteem, self-expression and a sense of well-being.

Be Specific

Some people wear very strong scents and some wear too much. Any strong aroma - perfume or otherwise - can be unpleasant and can cause a short-term reaction. Rather than ask all employees to eliminate all scented products, try to identify only those individuals whose use of scent may be inappropriate and ask them to modify their use.

Stay Inside Your Scent Circle

Everyone has a personal "scent circle" about an arm's length away from their body. Ask that employees modify their use of scent so that no one outside their "scent circle" is aware of it.
Maintain Good Indoor Air Quality ******

If indoor air quality in a workplace is poor, many substances will linger and accumulate contributing to a stale air environment. Ensuring good ventilation and fresh air intake will contribute to all employees being more alert and energetic.

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