Friday, July 6, 2007

Allergies And Phobias May Affect Your Workplace

A news article caught my eye today.
An office worker for the US city of Detroit is suing for her colleagues to be banned from wearing perfume which gives her such severe headaches, nausea and coughing fits that she must leave work.

Court documents showed Thursday that Susan McBride suffered so acutely from allergy to the chemicals in scents, lotions and sprays that she had to go home sick when a heavily perfumed co-worker shared her office at the city's historic districts department.

Her sensitivity is such that she avoids the detergent sections in shops and cannot sit near perfumed people in a movie theater or on the bus.

The co-worker refused to leave off the perfume, according to the complaint filed at the district court in Detroit, in the northern state of Michigan. McBride needed medical treatment and was off work for some time.

Now she is seeking a jury trial to make the city force fellow employees to come to work un-scented, citing disability discrimination laws. She is claiming unspecified damages for "pain, suffering, humiliation and outrage" suffered.

McBride and her manager have already asked the city authorities that employ her to enforce a "no scent policy as an accommodation to her disability, without success," the complaint said.
Ok - I can see people have legitimate allergies, as well as specific medical handicaps which employers must make provision for .. but in cases such as this one should we force the rest of the world to cater to one person's needs?

How fair is that?

This isn't like having to install a ramp or give the person with a disability special equipment. This is requiring that everyone else in the workplace give up something that they might like to do, namely wear perfume or cologne, and possibly deodorant or hairspray or a host of other hygiene products. Additionally, the workplace has all sorts of chemicals and scents.. How would that be eliminated?

Why don't they just transfer this woman to a different department?
Or have her wear a face mask? or have her work from home?

Surely this employer can make some adjustments to fit all around.
And by the way - did this employer know about this woman's "disability" when he hired her? Was there full disclosure and an understanding of how this disability might be handled? I would guess the answer to that is NO.

I guess the question boils down to this: Is it o.k. to trample someone else's freedoms to insure someone else's, even at work? In this case, the freedom for someone to wear cologne versus the allergic woman's ability to be free from dealing with people wearing cologne during her working day.

Phobias are also documented disabilities...So what happens if someone in the workplace is severely Judeophobic or Japanophobic? Does that mean they can force the employer not to hire Jews or Japanese people?

It'll be real interesting to see how the court rules on this one.

Check out this List of Phobias