smelly essential oils at work … or what to do when employees’ medical needs conflict

A reader writes:

I have a question about a colleague (not one of my employees). She wears a highly potent blend of essential oils, and has been moved to another floor in an attempt to mitigate the impact on another employee’s asthma. She firmly believes this treatment cured her of cancer and continues to keep her well. Talk of “reasonable accommodations” under the ADA is the tone of any conversation on the matter.

I’ve left work twice because the smell triggered a migraine (I really can’t stress how unpleasant, strong, and lingering it is), and I know of at least two other employees who have major problems with it. Everyone takes extra allergy medication. But … that’s nuts, right? A reasonable accommodation shouldn’t negatively impact the rest of the workforce, right? A treatment should be based in science somehow, right?

When talk of unusual accommodations comes up, people often speculate on what would happen if an office had two conflicting accommodation requests at once, and now we get to find out!

I ran this letter past employment lawyer extraordinaire Donna Ballman, author of the excellent book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired. She says:

So you have one ADA accommodation being granted, but that accommodation is causing other employees to have allergic reactions and migraines. What a pickle for an employer! I would suggest, for the employees who are being affected, that you each go to your doctors and get a note requesting the reasonable accommodation that you be moved away from the offending oils causing your reaction, or be given a filter or mask to wear.

The issue of conflicting accommodations is one that employers sometimes have to deal with, and it’s a balancing act they have to do. They must engage in the interactive process with each employee to determine what would be a reasonable accommodation.

The employer may ultimately determine that this employee’s requested accommodation of the smelly oils is an undue hardship due to the multiple chemical sensitivities it is triggering among other employees. That means the employer could work with this employee to find another accommodation that would work, such as providing her with a mask or filter.

What the employer can’t do is just fire her because of her smelly oils. It needs to work with her (or the other employees, or both) to determine a reasonable accommodation that is not an undue hardship on the company.

I asked Donna about whether a medical accommodation has to be based in science in some way. Does it have to be something the employee’s doctor is recommending? Could it be total quackery and the employer would still have to try to accommodate it?

She says:

The accommodation should normally be something the doctor recommended, but I have doctors who recommend homeopathic remedies all the time, so it’s possible the doctor did or would recommend it. The employer has to engage in the interactive process with the employee and her doctor to come up with a reasonable accommodation that is not an undue hardship on the employer.

So, back to you, letter-writer. It sounds like you and other employees impacted by the oils need to approach your company, explain the problems the smell is causing for you, and ask for your own accommodations.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 739 comments… read them below }

  1. LK*

    >The accommodation should normally be something the doctor recommended, but I have doctors who recommend homeopathic remedies all the time

    oh geez, this makes me more upset than the initial conflict in the letter. Anyone who has any experience with the scientific method….. anyone who understands the mechanisms of the body’s organs and processes on a basic level…. anyone who, LIKE ALL MDs, has a B.Sc. should be laughing at the idea of essential oils curing cancer.

    1. LK*

      (Essential oils are not generally an example of homeopathy/excessive diluting leading to the creation of medicine but they’re equal amounts quackery)

      1. Amy The Rev*

        I mean, some vaccines (flu vaccine is, and smallpox vaccine was also) are homeopathic, doesn’t mean they’re quackery. Homeopathy is often used as an umbrella term, but it does have a specific meaning and can/does apply to what we commonly think of as pharmaceutical/FDA-regulated medicine/’hard science’.

        On a totally different, but cool note, this woman who is an ethobotanist has been studying a ton of indigenous medicine and made a discovery that could significantly decrease the risk of MRSA- she found some plants that have antibiotic effects are because they prevent the bacteria from creating a biofilm and being able to band together (which is what eventually causes problems). Because it doesn’t kill the bacteria, it doesn’t exert evolutionary pressure on it and doesn’t increase the numbers of resistant strains.

        1. Callie*

          Vaccines are not homeopathic. Homeopathy is based on the idea that if you take a substance and dilute it until none of the original substance is present, that it’s even stronger, and that is NOT how vaccines work. Vaccines include either a dead or weakened virus (not “diluted to the point of nonexistence”) with the expectation that it will trigger an immune response in the body that will protect the vaccinated person from the live virus.

          1. Amy The Rev*

            That’s one of the two main premises of homeopathy, the first being, ‘like cures like’.

            1. Amy The Rev*

              It could very well be that I’m misunderstanding the concept of ‘like cures like’ – but that’s how it was explained to me by my doc, which is where I got the cool trivia tidbit, ‘vaccines are – technically- a form of homeopathic medicine’ from in the first place. I don’t mean at all to be combative, just curious!

              1. Emi.*

                I think you are. Vaccines don’t cure you, for one thing. As I understand it, homeopathy is more like taking a tiny amount of a fever-inducer to bring down a fever.

                The “vaccine-style” way to do that would be to take tiny amounts of the fever-inducer when you don’t have a fever to build an “immunity” to it (this does actually work with some poisons, I believe).

                The “homeopathy-style” way to vaccinate would be to give a tiny dose of whooping cough to someone who already has whooping cough.

                There may be some dictionary that defines “homeopathy” in a way that covers vaccines, but they’re definitely not included in what people mean when they say it.

              2. Honeybee*

                Vaccines were not created on the premise of “like cures like.” They were created on the premise that your immune system builds antibodies to illnesses it has already been exposed to, so if you expose it to a low level of a disease agent that is weakened enough not to make you sick, your body will develop antibodies and be strong enough to fight off the agent if/when it is later introduced to your body. And, as was already mentioned, you get a vaccine before you have a disease, not after it. Vaccines are also not hyperdiluted the way homeopathic preparations are.

    2. LQ*

      Agreed, I was pretty sure it was coming and I still wasn’t really ready for it. I am disappointed in doctors who aren’t practicing science based medicine.

      1. Amy The Rev*

        If you’ve ever gotten a smallpox vaccine, you’ve taken homeopathic medicine. “Homeopathic” and “science-based” aren’t inherently mutually exclusive. I know it’s nitpicking language, but it just gets my goat when people assume that homeopathic inherently means untested/not science-based/etc.

        Oh that the world were as specific when talking about things as I’d like them to be…maybe I should give up nitpicking for lent

          1. Amy The Rev*

            Oh, sorry- I thought that vaccines give you a dead or weakened virus to help build antibodies for that virus….Since one of the main premises of homeopathy is ‘like cures like’, it would seem as though vaccines are a type of homeopathic medicine. But if that’s not how vaccines work, I retract my statement!

            I am in 100% agreement with the gist of what you’re saying, it just bugs me when people use the words ‘homeopathic’, ‘naturopathic’, ‘herbal’, etc interchangeably.

            1. drashizu*

              Just. No.

              You aren’t misunderstanding vaccines, you’re misunderstanding homeopathy. “Like cures like” is a theory that what causes the illness in a healthy person will cure the illness in a person who is already sick. Homeopathy proposes that if a person already has smallpox, injecting them with more of it will help, rather than harm them.

              But that’s wrong. By the time you already have smallpox, a vaccine won’t do you any good. Vaccines are given to healthy people to trigger an immune response that will prevent them from ever getting sick in the first place (hopefully), and have nothing to do with homeopathy.

              And the “dilution to the point of nonexistence” aspect of homeopathy is a big part of it as well – you can’t just say a vaccine is homeopathy because the dead viruses are suspended in a saline solution. Homeopathic “cures” are usually diluted to one part in a hundred several times consecutively, and being more dilute is considered more potent – the exact opposite of how your immune system will respond if you decide to dilute 1 part smallpox vaccine in 100 parts saline solution three times in a row.

              1. Julia*

                Now I really want to know how that one German doctor (Germans love homeopathy!) thought she’d cure my depression through homeopathic pills. Do they make depression in pill form?

                1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

                  Homeopathy isn’t EXCLUSIVELY “like cures like”. It’s also taking traditional herbal remedies and exposing them to the dilution process. So for depression they might give you the ghost of St. John’s Wort, or valerian.

            2. JustaTech*

              In homeopathy, “Like cures like” means that if you have a headache, you would take a homeopathic remedy which starts with s substance that *causes* headaches and then dilute it until there is nothing of the original substance left.

              Vaccines are using the way the immune system already works to give you immunity to an infectious disease, not to treat a symptom.

              1. KH*

                I don’t get it. If you dilute something until nothing is left, you have nothing. So, I can cure myself of any disease by drinking a glass of water?

                1. Risha*

                  Sadly enough, you do get it. Which is why homeopathy is generally considered quackery among those educated on the topic.

                2. Zombii*

                  Not quite. The water has to have once had a trace amount of a disease-causing agent in it, and then have been diluted until the trace is undetectable.

                  Although… water has been circulating on this planet since the planet formed, so actually, yeah, you’ve got it.

        1. PrimaryCareDoc*

          “Homeopathic” and “science-based” are 100% mutually exclusive.

          It gets my goat, as a doctor, when people defend quackery.

          1. Amy The Rev*

            To be clear, I have zero agenda regarding homeopathic remedies, which I personally have never seen any reason to take. I honestly was misunderstanding the definition of homeopathic, and was just talking about the vaccine connection (which I now understand was incorrect application of the idea of ‘like helps like’) as a trivia-type-anecdote. As someone who is 100% pro-vaxxer, so to speak, and 100% pro-science, I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings about my intent. I wasn’t “defending” anything, though I recognize that’s how it might’ve come across, and will try to be more clear in the future.

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I guess when I read the letter, I thought that this is not actually a doctor-recommended accommodation. OP did not say “Smelly Oil Lady has worked out accommodations and they are to use Smelly Oils”; she said that ADA accommodations are the “tone” of every conversation. For some reason, that read to me as if Smelly Oil Lady is threatening and insisting, but has not actually gone through any sort of ADA process.

      If she has, and a doctor seriously told her that essential oils cured her cancer, then I am dumbstruck.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, I think that’s probably right. If it hasn’t already gone through official channels, that needs to happen. Call her bluff. When she mentions ADA, someone needs to say “Yes, that’s a good idea. Please get in touch with your doctor and get that process started. And in the meanwhile, please stop using the smelly oils at work unless and until they’re noted as an official accommodation.”

        1. Winger*

          Isn’t the goal here to mediate the conflict and avoid inflaming anything further? This seems just a tad hostile to me – whether or not the oil lady is being hostile, her manager/HR don’t have to return the favor.

          1. Roscoe*

            Yeah, it seems a bit harsh to me as well. It just seems to be getting into a pissing contest and not trying to do what they can to make everyone happy

            1. Althea*

              I also don’t see it as hostile. Maybe the employee needs special accommodation, but there’s nothing wrong with having her go through the appropriate process to get it. And why should the migraine-sufferer do it but the essential oils person not do it?

              1. Koko*

                What seems hostile to me is demanding that she cease her treatments until the accommodation conversation is resolved, instead of a good faith attempt at compromise until the accommodation is resolved.

              2. jordanjay29*

                I read it as Koko, but I also realize this could be easily abused by the smelly oil person. It might be wise to set a reasonable date by which paperwork needed to be submitted.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t see this as hostile; I think it’s reasonable to open up the accommodation process, although OP should proceed with caution.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            I don’t think it’s hostile to ask her to actually follow the process she’s threatening them with, and to stop wearing oils that are actually making other employees sick in the meanwhile.

          4. Kelli S*

            I also don’t see it as inflaming the situation, if it’s worded gently. Since it’s most likely that she is using the oils via inhalation, a mask on oil lady is a great idea. If it’s topical, suggest full strength at home, diluted at work? But I totally agree that a doctor needs to be involved.

      2. Sunflower*

        I read it that nothing has been formally filed yet and they thought moving Essential Oil Lady would do the trick. Now that that didn’t work, they aren’t sure what to do and want to proceed with caution. I’m not totally confident the lady even knows this is such an issue. It sounds like the company hasn’t said anything to her yet because they are scared of legal issues

      3. TootsNYC*

        I’d suggest that the folks who are having genuine negative physical reactions go get doctor’s notes about this, and beat her to the “document your ADA accommodations” punch.

        1. jordanjay29*

          I’m wondering how you would achieve this without Smelly Oil Lady’s stash for sampling at the doc’s. The asthma person has a serious condition, but others are just experiencing a sensitivity to that particular oil (if I read the letter correctly). There certainly is a condition for people with sensitivity to strong odors, but I don’t know how much that applies here.

    4. Katniss*

      Seriously. I don’t want to veer until a whole side-topic discussion, but doctors who are seriously prescribing quack science should have their licenses to practice taken away.

      1. fposte*

        Though sometimes the recommendations are pretty homeopathic, if you will, in their own right: “Sure, you can try that” from a doctor gets reported as advocacy.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Or it may not be that the oils cure cancer, the doctor may have recommended them to reduce inflammation, reduce stress, or control other symptoms.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            I don’t know of any doctor – like, an MD doctor – who would recommend essential oils to treat anything, but who knows, it could be a chiropractor or whatnot.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              Oh this is definitely a thing when you’re talking about long-term treatments that can have a lot of awful side effects, of which cancer is probably the most obvious. Or chronic illnesses, for similar reasons. Say you’re dealing with symptoms or side effects all the time– headaches, nausea, exhaustion, whatever. A lot of those things you have to deal with on the lifestyle side, so things like taking a long bath with tea tree oil or putting menthol & peppermint on your temples or under your nose or whatever comes into the conversation.

              All my best managing physicians over the years have been people who both 1) kept on top of current research and especially pharmaceutical research, often participating in trials at their centers, and 2) had practical lifestyle or home remedy sort of suggestions for dealing with things that are either out of scope of my treatment or a side effect of it.

              1. Amy The Rev*

                This ^^

                When I had a broken rib (not displaced, though, so not much they could do help it) from a bad cough, my doctor both prescribed me codeine to help reduce the cough and help with the pain, AND suggested I put eucalyptus oil in my humidifier at night and mix it with vaseline to rub under my nose during the day to help clear my sinuses and put an end to the post-nasal drip that was causing the cough in the first place! Now whenever I have a cold I put the eucalyptus oil in my humidifier and my ability to breath when going to bed is improved by a factor of (roughly) a million.

                1. Jojo*

                  Eucalyptus. Has science behind it. It is considered main stream medicine. Same with camphor. If this woman’s oils include things like ragweed, then yes, it can cause others to be sick.

            2. sstabeler*

              actually, I could see them helping with stress- there, even if it IS a placebo, it might help. That, and if there ISN’T anything else that would actually help…

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah, I think a lot of doctors will say, “Sure, if it makes you feel better, it won’t hurt” about a lot of things–whether it’s a hot bath, or massage, or meditation, or kombucha, or essential oils, or whatever. And the “sure, it can’t hurt” (which often means nothing more than ‘it’s harmless and the placebo effect is surprisingly strong’ or ‘it’s harmless and might relieve your stress, which is good for most diseases’) may be taken to mean “my doctor says that X will treat/cure my Y!” when the did not in fact mean anything besides “yeah, it won’t hurt you, so if it makes you feel better, go ahead.”

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  Oh, me too; the point that I’m making is that when a doctor says something like, “Sure, if it makes you feel better, go ahead,” they aren’t usually intending it to mean “that is a treatment that I advocate and that I am advocating as an accommodation for your workplace.” But patients might take it that way. I think it’s a fairly common for doctors to say things like, “well hey, if peppermint tea after meals helps your indigestion, go for it,” but that doesn’t mean that they mean that to extend to “…even in your no-food-or-drink lab work setting.” And yet patients might think it does, because hey, a doctor said I should do it!

                2. JessaB*

                  Peppermint tea for indigestion is not actually quackery. Peppermint was one of the original things used for stomach issues. It actually does work and there’s science for that. Not the smell though the actual edible plant. IE real peppermint drops on a sugar cube, or chewing on a leaf for instance.

              2. ST*

                ” I could see them helping with stress”

                Oh, I’ve got some oils and uses that definitely help with stress. . .

            3. Ann O'Nemity*

              I could totally see something like this happening with my own doctor:

              Doctor: How are your migraines?
              Me: Peppermint essential oils helps a lot! I’d rather use that than the sumatriptan you previously prescribed. But my work will only allow me to use the essential oils with a doctor’s note.
              Doctor: No problem, let me grab my pad.

                1. fposte*

                  Though even that document describes the results in humans “mixed.” I wouldn’t say “really can help” was the upshot there.

                2. TL -*

                  Yeah, everything I’ve read is more along the lines of placebo effect and/or mixed results. “Can really help” is a big stretch from that.

                  (That being said, if they make you feel better and your doc is okay with you continuing use, that’s a good enough reason to use them.)

                3. H.C.*

                  Symptom relief can be tangentially related to successful cancer treatment (for example, warding off nausea that can interrupt chemotherapy cycles, or allowing the patient to tolerate higher doses of radiation/drug therapy) and I’m giving the OP’s colleague the benefit of the doubt that this may be the case (esp if she is still undergoing follow-up treatments.)

                  But yeah – the oils in and of themselves, not so much.

                4. Chinook*

                  “Though even that document describes the results in humans “mixed.” I wouldn’t say “really can help” was the upshot there.”

                  The ssri inhibitors medication I am taking gets mixed results within those of us who are prescribed them (it is sort of a random roll of the dice if they work) but they still should be considered medication.

                  As for essential oils like peppermint helping with migraines (especially chinook-induced ones around here), I have seen too many people go from being bed ridden to functional to dismiss something like that because it doesn’t work for everyone who uses them. As for why no one studies it – could it be because it is hard to make money off of the discovery if it works?

                  And by chinook, I mean the wind and not me.

                5. TL -*

                  @Chinook The SSRI discussion of evidence/interpretation is actually way, way more interesting, complex, and compelling than the essential oils one. And there’s a lot more evidence that we still need to continue studying and understanding them to use them most effectively.

                  That being said if something is making you feel better/functional and is not actively harmful to you or others, that’s a good enough reason to keep doing it.

                6. OhBehave*

                  Agreed Kyrielle.

                  I made up a salve of peppermint essential oil and coconut oil for my daughter’s monthly pain and it helped her tremendously.

                7. Zoe Karvounopsina*

                  I have some honey, collected by Georgian monks, that the label claims will help with TB and multiple types of cancer. It does not note any medical testing which has taken place.

                  I admit, I’m keeping it for colds.

              1. Hmm*

                As an aside, I’d LOVE for my doctor to prescribe sumatriptan for my migraines. Instead all I get is a bunch of chirpy nonsense about how I “just need to stress less!” Well gee, Doc, I’d love to, but you see the THROBBING PAIN IN MY SKULL THAT LASTS FOUR DAYS STRAIGHT has a tendency to cause me a lot of stress.

                /end rant

                1. Coalea*

                  Lifelong migraineur here. Get thee to another doctor, stat! Sumatriptan may or may not be the ideal treatment for you, but if you’re experiencing frequent and/or long-lasting headaches, your doctor should be working with you to alleviate them and not just spouting useless platitudes!

                2. seejay*

                  Sumatriptan (or any of the triptans in general) are an absolute *godsend* (for the most part). Smack your doc up the head and get to a migraine or pain management specialist or a neurologist. I spent years with doctors that didn’t know how to actually treat migraines, throwing random stuff at me and never actually getting to the root of the issue before I finally landed on the doorstep of a migraine/pain specialist and he introduced me to the joys that were triptans and it’s been joyous. Well, not exactly joyous because I still get them, but at least they’re *manageable* now, instead of dig-your-fingernails-into-your-temple-and-claw-your-eyeballs-out sort of pain.

                  Combination of the sumatriptan, fiorinal for immediate pain relief, once a month chiropractic adjustment (for upper vertebrae issues), and avoiding MSG/aspartame, plus daily Topimax and I’ve got them relatively under control, at least not killing me once a week on a regular basis.

                3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

                  I know it can be easier said than done these days with the state of healthcare, but if you can, see another doctor. Your doc shouldn’t be dismissing your headaches as stress related if they are debilitating for days

                4. Hmm*

                  It really is easier said than done. Very few, if any, places around here are accepting new patients. I see this doctor now because I need birth control for the hormone controlling properties (also don’t want kids but really I just need to control the migraines and cystic acne) and my previous doctor snidely told me that “uhh, we’re a FAMILY practice, we don’t BELIEVE in birth control….”
                  Going elsewhere, who knows what I’ll run into.

                5. Temperance*

                  You need a new doctor. That’s seriously a quality of life issue at that point. I went through about a year where I had some sort of headache or migraine more often than not, and it was hell.

                6. Kindling*

                  This is meant to be a reply to Hmm’s second comment but it can’t nest any further – I live in Canada, so grain of salt here, but it’s fairly rare for a doctor to straight-out refuse to prescribe birth control. I think you’ve gotten unlucky and landed two bad doctors in a row, but there must be a doctor in your area who a) is willing to prescribe birth control and b) takes migraines seriously. I really think doctors who fit both of those parameters are more common than you think having experienced two bad ones in a row. Don’t get discouraged! Good luck!

                7. Observer*

                  Good grief! You need a decent doctor. Any doctor who reacts this way to frequent severe migraines this way is an incompetent idiot. I saw your other comment, so know that you had an equally stupid prior doctor. (Really, family doctors don’t do BC? My Orthodox Jewish Family Practice doctors do do BC as needed and medically indicated.)

                  But, still.

                  Maybe you can stay with this one to get the BC you need and find a specialist? If not, try to do some intensive shopping.

                8. JessaB*

                  If you have migraines and can see a specialist try a neurologist. The one I see does all kinds of things (I can’t take triptans, I have hemiplegic migraines and they’re countre-indicated,) but they even do botox for migraines which works for some people. It can be really far beyond the skills of GPs.

                9. Ktelzbeth*

                  As a fellow migraineur, your comment about needing birth control jumped out at me. All the estrogen containing forms of birth control made my migraines worse. YMMV, of course, but just a note about my experience.

                10. sstabeler*

                  good grief on that previous doctor that flat-out refused to prescribe BC for any reason- even the Catholic Church- which opposes BC when used to avoid getting pregnant- says that BC for medical reasons is fine.

                11. DoDah*

                  Hmm, Get thyself to another doctor, STAT. I’m a migraine sufferer and without the “….triptans” I would be lying on the floor, with vertigo and pain, throwing up into a trash can 4 days a week. I lucked out that my doctor is also a migraine sufferer, so the first med he tried mitigates my migraines to one every few months.

                12. Relly*

                  Hope it’s not too late to jump in here.

                  Hmm I agree that you need a neurologist. If you’re near Pittsburgh I have a recommendation, even.

                  For both Hmm and Ktelzbeth: I can’t take hormonal BC because of crazy issues with my migraines, but had major problems with irregular periods. My gyno suggested an IUD, and mine works like a charm. You can get non hormonal ones, but mine even has hormones — somehow it entering your system directly bypasses whatever sets off the migraines?! YMMV but worth checking out.

                13. automaticdoor*

                  Please see a neurologist. Also, it’s interesting, because continuous birth control has HELPED my migraines–I was getting many more of them around my period since I was taking tri-phasic birth control, and it turns out that I need a steady dose of hormones, no withdrawal periods. But YMMV, so you realllllly need a specialist.

                14. seejay*

                  Just to chime in on the BC issue, you can be really hit and miss with the hormonal birth control. One of the first things out of my migraine specialist’s mouth was that triphase BC is a really common migraine-aggravator in women, since the hormone fluctuation can trigger them. He put me on a monophase which definitely helped, but I didn’t like the change in my cycle, so I wound up on a very low-dose hormone IUD. What did help was that it was clear that one of my triggers was tracked to my cycle (I would blow a really intense two day migraine about a week before I started).

                  Of course, this is always different for every person/woman, since migraine triggers are so varied. It just jumped out at me though at the mention of hormonal BC and that was the first thing out of my specialist’s mouth when I first started seeing him, and that triphase was a super common one.

                15. Honeybee*

                  Adding to the chorus of “get thee another doctor!” I take rizatriptan for my chronic migraines and it is a life-changer. Ditch him and find another doctor who takes your pain seriously.

              2. Callalily*

                You should have seen my doctors face when I told him that daith piercings helped reduce the severity of my chronic migraines… his eyebrows never jolted so high in the 20+ years I’ve been under his care! He made sure to comment on how he’d never heard of it before and shook his head.

                Despite his reaction, he would 100% write a note telling my boss that I needed them to treat my chronic migraines.

                I would imagine OP’s employee could swing it… probably more on a mental health side though because logically it reduces her anxiety because she believes she won’t get cancer.

                1. The OG Anonsie*

                  They wouldn’t do anything at all since this is an entirely reasonable action on the doctor’s part, but I mean you could file whatever you liked I guess.

            4. LMC*

              I know many doctors using oils “specific brand” that has been scientifically studied and proven to aid the body in many capacities. I use oils for everything and given my families history with medicine and it’s adverse side affects I definitely prefer to use oils over traditional medicine. With that said I’m well versed in oils and I’m sensitive to others around me. Same for my kids in school that truly NEED them. We apply oils to feet then put socks on. Diffuse or take in a capsule form. It’s not always an easy balance but for those of us who have been studying oils and learning from scientists on the matter we gain the knowledge that many different oils contain some of the same properties. So it’s possible that said oil lady could find other ways to get her regimen of oils or other less fragrant oils. A truly Pure oil ( you won’t find at the store). Will Not cause any adverse reaction. You may not like the smell but it will not chemically cause an asthma attack, allergy, or headache

              1. TL -*

                A truly pure oil can indeed cause headaches, asthma attack, and allergy (if you’re allergic to something, the purer it is, the more likely an allergic attack). If you’re sensitive to something, the purity doesn’t matter and the beautiful thing about the human immune system is that it can be reactive to just about anything, including essential oils.

              2. blackcat*

                Uh, no, pure oils can absolutely cause allergic reaction, as people can be allergic to any number of substances, including things that are chemically oils.

                There are also people for whom *any* strong scent can cause a migraine, no matter what the sent is (the same is also true for *any* bright lights or *any* sounds over a certain volume).

                -signed, someone deathly allergic to lavender, with a friend who gets scent-triggered migraines.

                1. JessaB*

                  OMG not allergic to lavender but completely allergic (allergy test with those little pricks on your arm? Blew up like four lines of test stuff) to Tea Tree Oil. You cannot imagine how many cosmetics this stuff is now in. Even lip balms. I have to ingredient read at the hairdresser because everyone thinks this stuff is just so amazing for hair. No thank you I do not want a rash.

              3. Simms*

                I am allergic to lavender, lilac and chamomile. If someone is wearing a pure version of those I do have an allergic reaction. I know this from experience because my mother is allergic to fragrance oils and so wears pure versions of lilac and lavender and I have reacted to them many times over the years if she gets too close while wearing them. Allergic reactions can be to anything.

                1. fposte*

                  Though lilac really doesn’t work as an essential oil–if you can smell lilac, she’s probably got a blend or synthetic, regardless of how it was labeled. (Not disagreeing with you on the basic allergy thing, just that this is part of what annoys me about essential oils–that you see stuff that isn’t viable as an EO cheerfully marketed as the real thing.)

                2. Simms*

                  Huh go figure. That may be why I am allergic to the “oils” and not the bush in regards to lilac anyways. Chamomile and lavender I am allergic to in both plant and oil forms unfortunately.

              4. MsChanandlerBong*

                My in-laws douse themselves in pure oils. They stink so badly I have to sit at the other end of the table at Thanksgiving because I can’t breathe when I get too close to them. Just because it’s “natural” and “pure” doesn’t mean it’s good. Digitalis is natural, too, but I wouldn’t eat a pound of it.

              5. Mike C.*

                Look, if oils actually worked like you said they would, they would pass double blind studies by major research and regulatory organizations and be the major method of treatment because insurance companies wouldn’t pay for what you call “traditional medicine”.

              6. PrimaryCareDoc*

                No. You can’t say a chemical will help with a medical issue but has no possiblity of adverse effects. If it’s an active substance, it’s an active substance. It’s either a placebo or it’s an active medication with possible side effects. You can’t have it both ways.

              7. Honeybee*

                I really love essential oils too, but pure essential oils do absolutely trigger migraines for me, as do many strong smells. Up to 50% of migraine sufferers report strong smells as a trigger for their migraines, and between 25 and 50 percent of migraine sufferers have an increased or altered sense of smell during migraine attacks that may exacerbate symptoms.

            5. Chayse*

              I have celiac and my MD did prescribe fennel oil to help with digestive issues. Some MDs do like try that type of treatment before loading you up on medication- especially with chronic conditions. In my case, it’s been a lifesaver (although fennel oil doesn’t have a smell to it).

            6. HR Bee*

              As someone who was raised with a chiropractor grandfather and regularly sees a chiropractor, I’d like to just point out that I’ve never known a LEGIT chiropractor to prescribe or suggest essential oils to treat anything. Chiropractic does not automatically equal quackery.

              1. Honeybee*

                Yeah, me neither. I have chronic back issues and have seen chiropractors on and off throughout my life. None of them hvae ever recommended essential oils or really anything resembling quackery.

          2. Allison*

            Right, I’d like to think that’s the idea behind recommending them. Oils can put someone in a good state of mind, which can’t cure cancer, but it can help someone get by each day.

          3. Anna*

            The issue with MDs even going that far is that it gets reported back as “oils helped cure my cancer and are keeping it in check,” which is how the coworker at OP’s office is seeing it. It’s bad news.

        2. Zaralynda*

          Yeah, I had a persistent (5+ year) plantar wart and when I complained to my dermatologist that nothing was working he said I could put a banana peel on it if I wanted. He explained that I wouldn’t be able to get rid of it until my immune system did it, but gave “permission” to try any home remedy if it made me feel better about the situation.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Oh geez. Years ago I actually wrote in here with advice on how to handle wart treatments that were debilitating (blister beetle treatment; very effective and mind-bogglingly painful — like, the most pain I’ve ever experienced, couldn’t sleep through the pain).

          2. Delta Delta*

            Did it work? I had one and it was painful to get rid of. I’d smear a banana on my foot to not go through that again.

            1. Happy Lurker*

              I have a friend who swears by duct tape (sliver kind) over the wart until its gone. She says it starves it of oxygen…I have never tried it.

              1. HR Bee*

                My husband is doing this with a wart on his finger right now. It appears to be working. He cuts a new piece of duct tape every day, covers the entire wart, then wraps it in a band-aid. His theory is that it’s doing the exact same thing as that wart-removal fluid you get from drug stores, but without damaging the skin around the wart as well.

              2. Honeybee*

                Warts generally go away on their own, so people can do all kinds of things to warts and claim that they work. There’s no scientific evidence that duct tape works, but generally the medical community’s response is “*shrug* Well, it doesn’t hurt, so if people want to do that why not?”

                1. jordanjay29*

                  Honeybee, sure, until you get to skipping vaccines and using smelly essential oils that give others headaches. Once you start damaging the herd at large, those “harmless” treatments become a big problem.

          3. NewBoss2016*

            Oh my, plantar warts are the absolute worst. I had a terrible one that made it incredibly painful to walk when I was 13 or 14. I tried the tape, home remedies, everything I could find online! I had a single parent that literally could not take time off of work to take me to the doctor unless it was an emergency. Finally, I was absolutely miserable and fed up, so I got an extremely sharp knife and did at-home surgery with the help of my little brother. We cut out the wart and “roots” deep down in the sole of my foot, bandaged it up, and sanitized it as best as possible. I know that was really stupid for teenage me to have done, but it felt so much better immediately and never came back. Do doctors not advocate for surgical removal of plantar warts? My sympathies are with you. I don’t know how you walked for 5 years on it.

            1. ReallyTho*

              When I was a kid our family got them all the time (swimming lessons) and I recall at one point my mother taking a power sander to my foot. Not joking. It actually worked really well although I was terrified but once we got down to it the wart kit came with a tiny little knife for surgery…or at least that is what we used it for.

              As an adult I had one for a year and ended up doing the tea tree oil and duct tape method for a couple days which actually worked.

              1. NewBoss2016*

                A power sander! That definitely sounds like something my family would come up with. I’m glad the tea tree oil worked for you the second time around. I don’t think I ever tried that one, so that is good to know.

      2. Manders*

        In my state, naturopaths are licensed and I think they can be treated like MDs for the purpose of getting a doctor’s note/prescribing certain things. I’ve never been to one but it’s my understanding that they range from alternative but ethical to possibly dangerous, especially since they do use herbs with potent active ingredients, not just placebos/homeopathic stuff.

        I’m actually not sure whether a recommendation from a licensed naturopath would have to be treated the same way as a recommendation from an MD when it comes to ADA accommodations. I also have no idea whether these essential oils were actually prescribed by any kind of healthcare provider or if this woman just read an article quoting a doctor she’s never seen before.

        1. Is It Performance Art*

          Ugh, in at least some states they’re not just licensed they can be primary care providers and Medicaid has to cover many of their services. That along with really good marketing (“naturopaths take the same classes as MDs plus extra courses in natural healing.”) means that a lot of people mistakenly believe that they’re real doctors and I’m sure plenty of people would assume their recommendations are valid. I can definitely see a naturopath telling someone essential oils will treat cancer. I would be interested to see how the law handles ADA recommendations from them. Especially since a lot of medical pot clinics rely on them.

          1. Honeybee*

            There’s a really good former naturopath who has a blog debunking some of their claims. In one very detailed post, she compares the ND curriculum to the MD curriculum, showing that no, NDs do not take the same coursework as MDs. Even courses that have the same names and description have very different content.

      3. Jeanne*

        There are those who call themselves homeopathic doctors. Someone might say “my doctor recommended it” but the doctor does not have an MD.

        1. Callalily*

          Too many times people aren’t even referring to either of these – turns out Dr. Internet Von Google whispered it into their ear.

    5. Jessesgirl72*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one gobsmacked that bunk science can be considered a reasonable accommodation.

      OTOH, there are homeopathic remedies that were laughed at 10 or 20 years ago, that science now actually backs up as an effective treatment- acupuncture, for instance. I don’t think essential oils is ever going to be one of them, but I suppose you never know.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Um, just to be clear, acupuncture isn’t and never was homeopathic. Homeopathy has specifically to do with extremely dilute amounts of things – manipulation of the body (such as acupuncture, chiropracty, etc.) is not a part of that.

        Certainly there are treatments that have been laughed at in the past and later proved effective. Homeopathy seems unlikely to ever join their ranks, and no subset of it has, that I am aware of.

        1. Anna*

          There is also a kind of ugly side to chiropracty that borders on quackery. There was one specific article I read about a chiropractor adjusting a colicky baby that “cured the colic.” All I could think is only a complete nut would make chiropractic adjustments on an infant whose skeleton was still forming and only an idiot parent would allow them to try.

          1. Bryce*

            Yeah. There are legitimate chiropracty-related things (bad posture putting weight on various nerves, stuff like that) but the same term is used for full blown cure-all woo.

          2. ST*

            I have a Dr chiro friend (acquaintance, actually) and I cringe every time he posts a pic of him adjusting an infant or small child, or talking about helping people beat the flu.

            no, just no.

            1. ReallyTho*

              Ack, I worked with two chiro nuts at my last job. The guy had a friend who got a blood clot from having his neck adjusted and even remarked “it is crazy that I know someone who had that happen and I still go to my chiro all the time”. The gal just liked it but they would talk about babies getting adjustments (both of theirs did) for ear infections. Sure enough, she had a baby around new years, baby got sick, baby went into chiro for adjustment – which to me just looks like wiggling a little baby around.

              I also used to work with a crazy manager who said it worked to help get pregnant and other magical things. I didn’t think she could be crazier until she told me little kids could be adjusted to deal with ADHD :-/

          3. Kyrielle*

            Agreed. Chiropracty is one of those where a subset has proved effective, I think? I think a large portion of the rest is unlikely to ever do so. But mostly I was using it as another example of not-mainstream treatments that are also not homeopathy. There’s a lot of them, mostly woo.

      2. LK*

        Homeopathic =/= naturopathic

        Homeopathy is the idea that if you take a cold virus and dilute it in alcohol until it’s almost entirely gone then what’s left is a vaccine for a cold virus.

        Acupuncture is naturopathic (TCM, technically) – and a lot of the stuff that turns out to work from naturopathy is then picked up by pharm corps and made into proper medicine (e.g. willow bark tea is the origin of aspirin/acetaminophen). So if it’s in naturopathy only, it’s either not been proven to work; or been proven not to work.

        I am paraphrasing Tim Minchin right now haha.

        1. drashizu*

          Tiny correction – aspirin is synthesized naturally in willow trees and other salicylate-producing plants, but acetaminophen was developed during laboratory experiments attempting to create safer derivatives of aniline drugs in the 1940’s and doesn’t have naturopathic origins. (Aniline itself was first isolated from indigo in the 1800’s, and indigo does come from plants, but there are several steps of chemical synthesis that aniline has to go through before it turns into acetaminophen.)

        2. DeskBird*

          I was thinking of that Tim Minchin bit when I was reading this! If you can call a 10 minute beat poem a bit. He would be helpful with this lady.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think you’re confusing “homeopathic” with “holistic” or something along those lines. Homeopathy is something pretty specific that does not include acupuncture.

      4. The OG Anonsie*

        Yeah “not well studied” isn’t the same as “bunk science.” I started my career in drug repurposing and clinical drug trials and the time and man power and money needed to get to recommended practice, then the decade they estimate it usually takes to get from recommended to accepted, is a pretty big barrier that even very effective treatments have to run all the way through. Not having been run through this process doesn’t automatically make it quackery, just up in the air.

        1. fposte*

          In both directions, in fact–I’m allopathic all the way, but there’s plenty of junk in medical practice.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            Ohh yes. One of the biggest deciding factors in how well something is studied is how well that research can be funded. The other is how much people care about it in general. So there are plenty of very compelling alternate allopathic therapies out there that seem to bridge gaps in the current standard of care, or that have fewer risks, or that have better results, or that are cheaper, etc etc, but the burden of proof to get it into standard practice is prohibitive.

            1. fposte*

              And a lot of stuff that is done isn’t actually done because of evidence-based practice, just because that’s the way medical personnel have been told to do it. That’s why something like the Choosing Wisely initiative is so interesting.

        2. Mike C.*

          The problem is that people are claiming efficacy when there is no evidence to prove it. That doesn’t mean that evidence will never show up but you can’t conflate the two.

          Even then, there are tons of repeated studies of “traditional medicines” that repeatedly show no efficacy but folks insist on studying them again and again because they believe so strongly that some random practice is always going to be better than what experts in lab coats can come up with.

      5. TL -*

        …Acupuncture isn’t really backed up by science as an effective treatment for anything (mixed results are not an indicator that it works) and most double-blind studies basically show no effect.

        Science hasn’t really turned around on that, it’s just that if acupuncture is done by a well-trained practitioner in a sterile environment, there’s very low risk. There’s little harm in trying and if you find benefit in it, it’s low risk enough to be worth the benefit.

        1. PoorDecisions101*

          A lot of practicing acupuncturists are quacks, I won’t deny that since it’s not properly regulated, but the one my Dad goes to is a MD as well and lectures at the local medical school and it’s strictly about the effect of different kinds of pressures on nerves, so yes, it is based on science. Because of the quackery as noted above, I wouldn’t recommend going to one unless you know their pedigree though.

          1. TL -*

            Eh, I haven’t seen any evidence that acupuncture provides any sort of scientific benefit regardless of theory behind it (though I haven’t looked at what your dad’s MD does) – but if there was a scientific consensus as to a working school of acupuncture, I would bet good money that I would have heard of it.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I keep checking back, because every now and then it seems like acupuncture holds its head above the evidence-based waters for a minute but then it goes down under again.

              1. TL -*

                It’s a fun one!
                That being said, I think my mother health would have been better when I was younger if she had standing appointment once or twice a week to go into a peaceful, calm room and spend an hour relaxing with a sympathetic and kind person guiding her relaxation. If acupuncture did that for her, I’d be all for it.

                1. fposte*

                  I tried acupuncture, and I definitely loved that; I still love my massage therapy. And I’m a *huge* fan of the placebo effect however I can get to it, and I’ll do everything I can to maximize it.

                  Ultimately, though, there was no comparison with the laminectomy :-).

          2. seejay*

            I would say the same about chiropractors. If one tells you that they can cure your heart disease by adjusting your spine, run away. My chiropractor does amazing things for relieving tension on nerves that are pinched by my vertebrae and without regular adjustments, I’d be in massive amounts of pain and near-paralysis due to shifted vertebrae and stiff muscles in my back, but he will happily tell me to go see my doctor for things that he things aren’t muscle or bone-related. He knows what he can do and what he can’t do. He essentially a physical therapist and doesn’t try to go beyond that, while others think it’s a cure-all.

            1. Cactus*

              Basically it’s “are they susceptible to the Dunning-Kruger effect, or not? Are they smart enough to know that they don’t know what they don’t know?”

            2. the gold digger*

              My uncle, who bicycles across seven or eight states every summer, kept seeing a chiropractor because he thought he had pulled some muscles – this went on for a few months. Finally, he goes to a medical doctor who does some blood work and calls my aunt and uncle 20 minutes after they leave his office and he has the labwork.

              “Go straight to [hospital in big city 50 miles away],” ordered them. “I have already made an appointment for you with Dr X the oncologist. You have stage 3 multiple myeloma.”

              I don’t know if earlier detection would have made a difference (he is still getting chemo and prepping for a bone marrow transplant), but honestly. If your chiropractor has not stopped your pain after a visit or two, see a physician.

              1. MsChanandlerBong*

                If you don’t mind, I’m going to file away the fact that your uncle has MM. I recently had some abnormal test results, and MM is one of the possible diagnoses. My doctor didn’t have any available appts. until next week, though, so I don’t know anything yet. If that’s what I have, I may ask you a few questions on an open thread, if that’s okay.

              2. seejay*

                well yes, your YMMV. I first saw a chiropractor after falling and landing on my butt and pulling muscles in my back and the electro therapy helped the inflammation. Later, when my upper vertebrae slipped and pinched a nerve and led to a massive migraine and rock hard muscles in my right shoulder, it was an adjustment that moved the bones, released the nerve and made the migraine go away in about 5 minutes (after 8 hours of non-stop pain).

                Don’t get me wrong, I’ve told my mother to run away *fast* when a chiropractor told her he could “cure” her heart condition. My chiropractor has flat out told me to go see my doctor when I mentioned chronic foot paint that wouldn’t go away. A good chiro knows what’s realistic treatment for what they can do by doing bone and muscle adjustment versus “tweaking this bone will cause this nerve to rearrange itself and that’ll stop your bowel from being irritated so you’ll no longer be celiac!” That sounds like hoogie moogie.

                1. JessaB*

                  Yeh there are reasons for adjusting things, it’s just when chiropractors get into saying they can cure something that has nothing to do with bone and muscle position, that I stop believing them.

          3. TychaBrahe*

            Acupuncture is based on the belief that there is a vital energy called qi that flows through our body. Illness is caused by disruptions in the flow of qi, and acupuncture unblocks it.

            The problem is that we have no evidence that qi exists. Therefore any suggestion that it can be blocked or that acupuncture clan release it, must be treated as unverifiable.

        2. JessaB*

          It’s very hard to blind study something like accupuncture, because you can kind of feel it a little. It’s really tough to test did they or did they not get those needles put in them.

          1. fposte*

            It’s actually pretty easy, because acupuncture depends on using the acupuncture points. If it works the same if you’re just putting acupuncture needles in at random locations, that’s a pretty good indication that there’s a problem with the theory.

            1. TL -*

              Yes, this. You can do really well-designed double-blind studies for any school of acupuncture (well, insofar as you can find agreement within any school of acupuncture) and those double-blind studies basically show that acupuncture is all placebo effect.

          2. JustaTech*

            There are some fantastic studies that have developed good blinding for both the patient and the practitioner.
            For patients it can be toothpicks instead of needles, it can be putting in the needles but in the “wrong places”, and for practitioners it can be these nifty self-retracting needles that *look* like they have gone in but actually didn’t.
            When you have those the specific effect usually goes away, and both the placebo and the treatment are better than nothing because having someone care about you as a person and do something to try to make you feel better for an hour is always better than nothing.

        3. Observer*

          It actually turns out that some studies do show benefits to acupuncture in some situations. It turns out that tightly controlled double blind / lab studies, which are the gold standard have serious limitations. So, the fact that something wasn’t found to be unequivocally helpful is such trials doesn’t mean that is definitively not helpful for anyone. It means we just don’t know.

          1. Amy The Rev*

            This ^^ there are many phenomena in the world that we knew nothing about until someone theorized what it was and developed a method to observe/detect it. Before germ theory became accepted in the late 1800s, smallpox vaccinations were used widely in europe even though no one really knew how/why it worked, and similar treatments had been used in India since 1000CE.

            I’m not saying the following to promote acupuncture/naturopathy/etc as legitimate, but to gently put forward the idea that history has shown that, like early smallpox vaccines, if it were legitimate, it could very well be possible that we just haven’t developed the technology to be able to measure how exactly it works. It’s important to be able to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know, and not to assume that science/technology has advanced as far as it is going to, thus meaning that anything that current technology can’t explain is inherently quacky.

          2. Honeybee*

            It means there’s no scientific evidence for a specific proposed treatment being effective on scientific merit. The thing that many studies have shown is that people do feel better after acupuncture…but they feel just as good when they have a sham treatment that *feels* like acupuncture. In other words, the important part of the “treatment” is going to someone who cares about you and feeling like you are doing something. There aren’t any studies that show evidence that acupuncture works better than placebo.

            Also, what “serious limitations” do tightly-controlled double-blind studies have?

            1. Observer*

              They often “control out” important information.

              Some examples:

              We have inadequate information on the potential effects of many medications on women, because the studies only used male subjects (because it’s too hard to separate out the effect of gender in smaller studies.) It’s such a big problem that now Federally funded studies are REQUIRED to include women, but many researchers hate the requirement and privately funded studies often still do only men.

              Double blind lab studies of deworming medications indicate that there is no benefit to giving children who haven’t been diagnosed with worms de-worming medication. Statistical studies in areas where intestinal worms are a common problem show significantly different results. The main difference seems to be that the lab studies have no way to deal with children who may have worms but have never been diagnosed.

              Some lab studies indicated that calorie restriction can be a good way to improve health. It turns out that the study was so tightly controlled for calorie intake that they forgot to deal with interplay with environment and mode of intake. Essentially, the original studies all basically put a bunch of monkeys in a pair of cages, gave them all whatever nutrients were deemed necessary in a concentrated solution at the beginning of the day, and then differentiate by giving one group a strictly rationed measure of glucose mush, while the other group was able to take as much glucose mush as they wanted. The results were not good for the unlimited group. When another lab stopped controlling so hard for calories and provided calories and nutrition in the kind of food normal monkey actually eat, in a an environment that more closely mirrors their habitat, the unrestricted monkeys did much better.

              Studies on addition in rats showed a similar pattern.

              Problems with Vioxx didn’t show up until it was out in the field for several years and a wide enough variety of people started taking it. The problems were serious enough that the product got pulled.

              1. Observer*

                I don’t want to imply that controlled double blind studies are not valuable. But, it’s important to realize that by their nature, they have some limitations. That’s true of any research tool, of course, but with most others, people tend to be more cognizant of the limitations.

          1. SQL Coder Cat*

            While in China, I had the opportunity to see a veterinary practice that used acupuncture instead of medical anesthesia for most surgeries. They explained it didn’t work on every animal, but you would be able to tell if it wasn’t working when you tried to cut your first incision. I find it difficult to believe the placebo effect works on cats. Dogs, maybe, but not cats.

      6. Mike C.*

        Acupuncture is still bunk and is not an effective treatment on its own for just about anything I can find.

      7. Honeybee*

        The science on acupuncture is actually quite inconsistent, which no concrete evidence supporting acupuncture as an effective treatment for anything. Studies comparing acupuncture with sham acupuncture (non-penetrated needles or needles placed in non-important areas) shows that acupuncture is not different from placebo, and that any ‘effect’ it has is simply because people believe it works and so they feel better afterwards. Which, you know, is not to be trifled with – the placebo effect can be a powerful tool. But there’s no evidence whatsoever that the mechanisms that are used to explain acupuncture have a basis in science.

    6. Edith*

      My teeny tiny quibble would be the assertion that all MDs have B.Ss. My fantastic and highly competent MD, for example, got her undergraduate degree in public relations.

      But yeah, any doctor who would recommend homeopathic medicine is not fit to practice medicine at all. And no way should homeopathic accommodations outrank legitimate medical accommodations.

      1. LK*

        Totally, there are exceptions, but in Canada at least, there are required courses to take in your undergrad (biochem etc) if you want to go to medical school – so even if it’s only 4-6 courses, they DO have a basic scientific background pre med school….. even if they have a BA, they still had to max out their breadth requirements with 2nd year or higher science courses.

        1. PollyQ*

          Yes, American pre-meds can major in whatever they want, but they’ll definitely need to take a bunch of undergraduate science classes on order to get accepted to med school.

          1. Cordelia Naismith*

            Yes — American pre-med students need a bachelor’s degree to get into med school, but it doesn’t have to be a BS; a BA will work just fine…as long as the student has taken the preprequisite courses needed for medical school (one year of biology, one year of general chemistry, one year of organic chemistry, and one year of physics for most schools, although some med schools have additional requirements like calculus and/or statistics, and I don’t let any of my pre-med students take the MCAT without having also taken a semester of biochemistry. I also highly recommend a semester each of psychology and physiology). Depending on their major and how much AP credit they earn in high school, it could easily take pre-med BA students an extra semester or two to graduate because of all the extra science classes they need.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              American pre-med students need a bachelor’s degree to get into med school

              Has that always been the case? I remember reading about convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald being kind of disappointed that he never actually got his undergrad degree before going to medical school. (Assuming that was true.)

              1. Rainy, PI*

                Six-year med schools eject you at the end with a bachelor’s that you have earned whilst working on your MD.

              2. Cordelia Naismith*

                Like Rainy, PI said, there are some programs that you can apply to right out of high school that will give you both a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree in six or seven years. I don’t know if historically you’ve always had to have a bachelor’s degree to get into med school. Maybe not! I know you don’t necessarily need one for other health professions schools, like dentistry or pharmacy — some dental schools require a bachelor’s degree, but some only require a certain number of undergraduate credits (for example, 90 credits, which would be approximately three years of school).

              3. HannahS*

                It used to be you could apply to medical school (the four-year kind) in your second or third year of undergrad. Now, you can apply sometimes in the third year, but usually you have to have completed a four-year by the time you would start.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s not really your undergrad degree that matters, but at least in the U.S., you are required to take core science coursework in order to even be eligible to apply to medical programs. So we can assume that, at a base level, M.D.’s have taken enough science coursework to have been able to major (it usually only takes 1-2 additional science courses for them to major).

      3. hermit crab*

        Going further off-topic here, but there are also institutions (e.g., liberal arts colleges) that only issue B.A.s, regardless of the subject! I graduated from a liberal arts college and hold a B.A. in geology. My husband holds a B.A. in physics. There were no B.S. options and our degrees are just as “scientific” as other people’s; it’s just how the school decided to do things.

      4. KarenK*

        The smartest doctor I know majored in English. He currently heads a major research institute.

    7. The OG Anonsie*

      One thing I always point out when people when homeopathic stuff comes up is that some alt remedies are labeled “homeopathic” when they’re nothing of the sort. I put arnica gel on my joints and a lot of the brands say they are homeopathic when they contain 15% active ingredients. I think a lot of people sometimes refer to anything that falls into a traditional or alt medicine umbrella as homeopathic because they think it means herbal medicine and don’t know what it actually refers to.

      Also, when you have a lot of issues for which there are no allopathic solutions (or the available ones haven’t worked or whatever), a lot of it can be throwing crap at the wall and seeing what sticks, especially with ongoing chronic illnesses or long term treatment for something like cancer. Even the alleviation of a placebo affect can be relief you’re not getting otherwise. This in combination with the fact that people often make their own… Interpretations… Of the medical advice they’re given, some strong essential oil aromatherapy that her doctor told her to try for some symptom or another that made her feel better during some other treatment becomes the thing that made her / keeps her well.

      Of course people are just speculating where she got the idea from, it may have nothing to do with any doctor referring anything. There are a lot of layers in the way people relate to their care and what their providers tell them and how they report that back to other people, though, so you never know where the game of telephone has curved around.

    8. J-nonymous*

      One quibble is that this description doesn’t seem to fit the definition of homeopathic (which gets thrown around by people a LOT when they mean natural remedy). Homeopathic is 100% pseudo-scientific garbage & bunk and if a medical doctor recommends its use, that doctor should lose their license.

      Natural remedies are a different matter and are sometimes recommended by MDs (in additional naturopaths and other practitioners). I presume the person Alison reached out to meant natural but said homeopathic.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I took her comment to mean “since actual MDs prescribe homeopathic remedies all the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they prescribe something like essential oils too.”

    9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m confused, though—what disability does employee #1 (a/k/a Smelly Oils Lady) have? Because it doesn’t sound like she currently has cancer or any other disability within the definition of the ADA, and it doesn’t sound like she’s been through the accommodation process. It sounds like she picked a “therapy” of her choice (I am loath to describe the use of essential oils, in this context, as therapeutic) and is now subjecting her coworkers to whatever unscientific and non-evidence-based therapy she comes up with.

      Either way, it doesn’t sound like she’s entitled to accommodation. But assuming OP doesn’t want to get into a match over whether Smelly Oils Lady is actually disabled, why not open up an accommodation process and go through this with her? If nothing else, it will clarify whether she’s entitled to this kind of accommodation (I strongly suspect she is not).

    10. Artemesia*

      And it is this kind of woo woo stuff inflicted on hapless bystanders that gives accommodation of disabilities a bad name. If the workplace is going to cater to this nonsense, they should have to provide a private office or large office where everyone who MUST be able to wear noxious smelly oils or other intrusive phony cures can be kept away from the rest of people trying to work.

      It is the same kind of abuse of a reasonable policy that has led to people bringing pets into every sort of environment by claiming they are service animals.

      Of course we want to accommodate disabilities so that people can work and move about in public; agreeing that someone can come to work wearing garlands of garlic and onions or smelly potions is an abuse of that policy.

      1. On Fire*

        You mean it’s not reasonable for me to wear my garlic necklace? But it’s the only thing that keeps the vampires away! And in case of the zombie apocalypse, I’m gonna bean ’em in the head with the onions.
        *ducks and runs, trailing noxious vapors*

    11. Christine*

      I’ve worked in offices that are “scent free” zones due to allergies & other medical conditions. I love cologne, can wear spicy ones no problem but get me in a room with someone wearing a floral my nose will be running a river and a migraine a coming.

      I would tell the essential oil wearer to not wear them at work until she brings something from her oncologist stating it’s part of her treatment … something along that line. 1 person’s comfort does not migrate everyone else’s. This is going be a pain in the rump situation to deal with.

    12. SystemsLady*

      “Multiple chemical sensitivities” also refers to something that’s a load of bunk, for the record (in fact, you see people recommending EOs all the time for just that thing)…but I know that isn’t what was meant.

      People can have asthmatic sensitivities to quite a lot of things – even “natural and pure” products. There’s some specific scent in a large subset of colognes and perfumes that really sets my asthma off. Lavender is not something my bronchi seem to be a huge fan of either.

    13. Gail Davidson-Durst*

      THANK YOU – exactly what I was thinking as I read. This really annoys me, as a skeptic and cancer survivor.

    14. Notsofast*

      I think the assumption that each accommodation be a specific doctor recommendation to qualify as an ADA accommodation is misplaced. The employee and the employer engage in the interactive process, NOT the employee, a doctor, and the employer.

      First off, diseases like cancer are cripplingly expensive even with excellent insurance. Getting a doctor’s note with a specific recommendation for each discussion is not reasonable. And who gives me a note saying I need schedule flexibility for second opinions? The first Medical Oncologist I visit? The second? I have four *Oncologists* alone.

      Secondly, assuming that only a doctor would know their needs, better than the patient herself, is patronizing. Do I need a doctor’s note to suggest 20 minutes between meetings because I can no longer walk as fast as I used to due to my withered leg? Am I no longer a voice in my own life?

      Thirdly, what if the first suggested accommodation doesn’t work out? Are we back to consulting a doctor for ideas 2-4?

      I could go on…

      Source: have cancer.

      1. Mike C.*

        But the things you mention are well within the realm of things that have been studied, tested and supported by repeated experimentation. Alternative medicine has not.

        1. Notsofast*

          I was making the point that the actual accommodations do not have have to be proposed by a doctor; some people reading this are in a position to make that mistake, and it will be their takeaway.

      2. jordanjay29*

        My experience with most “doctor’s notes” is that I tell them what accommodations I need for my hearing loss and they back it up with their medical experience and signature. If there was something my doctor disagreed with in my accommodations, I would expect they wouldn’t agree to sign the note. Like if I said I needed large print documents because I’m hard of hearing, they’d just laugh at me.

        I suppose you could find a quack doctor who would approve it anyway. So I dunno, ADA accommodations are definitely built on trust in the system, and not people abusing it for their own purposes. They’re there to help people like you and me, and not to cause others undue injury.

  2. Leatherwings*

    I’d be pretty pissed if I had to go through the process of requesting an accommodation because my coworker buys into some bunk science, so that sucks. But also seems like the best and most fair option.

    1. Emi.*

      Especially if considering the mess that would result if employers got into the business of evaluating accommodations based on how effective they thought the employees’ treatments are. What if an essential oils company said they wouldn’t make accommodations for chemo? Let’s just not open that can of worms.

        1. Leatherwings*

          But it’s not really up to employers to evaluate that (and scarily some employers might evaluate that differently than others). If a doctor provides a note, it’s the most fair and most reasonable principle to proceed with an accommodation from there.

          1. Fiennes*

            Agreed. Suppose you get into a clinical trial, but your company won’t work around the drug’s symptoms and/or delivery needs bc the drug “isn’t scientifically proven yet.” That would be disastrous. As long as it’s a licensed professional prescribing/making the recommendation, a workplace has to go with that.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              All the workplace has to do is say, “no, we can’t accommodate the fragrances as others are getting sick from the fragrances.” It’s reasonable accommodation not UNreasonable accommodation. It’s not reasonable to think the employer can “make” the other employees “non-allergic”.

              1. fposte*

                It’s not necessarily that simple, though. Assuming they have the paperwork and this is still covered by the ADA (both of which are unclear), they probably need to try to accommodate both sets of needs first. That can mean Oily Lady has her own office in a corner next to people who aren’t allergic to her stuff, or Allergic Co-workers get offices with special extra filters, or whatever. I think it’s easy to feel like that’s the right call because of this particular situation, but you can’t make co-workers non-allergic to a guide dog, either, but you’re not going to tell somebody they can’t bring their guide dog in because of somebody else’s allergies.

              2. Notsofast*

                No, That is most certainly not all they have to do. The employer has to work with the employee to try to find a solution, not a *specific* solution. This goes back to the doctor doesn’t propose the solution. A full stop nope will cost them a lot in court if the employee sues unless the employer can show in good faith that they tried and it was not possible.

          2. KellyK*

            Exactly! Bob from HR doesn’t have any qualifications to make that decision. It might *just so happen* that Bob has a master’s in biology and actually knows his stuff, but that’s not a given. What’s medically necessary is up to the doctor to determine, and what course of treatment they’re comfortable with is up to the patient.

        2. Emi.*

          That’s not what I mean. I mean that since there are clearly lots of people who are very bad at determining what’s a real or a good medical treatment, and some of those people employ other people who need medical treatment, it would turn out badly if employers got into the business of deciding which of their employees’ medical treatments were real. Sometimes it would mean Fergus saying “We’re not going to accommodate your EOs, because that’s stupid,” but sometimes it would mean Wakeen saying “We’re not going to accommodate your chemo, because that’s stupid.”

          If employers want to require a doctor’s note, fine, insofar as that’s ADA-compliant, but they shouldn’t go around determining which doctors and which notes are valid, because some of them are going to be really bad at it. (Also it’s rude and invasive.)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Just addressing the part about employers telling someone what treatments they can have.This is a very real thing. I had an employer tell me that my doc was “not good enough” a doctor to provide me with a medical note. I lived in terror that I had to go to yet another doctor and pay out of pocket just to appease my boss.
        I deeply, deeply resent being told who I cannot and cannot see. I don’t think it is any of the company’s business. (No, I was insured by my husband’s company not mine. And I as paying out of pocket for my own visits because we had not hit the deductible yet. We had no coverage for scripts and my scripts were averaging $200 per week. One more medical bill would have broke the bank. For me to go into financial chaos just to appease a boss, had me outraged on top of being sick.)

        But that said, I would not use essential oils at work. So that would not be a treatment program for me if I wished to remain working.

        1. Senator Meathooks*

          Regardless, it wouldn’t matter what you’re being treated for if the accommodations your employer has to make for you are unreasonable.

        2. Transformer*

          If our company makes a request for a note or for a medical form, they will pay the associated co-pay… maybe other companies have this as well?

          1. KellyK*

            I don’t think it’s that common, but good for your company for doing the right thing. If it’s something required by the company, the company should pay for it. (Alternately, they could have you wait until your next regular appointment so you’re not out any extra, but if they need the paperwork to give you a sick day, allow an accommodation, or let you come back to work, they should cover it.)

  3. Solite*

    Sometimes you can’t actually come to a solution that works for two employees. In those cases, you have to make a hard decision.

    I have a condition where the mask or filter would have zero effect. I’d have to be totally isolated with zero contact with the other employee. The inflammation –> throat closing –> death from suffocation reaction is that severe. Before anyone pipes in – it is not psychosomatic. It’s been tested by multiple doctors who blindfolded me so that I could not know if I was being exposed. It’s a living hell I would not wish on anyone.

    I had to leave corporate America and I work for myself in my own office that I can control (at a significant pay and prestige cut). I was very, very good at my former job, but there were people who would not stop doing things they knew would trigger my reaction (even after being repeatedly warned). These were reactions to things that could have killed me where the offenders could easily avoid the triggers (e.g., don’t put that scented candle at your desk, don’t spray your perfume on in the common bathroom, don’t cook X in the common lunch room). My bosses were willing to go to bat for me and even fire offenders. I was not willing to go through that – particularly the ostracization it would have caused.

    Sometimes it is a zero sum game. And people are jerks about it.

    1. Accounting Is Fun*

      My sympathies to you Solite. You’ve been placed in an impossible situation. I’m only moderately scent sensitive (perfumes & oils cause migraines, but not anaphylaxis, which is what it sounds like you have), so I can’t imagine what you must suffer – even just going out in public can be problematic because of over-perfumed people. I have also asked of my colleagues to avoid perfumes and scented candles. The scented candle thing works well, but the rest is hit or miss. I have the option of working from home for certain parts of the day, but for those times when it isn’t possible, it can be awful to suffer this. What frustrates me, as I’m sure it frustrates you, are those that don’t believe that you can have those kinds of reactions to their perfumes and refuse to not over-dose on their “signature” scent since they don’t smell it on themselves.

      1. Temperance*

        I hate those people. Or smokers who think that anyone who is triggered by smoke is an oversensitive liar. No one wants to have asthma. It’s a life ruiner.

        1. midlife crisis*

          it’s the smoker’s that don’t think the scent lingers that drive me nuts.
          I can tell if you went outside & had a smoke, I can smell it in the elevator even after you left, I can’t sit near you in a meeting because I can still smell it…
          I had a casual smoker I worked with that would enter into the office above me (they were connected by an open stairwell) and I could tell whenever she came in without a work being said.

          I test drove a car and had to go back after about 2 mins because the smoke scent was so bad.

          1. Temperance*

            My MIL’s boyfriend actually believes that there are no health consequences for smoking, and that anyone who claims to be allergic is lying. I mean, he’s clearly stupid, but he’s not the only one.

            There are a few people in my office who have hardcore smoke smell, and you can tell. The worst offenders smoke and then apply perfume, so it’s like a double slap in the face.

            1. brightstar*

              My Mom used to say about people like that: “It’s amazing that their feet can find the floor in the morning.”

          2. Chinook*

            Oh yeah, lingering second hand smoke is real. I lived with my grandmother in university and she only smoked outside on her balcony (she didn’t want to lose the “new condo smell”) and never around me but my clothes still stank of cigarette smoke. It wasn’t as bad as if I was the one smoking, but it was there.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              When my grandparents passed they had not smoked in the house for over 10 years. The stale smoke smell was still EVERYWHERE. Opening books was like lighting an entire carton of cigarettes.

          3. Callie*

            My colleauge two offices down smokes constantly (not in his office, he goes outside). However, his clothes reek of it, and now his office does even though he doesn’t smoke in or near it. Even if his door is closed and he’s not there, there’s a smell that lingers that is obvious just walking past his CLOSED DOOR.

        2. SystemsLady*

          Totally agree, ugh. My bronchi seriously do close up on the slightest exposure to the scent of cigarettes (I’ve even noticed my asthma acting up only to discover the cause being a room next door that smelled like cigarettes!)

          And it also annoys me there’s a woo-itis out there around nebulous “chemicals” that has been used to discount what people with allergies and asthma are going through.

          (Not to mention the woo-itis causes legit symptoms, they’d just be treated way differently)

        3. jordanjay29*

          Have asthma, will asphyxiate. I cannot, absolutely cannot stand the lingering smoke scent. It makes me automatically not like a person, and I find that sad because so many people I would otherwise like I have to shun for being too smelly to be around.

          I honestly loved it, or rather my nose did, when vaping became the new fad. Especially as more places are recognizing that vaping is just as obnoxious as smoking and forcing them to go outside with the rest of the tobacco users. But at least the water vapor doesn’t have the same stink as burning nicotine. It’s still a disgusting habit, I don’t want you blowing your vapor in my face, but you can vape to your heart’s content and then stand within a normal distance from me without objection.

      2. Solite*

        It’s also not every scent. But it’s like a game of Russian Roulette. It may be 1 in 100 that will cause severe anaphylaxis…but I don’t want to take that risk.

        Amazon is my friend. I can’t go to department stores.

        I can go out in public (and do daily), but have to avoid enclosed spaces where I can’t get out quickly and sit on the aisles on planes and in theaters.

        I once almost got arrested at Heathrow b/c the idiots on Delta moved my seat choice and gave my premium business class seat to a frequent flyer. I was moved to a less desirable seat in business class. I had to call the US office and threaten to sue b/c I booked that specific seat 6 months in advance and paid for it b/c I needed an aisle seat as far away from everyone else as possible. Fortunately for me, the person in the US who I got on the line had a sibling with severe asthma.

        It just kills me that when I do everything I can to protect myself, I’m still at the mercy of everyone else.

        One thing this has taught me is that humans need to be taught rational thought and empathy from a very young age. It’s not natural.

        But I do think it’s made me a better person b/c I try and treat people with a lot more care.

        1. SystemsLady*

          I feel for you, there’s a similar element in random perfumes that triggers an asthmatic response in me such that I can hardly be in the same room (it’s way worse than what I get for ragweed or cigarettes).

          But I’m lucky it’s nowhere near what you have to go through!

        2. JustaTech*

          That’s awful. And you would think that the airlines would be more careful of things like that, since a medical emergency can cause a plane to be diverted and that can cost the company millions.
          (I was once on a flight where before we even boarded they asked all the passengers to eat or throw away their nuts right now because they couldn’t have them on the flight because someone had an allergy. The person next to me said “why does it matter?” and I said “Because we could end up having to land in Montana because someone died.” “I had no idea!”)

      3. Roscoe*

        I think we have had this conversation before. I think there are certain reasonable requests and certain unreasonable ones. For example, its perfectly fine to ask me to not wear cologne in the office. Its not ok to expect me to buy scent free deodorant and things because of your sensitivities, since that stuff usually is more expensive

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t think that’s what Solite is requesting/suggesting, and I don’t think it’s worth derailing to pursue a line of argumentation that isn’t really in play.

        2. Observer*

          Solite didn’t suggest anything like that. For instance, she asked people not to use scented candles in the office. How hard is that?!

        3. Blurgle*

          It’s not a “sensitivity”. It’s a medical emergency. Dont downplay other people’s medical issues. Gah.

      4. Blurgle*

        They think “you don’t like it” and they quadruple down on the need to convince you it’s “nice”.

    2. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious*

      Wow, Solite, this sounds so difficult. I hope the rest of your life turns out really satisfying to offset what you gave up when you left corporate America.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Oh wow. I have a friend with a similar illness (but probably less severe) and her goddamn PARENTS refuse to believe her and it drives me batty that no one takes her seriously.

      1. Solite*

        The most difficult thing I face is that I’m not at all allergic to pollen, cat dander, etc. In other words, the common things people are allergic to are perfectly ok for me. So people think “you can’t really be allergic to this scent if you are ok with these other things.” It’s infuriating.

        My mother-in-law purposefully washed my clothes in heavily-scented detergent one time b/c she didn’t believe me. I had to go to the hospital and get an epi-shot and then wear cream on my nether regions for two weeks. DH told her if she ever pulled anything like that again, she’d never see her grandchildren again.

        This is why it infuriates me when people do the “I can’t eat X” when they really can. It leads to people thinking everyone is making it up. That being said, I treat people as if it’s 100% true even if I think “yes, you can eat gluten/dairy/etc.” b/c it’s not up to me to police their choices.

        1. Camellia*

          Oh, those MILs! Have you heard of ‘concomitant foods’? These are foods that exacerbate allergies. I learned about them them my daughter had to take allergy shots for ragweed. Melons are a concomitant food for ragweed allergy. My former MIL’s favorite summer dessert was cantaloupe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Knowing this, I bought frozen pudding pops to send with her when she visited the in-laws for a weekend, and wrote a letter that explained exactly what she could not eat and why. When they brought her back on Sunday she said, “Guess what I ate?” and MIL said, “Well, I couldn’t give it to the other grandkids and not give it to her!”.

          So on Monday when the nurse gave her the allergy shot she immediately went into severe allergy reaction. The first words out of the nurse’s mouth were, “What did you eat this weekend?!?!”

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Seriously, this borders on child abuse. My grandmother is the same way (I have a food allergy, and it is not good), and it drives me out of my mind. Is it truly worth poisoning or killing your grandchild simply because you don’t believe in basic medicine?

            /end rant

          2. Damn it, Hardison!*

            Oh, that’s awful! I have issues with most fruits during allergy season; I’m pretty much reduced to grapes for 4 months out of the year, even when I’m on daily allergy medicine. I lucked out with my MIL – when we visit in the spring/summer she always has grapes for me and doesn’t make anything with fruit.

          3. Rachel*

            I was lucky with mine. I developed a slight allergy to melon only after eating way too many to-be-trashed/free-at-the-end-of-the-day melon cups at the cafe I worked at. It just causes an unpleasant tingling in my mouth, no other symptoms that I remember, but the doctor said it was common in hayfever sufferers (and mine is year-round rhinitis). So I just avoid it, and eat anything I can that’s melon-flavoured, cos it’s only the fresh fruit that does it!

          4. Parenthetically*

            Ragweed allergy here, and I once darn near anaphylaxed myself eating a HUGE bowl of the most delicious watermelon I’ve ever seen or tasted, bought for a pretty penny at the farmer’s market, chilled just so… it was glorious. And then I was up all night struggling mightily to breathe, wondering if I should call an ambulance. I took 3 benadryl and was fine the next day. …and that’s how I learned about coreactive allergies.

        2. Cordelia Naismith*

          I don’t understand why people do stuff like that. Even if, for some bizarre reason, you were lying about your allergies, why does it matter so much to them that they do things like this to prove you wrong? Especially when the consequences when it turns out the person really is allergic are so potentially severe! A minor inconvenience like buying a different brand of detergent is not more significant than somebody’s life.

          1. fposte*

            The thing is, and I’m not for a moment devaluing Solite’s health here, buying different brands of stuff can be more than a minor inconvenience. Unscented stuff costs more and can be hard to find, and it can be a significant financial ding to have to use it, which is tough in a household already having trouble making ends meet that’s essentially just gotten a pay cut as a result. This is an example of what I was talking about upthread, how it can be an absolutely valid accommodation and still hurt your colleagues.

            1. caryatis*

              Yes, Solite was right to call it a zero sum game. It’s a lot to ask of people to never use anything scented (detergent, deodorant, sunscreen, makeup) and not to bring certain foods for lunch. Someone with allergies that severe should probably just be working from home.

            2. Cordelia Naismith*

              Yes, true, but in that case the solution is to tell the allergic person that and try to work out some other option, not to just ignore their allergy and proceed like it doesn’t exist.

              Not buying a special, allergen-free item because you don’t have the money for it, I understand. I can see how that might cause friction in a relationship, but hopefully it’s something people could work through and come to some alternate solution. But trying to catch somebody in a lie by deliberately exposing them to an allergen — especially when they’ve told you their allergy is potentially life-threatening — is just malicious, and I don’t understand why people do it.

              1. fposte*

                No argument there. There was somebody who posted here about a year ago who wore a mask to minimize her exposure, and colleagues sprayed perfume in it. People can just suck sometimes.

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  !!! Somehow I missed that one. That is outrageous, and I agree with On Fire that that sounds like a prosecutable poisoning attempt.

              2. Liane*

                Apparently pulling #$%^ like that on people with severe allergies is A Thing. It’s come up in several posts here. Including the Infamous Employee Is Threatening to Put Curses on Coworkers. Several commenters on that post warned the OP the threatening report might put something into food or drink. One of them mentioned a damnfool telling her she would sneak peanuts into her food to prove she wasn’t allergic. A cop overheard, told DF they could be arrested and asked the commenter if she wanted to press charges of assault.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Someone at work threatened to spike my diabetic husband’s drink. I said, “After he gets out the hospital we will be filing a police report AND a civil claim for damages.”

                  That shut that one down. And it made me want to go to that party even less than I already did.

        3. Cookie*

          And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss people with gluten/lactose intolerances because they’re not true allergic reactions. These people will have bowel problems that may not be immediately visible the way hives or anaphylaxis is. Just because you’re not allergic, that doesn’t mean you can eat certain things.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think Solite is referring to people who have no medical barrier to eating a food they don’t like. So we’re not talking about folks with celiac disease or a dairy/lactose intolerance.

            I’m sympathetic to this line of argument—I have a food allergy, and I am constantly grilled by waiters who think I’m lying because there are so many people who represent their food preferences as food allergies in order to force the kitchen to make something in an off-menu style. All my friends with celiacs, etc., have the same experience. It isn’t helpful for people without a medical impairment to represent themselves as being allergic to certain foods because it makes it that much more difficult for people with real, diagnosed food sensitivities from being able to access the food they need.

            1. On Fire*

              That was how I understood Solite’s comment – people who are simply following the “fad” of the moment and declaring themselves to be X-food free, when it is a preference rather than a need.

              I’m sensitive to raw onions – they cause gastro unpleasantness and discomfort – and I always ask for “no onions” on burgers/sandwiches. But I would never declare that “I can’t eat onions” or say I’m allergic. Because I *can* eat them, and I don’t want to make life harder for the person who is actually allergic. (Even slightly cooked, they’re fine – the heat destroys whatever chemical causes my personal discomfort.)

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                I actually gave my mother a stiff lecture when she tried to tell a waiter that I’m allergic to tomatoes — even though if I get a chunk of tomato in my mouth, I’ll probably hurl! Still not allergic.

                1. GH in SOCal*

                  Yeah, I try to be careful about phrasing around my dietary needs, too. I have an inflammatory reaction to dairy. I’m also allergic — swelling, itching, etc. — to a couple of things that are usually visible and thus easy to avoid. But none of them will put me in the hospital. I don’t need the kitchen scrubbed down. So I use the phrase, “I’m avoiding dairy” in restaurants, and they help me choose items free of cream and butter, and I don’t make things harder for people with severe allergies.

                2. blackcat*

                  Ha, this is why I never mention my allergy to bananas. It’s a real allergy (I test positive), but I’ve never had a severe reaction. The one time I ate an entire banana (as a child) my mouth got itchy and I felt pretty sick. I’ve had some accidental exposure since then, and it’s never been bad–I just get a bit itchy! So I generally don’t mention it to people. I want to make sure people take my serious allergies seriously, so I don’t mention the mild one.

                3. JessaB*

                  Black cat please be careful. Minor allergies can suddenly change over with no warning. Mr B was on an antibiotic he’d taken many times before and ended up spending two days in hospital because of a horrendous reaction the last time he took it. It got that bad because he went to ER and they treated him for non specific allergy, came back home and because nobody had any idea the meds were causing it, he took another dose and it flattened him. Rash ALL over, trouble breathing, the works. Yet he’d had that drug many, many times in the past.

              2. Alton*

                To be fair, if someone really does have a severe reaction to something, I don’t necessarily blame them for saying they’re allergic to simplify things. There’s a difference between a food that makes you a little for example, and something that might send you to the hospital with severe bowel distress, and I can get why “allergy” is less awkward than explaining your symptoms.

                It’s kind of a shame that “allergy” has come to mean “severe” all on its own. I feel guilty saying I’m allergic to perfumes, even though it’s true, because my reactions are just things like sneezing and hives, not anything life threatening.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Black tea and hot dogs make me dump my stomach out my stomach contents volcanicly. I totally get someone in that situation saying they are allergic, it’s a quick way to describe “fast, violent reaction.” In a more formal setting I do not like to say what happens when I drink tea. I usually end up saying, “I don’t make out very well with black teas.” People tend to not want to know what happens next.

                2. FiveWheels*

                  Yeah, I’m sensitive to a specific foodstuff such causes a sudden drop in blood pressure if I swallow it, and (depending on quantity) can make me unwell for several days.

                  As far as I know it isn’t an allergy as there is no autoimmune involvement, but I say I’m allergic because it’s quicker and more likely to beef believed than “I have an unpleasant reaction which will cause me to collapse, faint, vomit, or all of the above”

                3. Chameleon*

                  @NotSoNewReader: I imagine a dish of Black Tea and Hot Dogs would make most people’s stomachs react violently.

                  (I know you mean separately ;)

                4. jordanjay29*

                  Not So NewReader, I feel horrible reading that as I’m drinking a cup of black tea right now! I’d probably die without it, as I can’t stand coffee. I can kind of understand it given the astringency, but it’s still pretty surprising to read it. Thanks for sharing and broadening my horizons.

                  Can you drink other teas? Coffee? Or is caffeine totally out?

              3. KellyK*

                I like how considerate you’re being here, but I think that “food that won’t make you sick” counts as a need, whether that sickness is an allergic reaction, gastro unpleasantness, or just a taste and texture aversion so severe that it actually makes you vomit. I don’t think you should say you’re allergic when you’re not, but it’s fine to say “Raw onions make me sick.”

                As a total digression, if someone has a serious intolerance that isn’t an allergic reaction, but still requires the same kind of care to avoid cross-contamination, if it’s easier for them to say they’re allergic than explain the details, I think that’s okay too.

                1. FormerLibrarian*

                  If I take a sulfa drug (or a sulfate) I spend hours with nausea and vomiting. When they gave me sulfate eye drops (because my chart merely said allergy to sulfa, and that’s not at all the same thing, is it) after three days of one drop each eye twice a day, I spent a very unpleasant night in the loo, with bleeding as the final stage. At the clinic the next morning they were actually testing me for salmonella. It took well over a YEAR for my intestines to recover from that.

                  Until less than 20 years ago, the only med you could get for an asthma nebulizer was albuterol sulfate. When I had pneumonia after three days of three doses a day, I couldn’t eat anything, even on a maximum dosage of compazine. Thankfully they’ve figured out that for many people an inhaler is just as effective as a nebulizer, and there are a few out there without sulfate (though they discontinued MaxAir which has me very sad; the breath activated inhaler mechanism was fantastic, and my kids could use it effectively without needing a spacer).

                  But I’ve been assured that it isn’t an allergy because I don’t get hives or have trouble breathing, it’s “just” a sensitivity. I asked the idiot pharmacist who was snidely lecturing me on that what I was supposed to tell medical staff since they don’t usually ask for sensitivities, nor are there spaces on forms for sensitivities most of the time either, and you really, really don’t want to give me these meds, not unless you’re going to personally pay my living expenses for the next few months while I recover.

                  So yes, I’m “allergic” to sulfa, sulfates, sulfites, thank you very much. :)

                2. jordanjay29*

                  How does a pharmacist (or even an MD) not know the chemical families of drugs by their suffix?

                  *sigh* Then again, my problem is with the NSAIDs, most of which end in pro(f/x)en, and a doctor who couldn’t tell Aleve (naproxen) from Ibuprofen in that context is one I’d quickly leave. And yet I’m still amazed how many times I have to explain to people working in that field that NSAIDs are damaging to my health. Most of them are nurses, though, but they still should familiarize themselves with drug reactions to some extent.

        4. eplawyer*

          God bless your DH. He took a hardline hitting a grandma where it hurts, but it had to be done.

          And your MIL is just mean. I might spray on some body scent ( trust me I do light, like one spritz) not realizing even that might affect you, but I wouldn’t go over board just to prove you were “faking” it.

        5. Bryce*

          One thanksgiving at a friend’s house, her mother spent an evening trying to convince me my nut allergy was psychosomatic, and then for the dinner they “accidentially” made both batches of stuffing with nuts instead of one without (in her defense it was a chaotic prep and different people made each batch. If not for the previous conversation I’d 100% believe it was an accident). A pox on all the “fixers” of the world.

          Also, a ton of sympathy for your perfumes issue. I have a similar one, nothing life-threatening but strong perfumes or cigarette odors give me a bad headache. Naturally, some people try to obscure the smoking odor with heavy perfumes, which is fun. As was standing in the pet supply aisle smelling cat litter because I could never remember which one both my cat and I could tolerate.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            Kitty litter packaging is the worst. They don’t make it obvious that it’s scented, and litter boxes tend to get put in bathrooms or utility rooms where there is no ventilation.

            I’m not allergic or even sensitive, but scents are a migraine trigger for my mom, so I find most scents annoying because I never built up any tolerance for it.

        6. Observer*

          Good for your husband for standing up for you. Did she have the decency to apologize? That just stinks!

        7. Jessen*

          Of course, part of the difficulty is “I can’t have X” is a really variable phrase. I can’t have red wine – as in, i can’t drink it without getting sick. But the reaction isn’t life-threatening, and I can eat dishes cooked with red wine, or taste someone else’s red wine, without getting sick. The trigger point seems to be around a quarter to half a glass.

        8. Relly*

          I don’t have anything like what you have, but I can’t use most detergents, or I break out into hives. I don’t know if it’s a sensitive skin issue or an allergy or who knows. I just know the last time my husband changed detergents, he tried going to an “allergy-free” one … And I still had quarter-sized welts on my back.

      2. Anxa*

        I’m not sure what it says about me, but yeah I would have much more success convincing strangers or coworkers than my parent that I had a certain health issue.

        1. Venus Supreme*

          Yup– just last week at work I had an allergic reaction from cross-contaminated food. Coworkers were there for me and I called my mom (who lives near where I work) to pick me up/drive me in case my reaction got worse and I needed to go to the hospital. My mom told no, she wanted to go to lunch with her girlfriends, and told me to work through the Benadryl because “it’s not that drowsy” for her. So yeah, my new-ish coworkers were more sympathetic to my throat closing up than my mother was. And I feel like because it’s the allergy that people usually cry wolf about, my situation gets diminished.

          1. Bryce*

            Looks like I need to send my mom another e-hug. It’s only been in hindsight that I’ve realized how much effort she, teachers, and friends’ parents put into accommodating my allergy. And this was back in the 80s, when handling allergies was still a wild west of cross-contamination (though as you show it can still happen) and different business practices.

    4. Rainy, PI*

      I’m more grateful than ever for my excellent coworkers.

      When one of mine got an essential oil warmer for his office, I asked if he would please not get any oils or blends that contained X, Y, or Z, and he showed me what he had and asked if they were problems. And he’s stuck to it! My coworkers are really great about labelling food they bring for the office as to contents and possible cross-contamination as well. And nobody pushes you to eat stuff if you refuse!

    5. MsChanandlerBong*

      I’m so sorry you have such a severe reaction. I am scent-sensitive, for sure, and I sometimes feel as if my airway is closing up, but it hasn’t actually happened. I just cough, get a headache, and sometimes get sick to my stomach. I was in the ER the other night for chest pain, and they put me in a room that had been just been cleaned with bleach. I was coughing up a lung the entire time I was there (they gave me a mask, but it didn’t help–it was just a medical mask, not a mask with a filter or anything). I can’t imagine having a more severe reaction.

    6. Honeybee*

      I have a question, and I hope it’s okay to ask this (please ignore or let me know if it’s not). There’s a building on my company’s campus that has an employee in it who cannot be exposed to any scents or chemicals because of their own health conditions. I totally respect this – obviously someone’s health trumps my desire to smell nice. I only occasionally have to go into this building, but often it’s unexpected. I don’t usually wear perfume to work, but I do use scented soaps and lotions. The building is rather large and I do not know where this employee sits in the building.

      I know that every person’s health condition is different and you can’t necessarily speak to this employee’s condition, but on a general level, how dangerous could it be for me to even enter the building if I know I used a scented soap or perfume that day, particularly if I am only staying on the first floor or front part of the building? Usually I try to avoid going there at all if I can help it, but occasionally I need to. There are situations, though, where I could potentially use interoffice mail or Skype into a meeting instead of going there and putting someone at risk. Thoughts?

  4. Amber T*

    Does it matter if there’s a difference between what a doctor WOULD recommend (as in, the coworker in question didn’t go to a doctor but read doctor things on the internet) versus what a doctor DID recommend (which I guess would require proof of a doctor’s visit?)? Not questioning homeopathic versus nonhomeopathic, but whether or not a visit to the doctor (and proof) is required for an ADA accommodation?

    1. LSP*

      This is my question as well. If OP and the other affected co-workers all got doctor’s notes asking for accommodations, but the woman wearing the oil had no such letter, would a company be within their rights to ask her to stop wearing the oils until she was able to produce such a note?

      1. LK*

        best solution thus far IMO
        Also, as a Canadian who doesn’t work under the ADA system’s jurisdiction, would a naturopathic doctor (Not an MD or GP, but in a grey area medically)’s note count?

    2. BethRA*

      I thook this” The employer has to engage in the interactive process with the employee and her doctor…” to mean that it does matter if a medical professional recommends the treatment/accommodation.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        That’s almost meaningless, though, since the employee can doctor-shop around looking for one who will either sign off on pretty much anything or believes in the same nonsense that the employee does (all too prevalent in the Pacific Northwest where I’m at). Even if 99 real doctors would disagree, it only takes one quack to verify something like essential oils curing cancer and now the employer has to accommodate.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          My friend ran into what she called “company doctors”. These were docs that would say anything that would work out to beneficial to the company. I said, “Time to job hunt.”
          I can’t be bothered fighting that hard for a job. In my mind once the current argument was over, there would only be another argument later. I don’t want to live life on that plane.

        2. Observer*

          Not entirely. The company has to TRY to to accommodate. If it’s going to cost them lots of money and a bunch of people quitting their jobs, that’s not a “reasonable” accommodation.

      2. Liane*

        Alison, what if the OP &/or other coworkers do go the route of the formal interactive process, and it turns out Ms. Essential never started it for use of her oils? Is that something that could be a problem for the company?
        That is, Ms. Essential told HR/Boss, “I need to wear this all day/every day to keep the cancer from coming back. Because ADA!!” and they just said, “Well, okay. Do that” instead of “Let’s get things underway, here’s the forms for you and your doctor.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s not a legal issue for the company — they can make accommodations for people outside the formal ADA process. But if they refused to accommodate others with legitimate accommodation needs, that would be an issue.

    3. Antilles*

      If it legally gets into the ADA accommodation, there is certainly a difference between an actual recommendation from a board-certified doctor and just “something I saw on the internet”*. Particularly in a case like this where employees have conflicting needs and co-worker is throwing around “reasonable accommodation under the ADA”, this is a case where you need to hold firmly to the letter of the law.
      *Note: Websites with medical advice usually have an explicit disclaimer somewhere that says “Not a substitute for a personal medical plan from your doctor” or “For informational purposes only” or “This is not a diagnosis” or whatever. So these don’t count.

    4. Jeanne*

      Yes. It sounds like there is no ADA request from a real doctor. She “believes” they cured her cancer and she throws around words like accomodation. The company is not doing what it should here. You don’t get accomodations by just saying you want them if it is hurting others. You have to prove it or stop wearing the oils to work.

  5. Silver Cormorant*

    Ugh. This reminds me of a coworker I had once who kept a jar of tiger balm on his desk and used it regularly throughout the day, so the whole area stank. I think he said it was because his muscles were really sore all the time from his workouts at the gym, but that didn’t make it easier for me to deal with the smell, even though I wasn’t personally allergic to it.

    1. MadGrad*

      At least tiger balm does provide some physical relief, though (menthol-like cooling for a bit, not anything medical of course). Essential oils for cancer don’t even do that.

      Disclaimer: I use tiger balm for migrains. It takes the edge off until pills kick in!

      1. Sutemi*

        One of the active ingredients in tiger balm is capsaicin, which actually is known by science to be a vasodilator. Tiger balm is over the counter and I’m not aware of it being tested in double blind, randomized clinical trials, but capsaicin does have a well known pharmacologic effects.

      2. Rainy, PI*

        I keep a tube of aspercreme at work because when my wrist arthritis is acting up, it really helps.

        But the only thing that takes the edge off my migraines is an ice-cold Coca Cola!

        1. JessaB*

          Caffeine is a help. Which is why OTC migraine and headache preparations like Excedrine have caffeine in them. Gods know I self medicate with Pepsi myself. But there’s an actual medical reason why it works for you.

        2. Parenthetically*

          An icy-cold bottle of Mexican Coke is legitimate medicine and nothing anyone says can convince me otherwise.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah—I was going to say this. It’s similar to Arnica in that sense. They’re topical, OTC mixtures that have active ingredients that provide symptom relief, so they’re not “anti-medical” per se.

        1. MadGrad*

          Yeah, which I’d hope justifies its use a little more even if someone else finds it offputting. I tend to consider it on par with say, aloe for a sunburn? It’s not like a drug, but it’s not nothing and it feels nice.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        That’s how I feel about Vick’s Vapor-Rub–it’s deeply comforting, I think because it reminds me of being home sick from school as a kid.

        1. E, F and G*

          Deeply relaxing until you realize the cat likes the scent and wake up to it licking the Vapor-Rub off of you.

    2. The OG Anonsie*

      Yeah, knowing how much people hate it I don’t use it at work even though it would really help :/

    3. plain_jane*

      I went home with a migraine after a colleague used tiger balm. They didn’t do it again, nor did the person who used some kind of spray deodorant in the washroom, but that is because they were thoughtful adults.

        1. BethRA*

          I’m thinking “spray deodorant in the washroom ” is an air freshener? (or at least that the doedorant in a space other people used)

          1. Temperance*

            Spray deodorant is actually making a comeback. Spryaing that in an enclosed space that’s not a locker room or your own house is just so wrong.

            1. caryatis*

              Not sure if we’re talking about air freshener or personal deodorant, but I only use the spray kind as a personal deodorant. And without a private office, a bathroom is the only place where it’s appropriate for me to take off my shirt.

      1. NutellaNutterson*

        I bought some cheap non-spray deodorant, and nearly had to go home to shower because of the migraine I gave myself. If I knew what ingredient it was, I would be thrilled to avoid it. There doesn’t seem to be an efficient way to determine it.

  6. Susie*

    I sympathize OP. My cousin is a naturopathic oncologist who believes that essential oils cure cancer but that information is suppressed by big pharma and the government because profit. It’s exhausting to be around him and I barely have contact with him any more. Plus the smell of those oils is terrible, you are so right about that.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Why couldn’t cinnamon, or cocoa essential oil cure cancer instead of the stinky ones? It would be great if the smell of chocolate chip cookies cured everything.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          I never know if it has any scientific basis, but my facebook feed is full of people claiming that cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are good for you. It makes me feel vaguely virtuous when I make curry.

          1. Darlingpants*

            Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate here. Tumeric has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to kill cancer cells (although no idea about at what doses). Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar (although I haven’t read the primary literature on that and I’m not sure about doses again). Spices are generally pretty good for you, although I think to get any big effects you’d have to eat them in huge doses.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              A real fun study came across my desk a few years ago where they put curcumin in Vanicream and used it to treat cervical cancer lesions in mice. I’ve seen others for other kinds of lesions but that one was definitely the most interesting.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, there are loads of “folk remedies” that have demonstrable, and scientifically verifiable health benefits, but they haven’t been studied in the same manner as synthetic drug treatments. But turmeric, cinnamon and ginger are all generally good for you when eaten in moderate amounts.

            1. JessaB*

              Like peppermint, ginger is a great stomach soother. Hence people being given real ginger ale when they’re pregnant or otherwise sicking up.

              1. JustaTech*

                Ginger has been studied for morning sickness and for mild symptoms is relatively effective and safe (from a systematic review in JAMA in 2016).
                Now if only those ginger candies didn’t burn my mouth so much!

                1. JessaB*

                  Owww yeh ginger can also be very strong and somewhat spicy. That’s why I usually do Ginger Ale and if the carbonation is bothering your stomach, just let it go flat.

          3. Gadfly*

            Although to be the killjoy, it also means you have to watch drug interactions–cayenne at medicinal doses nearly killed my grandmother when combined with the dopamine agonist she was taking for Parkinson…

        2. Office Mercenary*

          I attended a seminar on stroke prevention/response taught by a nurse practitioner who works in a stroke specialist unit. She said cinnamon, turmeric and a few other spices do have anti-inflammatory properties in larger quantities (e.g. a teaspoon or more per day) and it’s mildly helpful to increase their use in an otherwise healthy diet. I see it as an excuse to eat too much Indian food without feeling guilty. :D

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That’s a bit of a red herring. No one’s suggesting you eat a teaspoon of ground cinnamon :P

        3. Paige Turner*

          I am allergic to cinnamon…cinnamon rolls smell so good but those cinnamon brooms and cinnamon pine cones at the grocery store every fall are the worst :(

        4. SusanIvanova*

          I had a coworker with a cinnamon allergy. Same team also had berry and peanut allergies. It made group treats tricky but not impossible.

      1. H.C.*

        Funny enough, I did some PR at my OldJob for their research into “superfoods” (including cinnamon) effect on cancer – though that involves isolating the individual chemical compounds and concentrating them by several orders, not merely rubbing aromatic oils or adding them to one’s diet.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      MSN linked to an article recently about some kind of health info and when I clicked on it, the slides were all coming from this naturopathic website. One of them said 70% of thyroid malfunctions are caused by a poor diet.

      Oh you should have seen the comment I left. >:(

      1. TL -*

        I actually one time did give myself hypothyroid symptoms because I had temporary cut out all processed foods for a particularly strict elimination diet and was using fancy salt (so no iodine.) About 2-3 weeks into the diet, I was unreasonably exhausted and started shedding hair.

        I was *so* freaked out – I thought the pharmacy had given me the wrong pills or my hypothyroid had suddenly dramatically worsened. Then I realized what I was cooking with, bought some Morton salt, and was completely better in a few days.


        1. JessaB*

          Yeh they put iodine in salt because at one point there was a huge uptick in goiters due to lack of it in diet. However, if you’re on thyroid meds I’d check with your doctor since it’s easier I’d think to titrate the dose of the meds and use non iodised salt than to hit or miss depending on how much salt you eat. At least my doctor does that but that’s because I rarely use salt in anything but potatoes or eggs. But that just shows how easy it is if you make small changes for things to go weird.

          1. TL -*

            Oh, this wasn’t a small change – it was a big change (I ate nothing that I didn’t prepare myself for 6 weeks then reintroduced) and it was also temporary. Unless you have a very unusual diet, if you’re American you get enough iodine in your diet (mostly because of the iodized salt). It was much easier and safer to buy iodized salt than it would’ve been to titrate my meds.

      2. Observer*

        That’s not as stupid as that sounds, actually. At one point, goiter was a far more common issue than it is today. One of the reasons for that change is that salt is generally iodized, so that it’s much less common to not get enough iodine in your diet.

        I’m well aware that not all thyroid problems are due to lack of iodine, and in some cases iodine can make things worse. So, don’t start stuffing yourself with iodine just because you have a thyroid problem.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, but that isn’t the case anymore–the way they worded it, it implied that if you were eating too many processed foods it would give you thyroid issues. Even if you didn’t, it’s irresponsible to make a claim like that, because it doesn’t encourage people to seek a medical reason for their symptoms. It wasn’t the only thing on their website that gave me an eye twitch.

    3. Temperance*

      Wait … did he actually go to medical school and do a residency and then take a sharp right into quacktown?

      1. Susie*

        Not medical school, naturopathy school. He became an ‘ND’ or naturopathic doctor. Then he did a ‘residency’ and completed some training in naturopathic oncology.

          1. Darlingpants*

            Which I realize after re-reading your comment was exactly what you were pointing out. Oops, sorry.

          2. Manders*

            Weirdly, I actually have known surgeons who were great in their own field but bought into medical quackery outside of it. I used to work for an orthopedic surgeon who fell for just about every crackpot diet fad on the planet. He could piece together a shattered leg, but he couldn’t figure out whether or not diet advice was medically sound. He also once told me that the way to prevent ebola was to “quarantine all the planes from Africa.”

            1. Turanga Leela*

              I know a lot of doctors like this! I’m related to one who does clinical research, but doesn’t seem to read anything outside his field. I tried to talk to him about diet, and it was like a flashback to the 1990s—he insisted that sugar’s not that bad for you, and orange juice doesn’t count as sugar because “it’s fructose, not sucrose.”

              1. bridget*

                I have a relative who has been an RN in a neuro ICU unit of a respected hospital for decades, but is still pretty skeptical that allergies are real.

                1. FormerLibrarian*

                  When I worked on a Burn Trauma Unit, we had quite a few nurses who refused to get a flu shot because they just knew it would give them the flu.

            2. HannahS*

              Yep! I know a pharmacist who was adamant that a family member should stop taking the drug she’s been on for forty years treating ulcerative colitis and instead avoid microwaves.

              1. Mike C.*

                That stuff is even worse because physics is much more simple than the complex chemistry/biology that goes on inside the body. Does no one understand what that metal mesh on the door is for?

            3. SusanIvanova*

              There have been studies on that, it’s pretty common. They know they are an expert in one area, so it doesn’t occur to them that they might get things wrong in other areas.

            4. BananaPants*

              It’s not in their normal scope of practice.

              I know so many actual RNs, APRNs, and PAs – working in hospitals or for MDs/DOs – who are way into essential oil, homeopathy, amber necklace, chiropractic, and craniosacral therapy woo. Sort of frightening, really.

        1. Debbie Jellinsky*

          I 100% think anything he says today should be questioned, but Dr. Oz actually performed my friend’s heart transplant 18 years ago :)

          1. Anonymouse*

            20 years ago Ben Carson was my neurosurgeon. I definitely admire his skill as a neurosurgeon-wish he had never tried his hand in politics.

            1. Robbenmel*

              Dr. Carson operated on my husband’s brain, too! DH had a massive hemorrhagic stroke in March of 2002…coming up on his 15th re-birthday!

    4. Marni*

      Your cousin’s argument conflicts with itself even! If essential oils cured cancer, big pharma wouldn’t suppress that information, it would repackage them and make billions off of them! No way would they supress something that could make them money.

      1. drashizu*

        Fun fact, I pointed this out to someone once and they said “Smells like something a liberal yuppie would say” because apparently creating a huge conspiracy and getting the hundreds of thousands of medical professionals in the world to buy into it just to keep selling ineffective drugs is totally more reasonable. Uh-huh.

      2. Lora*

        Exactly. We have – tamoxifen, docetaxel and paclitaxel from Pacific yew trees, vincristine and vinblastine from Madagascar rosy periwinkle, topotecan from a plant called “happy tree” and etoposide from may apples. All are big $$$ for pharma.

        Also, Pfizer has 90,000 employees, Merck has 70,000, GSK has 96,000, Roche has 88,000. We all get cancer too, as do our families and friends. If there were a secret medicine in our screening libraries, we would have made some for ourselves. We get the same standard of care as anyone else with really great health insurance and access to big city hospitals.

        1. TL -*

          Heh. I’m analyzing data from etoposide treated cells right now (ish). I didn’t know they were from may apples!

          But – yeah, I work in biomedical research and with practicing clinicians and the big pharma/medical industry conspiracy theories are actually quite insulting and, frankly, hurtful when they come from someone who knows me.

          1. JustaTech*

            I feel the same way. I feel like ever time I go to a wedding some older person will come up and declare something vastly untrue about cancer and won’t take a gentle correction so I’m stuck taking abuse from someone else’s great aunt.

      3. eee*

        Yes! I always point this out. This “suppression” nonsense only makes sense if you think corporations are run by villains from kids tv shows who want to further the purpose of “evil” because they hate people. WRONG! Corporations are run by people who care about making MONEY. No one outside of an 80s cartoon villain would withhold working treatments from sick people for fun, if it turned out you could cure cancer by something like eating maple leaves they wouldn’t hide that info, they’d pump a lot of money into research that said “Maplex is so much more effective than regular maple leaves, and they’re certified clean and toxin free. Maplex trees are grown in organic facilities where no birds can defecate on your leaves.”

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          I always think of Umbrella Corporation and Resident Evil when I hear talk of big bad pharma hiding the cure for cancer from us all.

        2. Mike C.*

          I know a guy in pharma who explained it to me like this: let’s say you and your three competitors have a treatment for a particular disease. The market is split up and everyone is making a bit of money.

          If you want to make more, invent the cure to that disease. Not only could you justifiably charge more, but you’ve just put the groups making treatments at your competitors out of business. It’s not completely zero-sum, but it’s a big deal when it happens.

        3. Parenthetically*

          The obsessive money-drivenness doesn’t mitigate against the sense that these companies are run by Boris and Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, though, IMO — it adds to that sense. Martin Shkreli comes immediately to mind.

      4. Rat in the Sugar*

        A simple way I read online to tell if a conspiracy is real or not: does it affect rich and powerful people? As in, do rich and powerful people die of cancer? Yes? There is no secret cure for cancer.

    5. Notsofast*

      I have never heard of a naturopathic oncologist. He… has a medical degree.. is an oncologist… and he has his patients use oils?

      1. Snake oil*

        Nah, it tends to go the other way. Your wannabe-Dr of Woo would get a BSc, MA or PhD in ‘Naturopathy’ from the University of Woo, and then call themselves a ‘doctor’ (which is not a protected term). Naturopathy often steals the terms mainstream medicine uses for specialties, to sound more legit. So, they might also go and get naturopathic ‘specialist qualifications’ in, say, ‘naturopathic oncology’ to sound as mainstream and legit as possible.

        If a naturopath pretended to be a doctor (as in, an MD), that’d be fraud. If they claimed to be an oncologist, that’s also fraud. But there’s almost no regulation of titles naturopaths give themselves, because no-one really recognises naturopathy. So they can call themselves a ‘naturopathic oncologist’ or whatever, and it’s legal. (Though, claiming to cure cancer? That’s still fraud.)

        (That said, as other commenters have pointed out, some MDs and nurses and scientists and such still manage to believe in the craziest woo, so it is possible that someone can have a proper medical degree and still sell faddy modern snake-oil to people.)

  7. rubyrose*

    I’m guessing the OP is in the work area (the other floor) that the offender was moved to.
    Yes, it sounds like trips to the doctor are in order for OP and others (sorry!). But it could also force the company to step up and request the same proof from the offender, if they have not already. Perhaps the offender could work from home? And if not, maybe there is not a reasonable accommodation for her and she needs to go. I mean, they already tried moving her once. How many other places could they move her to?

    1. Jeanne*

      The company needs to request the paperwork from a real doctor or the employee needs to stop causing illness in others. How much is this costing them in sick days and lost productivity for the suffering employees?

  8. Rusty Shackelford*

    Since the goal is balancing employees’ needs and not creating an undue hardship, it seems this fails on both counts. It places one employee’s health needs above the needs of those impacted by her treatment, and it creates an undue hardship because it’s actually sending other employees home sick. Doesn’t this mean the employer would be perfectly within both the letter and intent of the law if they said this isn’t working, we can no longer make this particular accommodation?

    (In other words, how to shut this down without using the words not real medicine.)

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, I don’t think it matters if this is real medicine; it matters whether it’s a reasonable accommodation that does not cause undue hardship.

      On the other hand, if the employee has or gets the appropriate paperwork for a formal ADA accommodation request, and the affected coworkers do likewise, I do feel like there are steps the company could take that they haven’t yet. Have they placed the employee in question in an office by herself with an appropriate filter? Have they consolidated all employees who cannot tolerate the essential oils for one reason or another on a different floor(s) from the woman in question? Is allowing the woman with the oils to work from home a reasonable thing to attempt?

      Can they? Is that an undue hardship? That depends on their employee base and their physical layout and whether or not working from home is reasonable in that role….

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I think this is the route that needs to be considered. Everybody gets relevant medical paperwork because that’s what’s office-necessary, rather than interrogating anybody’s claims, and looks at ways to make it work. It sounds like a small office, so that might be tough, but that’s where you start.

        1. Kyrielle*

          It can’t be too small. They moved her to another floor already. In theory that implies they could split her and the can’t-tolerate-those-oils people so they’re not on the same floor – then comes the question of whether they can get everyone to their places without exposure (such as in an elevator, stairwell, etc.) – although depending on severity of reaction, a brief exposure to lingering traces at beginning/end of day might not be problematic for affected employees. (And it might! Depends on the severity of their reactions.)

          And again, assuming they all have paperwork. If the affected employees get the right paperwork and she’s never done that and doesn’t/can’t, then I suspect “stop those oils” will become the new accommodation.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I forgot about the moving floors thing; I was caught by the “no HR” part. And yes, I agree that this may just end up as a war of paperwork–but that’s better than a war of judging people’s medical treatments.

  9. Machiamellie*

    What a selfish person, making everyone smell her oils and causing people to have to go home with migraines and such.

    1. fposte*

      But think about it from her point of view. If this were a chemo pack that smelled bad, would you call her selfish then?

        1. fposte*

          But that doesn’t make her more selfish. I guarantee you everybody posting here, including me, does stuff that they believe is efficacious for something that is objectively not true.

            1. fposte*

              Are you taking time off from work to do them or spending insurance on them? Then probably, yes.

              I’m not just talking about stuff that you know is regarded as woo–I’m talking about getting antibiotics for most sinus situations and sore throats, or steroid shots for stuff that it has been determined steroid shots don’t help–IOW, stuff somebody in medicine you regard as an authority is suggesting you do even though it’s been determined it doesn’t have a good outcome.

        2. Jesmlet*

          The issue is it seems that her cancer is cured and she used the essential oils while she had cancer so she is thoroughly (however incorrectly) invested in the idea that these oils keep her healthy. I could go on about correlation and causation and why it’s obvious to most that she’s wrong but I don’t think this is selfish – she’s just trying to stay alive.

          1. drashizu*

            Yeah, no matter how misinformed she might be, cancer is terrifying. Wanting to wear something with a pungent scent because you believe it will keep your cancer from coming back is not “selfish.” I feel for her, and I hope that whatever solution is eventually reached doesn’t cause her undue psychological stress (as I suspect being told to stop wearing the oils completely most likely will).

          2. Purest Green*

            Agreed. I’m completely sympathetic to the idea that someone would do almost anything to cure a disease like cancer, especially considering that wearing essential oils is simple, inexpensive, and harmless (for her).

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Exactly. She’s not doing it because she thinks they smell good. She truly believes this is what is keeping her alive. There is a lot of room to disagree with the efficacy of the oils, but it’s not selfish to want to remain alive.

      2. OhNo*

        There are other accommodations she could request, though, that wouldn’t impact the others in the office so much (or at all). Working from home, or having her own office with a closeable door, for instance. It’s not the treatment that selfish, it’s the attitude that she has a right to inflict it on others because it’s an accommodation, and that trumps other people’s right to accommodation. If she were apologetic, or expressed a willingness to work with others to find a solution, that would be different.

        That said, OP – have you actually expressed just how bad it is to her? It sounds like you’ve had conversations about it, but may not have said, “this is triggering migraines, allergies, etc.” explicitly. That’s a good place to start, because it will give you an idea how receptive she is to working with people to make it work for everyone (or if she’s just a jerk).

        1. drashizu*

          We don’t know much about the layout of the office, but she has already agreed to move floors due to the smell of her oils. How much more selfish would it be if she demanded her own office space, too? Especially if she’s already working in a cubicle and isn’t high enough in the hierarchy that an office would normally be supplied.

          I think it’s the OP’s company’s place to bring up alternatives like that. I don’t think we should be expecting an employee who just wants to wear a certain scent (for what she perceives as a very good medical reason) to be the first person to bring up working from home or getting an entire office all to herself.

          1. drashizu*

            Or, to clarify: she isn’t requesting her own office as an accommodation. She’s requesting the right to wear essential oils as an accommodation. Once the ball is in the employer’s court, it’s up to them to decide how they want to accommodate, and say, “Sure, but to accommodate you, we have to move you/put you in an office/have you work from home.”

            1. OhNo*

              I think you found the real issue here, which is that the employer isn’t really engaging in this process. It sounds like they just hear this employee invoke “accommodations” and throw up their hands with a “She said the magic word! We have to allow it! Nothing we can do!”

              And when one group complained, they moved her to another space. And now the people in the new space – the OP and their coworkers – have to complain. At some point, it really is on the company to actually sit down and come up with a real solution that satisfies everyone. Otherwise they’re just going to end up moving her to a new location every few months when people get sick of her smelly oils.

              In an ideal world, the person wearing the oils would realize that this is going to keep happening and nip it in the bud by requesting an office or something, but you’re right that it’s not necessarily her responsibility to take that step. It would just be nice (and probably faster) if she did, instead of ignoring the impact on her coworkers.

      3. Viola Dace*

        Chemo pack? Chemo goes right into your bloodstream. I am imagining the side eye I would get from my oncologist if I asked her for the data on essential oils “curing” cancer. The issue I would have with this individual is whether or not she was actually diagnosed with cancer by a legit doc. She may have self-diagnosed and then found the cure. Quackery knows no bounds. Also, if the oils supposedly cured her cancer, why does she still use them? So much WTF***ery here.

        1. fposte*

          I didn’t claim it cured anything. I just pointed out that the selfishness of using something for your health isn’t dependent on its objective value.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Yes it is. If your treatment has an impact on the health of other people, you owe to those people to at least use an effective treatment.

            1. Leatherwings*

              I mean, I think oils are as bunk as the next person, but the idea that anyone “owes” their coworkers to treat their body a certain way is really off.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                I have to suffer a little because coworker is using an effective cure: totally cool with that.

                I have to suffer a little because coworker is using quackery: nope.

                1. fposte*

                  Does that include bad medicine from MDs? How’s the line being drawn?

                  I mean, I get the feeling, but it seems dependent on black and white thinking that isn’t actually viable when it comes to health measures.

                2. Leatherwings*

                  As discussed in depth here, though, it just isn’t and can’t be up to the employer to evaluate the efficacy of what she’s doing (assuming she has a doctors note). And that’s a pretty scary precedent to set, seeing as most workplaces don’t have someone qualified to evaluate whether medications are quackery or effective and there are certainly instances in which it would be less clear than this one.

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  fposte, Just because the line is fuzzy and there are grey areas, it doesn’t mean there still aren’t some black and white areas. You can’t just throw your hands in the air and say anything goes.

                  Leatherwings, I’m not talking about the employer or the ADA here. I’m talking about what I was a reasonable person would accommodate. If I was asked to make unreasonable accommodations or was made physically ill by someone’s quackery, as is the apparent case in this situation, I would push back hard. And I would find a new job if necessary. And yes, it is common decency to not make others sick needlessly. You do owe your coworkers (and all other people in a society) that much at least.

                4. ZTwo*

                  Trout ‘Waver, what if instead of saying that these oils were a “cure” for her cancer, this coworker said something like “Due to my cancer, I have increased stressed and anxiety, both of which exacerbate my health problems. I find that certain scents reduces my stress and anxiety and have positively contributed to my remission.”

                  At that point, she is asking for an accommodation for a much more “clear” disability (and something many people with anxiety/panic disorders/dissociative disorders use strong scents for). The original problem still remains.

                  It’s much more effective for the company to work on coming up with the most reasonable accommodation for everyone than debating people on their treatment. While this case is a bit of an outlier, there are many situations where accommodations might overlap and it’s worth it for the company to start developing their system on how to handle that now.

                5. Leatherwings*

                  @Trout ‘Waver, but reasonable accommodations IS an ADA term. You can certainly decide for yourself whether you find them personally acceptable, but that doesn’t mean they don’t mean the bar for reasonable under the law. And you can feel free to push back, but generally pushing back on someone’s legally required accommodations isn’t going to put you in a good spot.

                  And I agree that she should make every effort to make sure her coworkers don’t get sick from her own choices, BUT the language that I objected to was the suggestion that she “owed” it to her coworkers to try an effective treatment. Those are two different things.

                6. KellyK*

                  Finding a new job because you can’t deal with the coworker’s accommodations is totally reasonable. Being irritated that a coworker is getting an accommodation that impacts you is totally reasonable and sure, believing it’s not effective is going to rankle more. But that doesn’t mean the coworker has an obligation to make sure their treatments all meet your standard of efficacy, whatever that might be.

            2. KellyK*

              No, you don’t. You owe it to those people to minimize the effects on them, regardless of the efficacy of the treatment for you. How effective the treatment is is your concern and your doctor’s, not your coworkers’.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                Yeah no. You aren’t held hostage to whatever quackery someone thinks up. You are seriously arguing that people should suffer migraines at work because this lady believes essential oils cure cancer?

          1. MoodyMoody*

            Unless they’re having sex without condoms. Then chemo can cause illness in coworkers. However, of course, that’s highly unprofessional conduct.

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        If my lifesaving treatment were making my coworkers sick, I’d work out an accommodation that didn’t impact them. I wouldn’t just say “suck it up, buttercup,” which is what it sounds like she’s doing.

        1. drashizu*

          That’s really not her job, though. It’s the other employees’ jobs to mention that this is causing them difficulties (which they have), and the employer’s job to work out a way of accommodating everyone that is maximally beneficial (which the OP was writing in for advice about). Essential Oil Lady doesn’t have to proactively predict that her oils will cause other people problems or guess how the company then wants to handle it.

          She might not be the most thoughtful person in the world, but I don’t think “suck it up, buttercup” is an accurate reading of her attitude, from what we saw in the letter. More like “I’m really serious about this accommodation and will not back down from it,” with a side helping of, “but of course I’ll work with the company to make it work” (evidence: she already agreed to move floors in order to keep wearing her oils).

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            That’s really not her job, though.

            It’s her job to work with her health care provider and employer to figure out a reasonable accommodation instead of just saying “this is what I’ve decided to do and you must accept it.” It’s her employer’s job to either make that accommodation work, or admit that they cannot and move on to Plan B. Neither has done their job. I don’t consider moving floors an accommodation on her part (and I find it an appalling move on the employer’s) since it simply moves the problem to a different set of victims.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It’s not her job to work with her health care provider, though, if her employer isn’t requiring it. She’s come up with her own treatment plan, and from what I can tell, none of this went through the employer. If nothing else, the employer should start the ADA accommodation process, particularly since it’s harming other employees. But Smelly Oils Lady isn’t independently required to ask her employer to start that process. And why would she? Right now it’s working for her.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                Yes. I am giving the employer here major side-eye for how they have basically refused to deal with this.

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                Since she’s waving the ADA stick when anybody mentions the harm she’s causing others, I’d say it’s her responsibility to actually make that happen by following the process. But it seems she’s not going to accept that responsibility unless her employer steps up and makes it happen. You’re right; it’s working for her.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Ugh, OP updated us below that the company says it’s allowing her this accommodation, which I find infuriating.

                2. JessaB*

                  It’s also the employer’s duty to actually engage in the process once an employee waves the ADA flag.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        If it were a chemo pack at work making other people sick, then I would say the same thing as the oils. An employer cannot put a bunch of people out of work in effort to accommodate one person, I don’t think that is a reasonable expectation. It’s interfering with the course of business by slowing down the daily work flows.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      It seems that way. But if the employee really believes that the oils will cure her cancer, taking them away would be cruel. I’ve seen desperate people try many odd things to cure their loved ones. Who knows, the employee may be very sympathetic toward the suffering employees.

    3. Stephanie the Great*

      I think Machiamellie was making a tongue-in-cheek joke implying that EVERYONE who is affected by Smelly Oil Lady start going home sick to drive home the issue that this is causing a problem.

    4. Shayland*

      What a selfish person, exposing everyone to her service dog and causing people to have to go home because of allergic reactions and phobias and such.

  10. Purest Green*

    Why not let the employee work from home if at all possible? Given that she has/had cancer, it might be a more beneficial option for her anyway.

    1. Manders*

      I just listened to an excellent podcast by Oh No Ross and Carrie about the alternative cancer treatment industry, and something they pointed out is that they ran into a surprising number of people who had diagnosed themselves with cancer and didn’t seem to have ever seen an MD to confirm that diagnosis. A lot of cancer cure scams apparently begin with convincing a healthy person (or often a mentally ill, but physically healthy person) that they’re sick and need to buy an expensive thing that cures their cancer/flushes out their toxins/boosts their immune system/etc.

      I don’t know what information OP has access to or whether it was obvious at some point that this employee did have cancer, or how it would complicate things if the employee didn’t have cancer but did have anxiety about cancer that she is alleviating with these oils.

      1. MoinMoin*

        Wow, that’s so sad, and something I’d never even think to consider.

        (Also, my first thought on the title of the podcast was that it was some sort of weird Friends/Sex and the City collaboration.)

        1. Manders*

          Hah! Yes, the podcast’s name is strange but it’s very good.

          I don’t know of anyone who’s fallen for that particular brand of cancer scam, but I know several people who’ve harmed themselves with variations on “toxin cleanses,” then convinced themselves that the health problem they created with the cleanse was caused by the toxin. It’s a very effective con and it’s extremely hard to talk someone out of it.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            My FIL’s wife had breast cancer that she cured with crystals. Yeah, she was never diagnosed by a doctor. She was just convinced that she had cancer.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        WOW. Did they have a sense of how many folks engage in this kind of self-diagnosing?

        1. Manders*

          They were on a tour bus that went to a variety of alternative cancer treatment places in Mexico, and I think I recall them saying that about half the group hadn’t been diagnosed by a traditional doctor at all. Of those people, they weren’t sure how many didn’t have cancer after all and how many possibly had clear symptoms but hadn’t seen a doctor. There were also some heartbreaking stories from people who really did have cancer and had already gone through traditional treatments, but were grasping at straws looking for a cure.

          The cures they saw ranged from placebos to actively harmful stuff like applying topical agents that would eat away at the skin or consuming things that are known to contain cyanide. Prices for the treatments were well into the thousands, I think maybe even tens of thousands, of dollars. I don’t know how many of those practitioners truly believed in what they were peddling and how many were flat out con artists.

      3. Mike C.*

        Holy crap, I didn’t realize it was that bad. I thought those sorts of folks just targeted the sick and desperate.

  11. Stellaaaaa*

    Is there a way to find out if the essential oils accommodation is actually a proper accommodation or if the employer is kinda just letting her do whatever she wants because of what she’s been through? Essential oils have certain benefits but they are also known to be hugely irritating and to trigger other problems so I find it a little hard to believe that a reasonable doctor would “prescribe” this particular accommodation for an office setting. I could believe that her doctor recommended the oils to her in a general sense but mayyyyybe didn’t explicitly tell her to double up for work. Not doubting the whole scenario but….this whole problem goes away if it turns out that this isn’t on the level. So see if you can find out before this goes any further. Perhaps you could present your own need for an accommodation to see if they ask for the proper documentation. If they don’t, you have your answer and can potentially push back against the essential oils thing, since it might not actually be a legally mandated accommodation. Stuff that your doctor recommends for home use do not automatically translate into being workplace essentials.

    I’m reminded of the somewhat recent letter from someone whose entire life had to be scheduled around the “accommodations” of an ill coworker who was free to leave the office whenever he wanted. Lots of businesses act in the spirit of the ACA and will label something an accommodation without understanding how it all really works.

    1. fposte*

      As Donna says, though, the ADA doesn’t get into the scientific validity of a recommendation, and doctors rarely get so specific as to recommend for in-office vs. out of office. There really is a pretty tight limit to the level of interrogation an employer can offer here, and there aren’t specifics on what would or wouldn’t be a legally mandated accommodation.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        But for something to be a mandated accommodation, doesn’t the doctor have to actually write a note stating that the business must comply with such-and-such? Like if the doctor recommended the oils in a general way, fine. But how does it get to the point where the office feels it cannot tell her to stop? Unless a doctor wrote a note that I personally feel a doctor might not reasonably write.

        Again, I’m not trying to poke holes for the sake of it, but my understanding is that there’s a difference between “my doctor told me to use these oils” (to which an employer can still say “you can’t wear them here”) and “my doctor wrote a note to my employer stating that I must use them at work.”

        1. Jeanne*

          Yes. There is specific paperwork they can ask to be filled out by the doctor. Then the company can decide if this is a reasonable accomodation.

        2. fposte*

          It’s not really an order; it’s a statement about what this employee needs. The employer “may ask for reasonable documentation on the need for the accommodation.”

          Keep in mind that the law is, quite legitimately, broadly written, and there are no roving ADA inspectors who can validate an accommodation as necessary or not. It’s always safer to err on the side of accommodation if you’re not sure, and in workplaces without people with issues with essential oils it’d be tough to claim funny smells as an undue hardship.

          In short, OP’s company should definitely contact a lawyer.

          1. Stellaaaaa*

            That’s not what I’m asking though. I’m not asking whether a company can comply with a requested accommodation if it wants. I’m asking if a company can shut down an accommodation pending proper documentation.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Nothing is ever a mandated accommodation; there’s an interactive process where either side can say “this won’t work because of reason X — what else can we try?” That said, the employer can’t say no to all options unless it would truly cause undue hardship.

          But it doesn’t sound like they’ve even done that formal process yet.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes—I was going to say this. There’s no such thing as a mandated accommodation, but at a minimum, the employer should open up the accommodation process. Right now I don’t think Smelly Oils Lady has even identified that she has a disability (not having cancer is not a disability, even if you think your essential oil “treatment” is a prophylactic to relapse), let alone an accommodation plan or medical documentation.

      2. Jesmlet*

        But can’t the employer just go to her, ask if she can just use the oils outside of work, and if she says no, say something like, ‘because your oils are causing other people hardship, we are going to need an official doctor’s note prescribing the use of oils during the day’?

    2. Temperance*

      My assumption is that this employee either saw a “naturopath” and is taking their recommendation as if it came from a real doctor and she’s using the ADA as a weapon to intimidate her company from asking her not to roll around in garlic juice or whatever before coming in to the office.

      Certain kinds of regular perfumes trigger my asthma. Thirdhand smoke triggers my asthma. While I really hate cancer, and have empathy for survivors, you don’t get to stink up the place and make other people sick because you are engaging in magical thinking. i don’t think that the ADA really applies when there is no actual science.

      1. Jeanne*

        I don’t think she has an MD prescribing this. I hope the company doesn’t except a non-MD “doctor” but it’s hard to say what they would do.

        1. BananaPants*

          It might depend on the state (assuming it’s in the US). In some states, naturopathic “doctors” can prescribe actual medicines and act as primary care providers, and they and chiropractors can sign off on school or sports physicals. If the state considers a naturopath to be a medical provider, then their note on the need for quackery could indeed be considered the equivalent to an MD/DO.

          (Thank heavens my state is not one that allows naturopaths to prescribe. That’s all we need, a bunch of folks who think homeopathy is legit prescribing amoxicillin to every kid who comes through with a sore throat or earache.)

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Although, if they’d just prescribe a homeopathic version of amoxicillin, it would probably be okay. ;-)

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s what Temperance is saying—she thinks Smelly Oils Lady received her “treatment” from a naturopath, which is not the same as an M.D.

      2. Retail HR Guy*

        There is nothing in the ADA that requires the health care provider to base his or her recommendation on actual science. I wish that there was, but there isn’t. Under the ADA it is just not the employer’s call to be second-guessing the doctor.

  12. fposte*

    Another problem with the solution is that most masks are pretty scent-permeable; surgical masks certainly are, and N95s usually need an extra charcoal component to absorb even modest odors. It may be tough to find something that can work against essential oils without causing problems all its own.

    1. Jeanne*

      Yes. The masks you would need for this are expensive and unwieldy and would be very difficult to wear all day. The type you need you even need training to use properly. They were used at my company when you disposed of chemical waste.

      1. Shayland*

        Actually, I have a friend who is deadly allergic to even the smallest traces of peanuts and wears an allergen mask everyday. They are about $30 and do a great job of keeping her from dying. The filters in even simple dust masks can help.

        We’re required to use dust mask when mixing plaster, silica, and the like. These are tiny particles that can easily destroy the body of inhaled. So specially designed allergen mask does help many people and is not as difficult as your comment makes it out to be.

        1. Observer*

          It wouldn’t work for a situation like this. It’s far easier to filter out particulates, which is what most airborne allergens are, than gasses and chemicals, which are what scents are.

          1. Shayland*

            Ah, I see. I just got into the same debate recently over service dogs and allergies so that’s been on my mind. I also agree that the essential oil person should have to go through requesting accommodation. But in reality I think Allison advice needs to happen first.

    2. Ellen*

      Even without the scent permeable issue, masks are uncomfortable, HOT and it is very hard to get it just.right so you don’t fog up your glasses.

      In others word: a mask is NOT and acceptable accommodation.

        1. Observer*

          I’d be very surprised. You’re not talking about those masks you see in a doctor’s or dentists office. You’re essentially looking at gas masks. Those things are expensive, hard to get and hard to wear. And that leaves out the possibility that there are guys who can’t be clean shaven for either medical or religious reasons.

          Breathing through most of these masks is difficult – enough so that the CDC says that people with lung disease, elderly people or anyone with a breathing problem may have trouble breathing. It’s hard to argue that making other people wear something that makes it hard to breath is a reasonable accommodation, especially if it’s for more than a short period.

      1. drashizu*

        I’m also imagining the skin rash and acne problems I’d start having from something abrasive covering my face for hours on end, day in, day out.

      2. Spoonie*

        Ugh, the mask sweat/humid feeling is gross. It would also probably make talking on the phone fairly prohibitive. (Although maybe that’s a good thing?)

      3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        Also, wearing a mask triggers my claustrophobia — learned that while painting the house and worrying about lead paint this summer — and so for some people other than me, I imagine it is not reasonable.

    3. seejay*

      If the company didn’t provide masks, I’d be royally *peeved* to have to pay for them myself, nevermind having to wear one as well because someone’s quackery was making my asthma/migraines go all haywire. :/ I could deal with reasonable accommodations, but if I didn’t have to wear a mask before, then someone’s weird non-medication stuff did and made my work life hell, I don’t know if I’d be too happy with the whole thing. I spend enough time juggling my asthma and migraine triggers already without having to add another one to the list.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is reasonable to require someone with a cold to wear a mask to protect others; that is a time bound thing. Masks are uncomfortable, they get wet and icky after a bit, people get face rashes from them; it is entirely inappropriate to expect one to wear one all the time because someone else wants to wear magic voodoo smelly oils. I think it would be in appropriate even if they were using a product that was scientifically supported but foul. Accommodation should mean isolating the smelly person or providing a clean space for the person who has migraines or allergies.

        1. seejay*

          Yeah, I’d be ok with a mask for a short period of time, but asking me to wear one all the time because of migraines/asthma so someone could wear something stinky so as to not trigger me, would probably make me super unhappy. :(

        2. TL -*

          Well, it actually is reasonable to require people to wear masks for the entirety of their working day, or a good portion of it: Surgeons, workers in chemical plants, animal technicians, and nail technicians all wear masks all day, every day, more or less.

          They’re not comfortable, but it is reasonable in some jobs, so it could be a reasonable, if unpleasant, accommodation.

          1. Blue Birds Fly*

            Respirators require medical approval and fit testing, provided by the employer. Even voluntarily wearing respirators at your job kick in some OSHA requirements. Surgicals masks stop droplet transmissions, not small particulates or vapors.

          2. Observer*

            Actually, it’s the rare surgeon who is in surgery for the entirety of their working day. And their masks do zip to stop smells. They are not designed to.

            People who need to wear cumbersome safety gear do so as part of the package of working in a dangerous environment. And those environments have some fairly significant demands. Making a standard office environment into the equivalent of a chemical factory doesn’t make sense.

            1. FormerLibrarian*

              Heh. When I worked in a public library on a Navy base years ago I actually read our MSDS sheets and discovered that to use the Windex on the main window I was technically supposed to wear a full rebreather.

        3. Ellen*

          Temporarily for a cold is a completely different animal from wearing one all day in a job that does NOT required a mask. In my job I will sometimes need to put on a mask. I knew that going in. How many office peoples are expecting a mask? Even office people here in the hospital don’t expect to wear a mask.

  13. Fronzel Neekburm*

    While this comment is macbre and borderline inappropriate, didn’t everyone just spend the entire thread above this one calling the woman stupid for using essential oils? Yes, “nicer” language was used. But the fact remains, everyone still started piling on.

    Maybe we all need to tone it down.

    Maybe we should look for solutions (which comments sections does most of the time) instead of piling on. I get that comments like this one don’t help – but stop pretending you’re better because you didn’t take your nicely worded “she’s stupid” comment to it’s obvious conclusion.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      It’s not nearly on par with an anti-vax stance, but this employee is insisting on using a non-effective cancer treatment that is causing actual pain to other people. While we all have sympathy for someone who is ill and grasping at straws, she is literally hurting the people she works with by using oils that aren’t going to work anyway. I don’t think it’s necessary to lie and say the oils are effective just for the sake of being nice to someone who’s sick.

    2. Temperance*

      Her choice to engage in quackery/magical thinking – which, to be clear, is what this is – is putting other people’s lives at risk. Yes, it sounds dramatic, but asthma attacks can be fatal, and heavy scents are a trigger for some people.

      1. Jeanne*

        Yes. It doesn’t matter what she believes, she has no right to cause illness in others. This isn’t even the Noro virus thing. She is causing the illness every single day and wants to continue causing it.

        1. Temperance*

          I think that’s what makes me the most angry. She knows that her stank is impacting coworkers, and she doesn’t care and is invoking the ADA to protect her right to bathe in essential oils.

        2. The OG Anonsie*

          Well, that would be unkind of her, but the letter doesn’t indicate that this is what she’s doing at all. I think there are a lot of assumptions being made about the oil wearer’s behavior in the comments today when all we know about her is that she wears them and think they’re important to her health.

          It says that there is a tone of ADA accommodation whenever it comes up, which is not the same as “I require this accommodation so you can all get stuffed.” It also doesn’t even say who they’re referring to as being part of these conversations– I read it as that management has been framing it that way while trying to make everyone comfortable. The oil wearing coworker may have no idea how much it’s bothering everyone else, only that management asked her to move once because was bothering someone, which she may quite reasonably assume addressed the problem just fine.

          I think the fact that she believes the oils are curative are making people jump to some unkind conclusions about her overall.

      2. TL -*

        But the fault isn’t on her; it’s on the company for not working with her and the other coworkers to find accommodations that work for both. They need to make sure they’re providing a good working environment for their employees.

        Two things here. First, essential oils are not effective anything treatments, that’s true, but if she strongly believes in them it is cruel of the company to tell her she can’t use them because they’re ineffective. That’s not their business and also likely just to cause her undue stress and anxiety. The company doesn’t get to decide what is good medicine. Second, she may not realize how bad some coworkers are responding (because who is going to be *that* honest with a cancer patient?) and it’s hard to imagine the strong reaction some people have to scents until you have a reaction yourself.

    3. Jesmlet*

      I don’t think everyone is thinking she’s stupid… maybe more like woefully misguided. I get it’s easy to jump from ‘I think what you believe in is stupid’ to ‘I think you’re stupid’ but they really are 2 different things.

    4. Jeanne*

      I am piling on the company. They are not doing their job by just letting her claim ADA with no documentation.

    5. sstabeler*

      Depends on how it’s worded. Reasonable accommodations DO have to actually help, so bringing up that essential oils haven’t been proven to do more than a placebo for cancer is actually relevant. ( I say for cancer as I have known them to help with a moderately bad sunburn- in place of aftersun lotion- and could swear I’ve slept better since I got a lavender reed diffuser in my room. However, in both cases, a placebo would not have done any harm- aftersun’s more about making your skin less sensitive than anything, and the lavender more relaxes me than anything.)

      1. fposte*

        “Bringing up that essential oils haven’t been proven to do more than a placebo for cancer” may be relevant here, but it’s not appropriate in the discussion with the employee. What’s appropriate is obtaining the paperwork with the necessary information–that this is a treatment that is necessary for the co-worker’s condition and what its use in the workplace involves. As the workplace, all you get to judge is the sufficiency of the paperwork, not the efficacy of the treatment.

        1. Retail HR Guy*

          Yep. I’ve approved my fair share of accommodations that I knew would have no effect or would actually be detrimental to the employee.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Could you share an example? I’m surprised to hear that this would be a common thing.

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              My most recent one is an employee suffering from paranoia who wanted to be accommodated by transferring to a different store because everyone at his current store was “out to get him”. Everyone who works with him (me included) predicted that the transfer would have no effect because the problem wasn’t actually the people at his store, the problem was his mental health. But he was insistent and his doctor wrote him the note saying he needed to be removed from his “triggers”, so…

              Now he’s at a store farther away from his home (much longer commute time and more bus transfers) working a schedule he likes much less than what he was used to (same total hours, just arranged differently), and, no surprise to any of us, his new managers and coworkers are also now “out to get him”. Total waste of everyone’s time.

              (And, before anyone asks, yes, despite his diagnosis we do thoroughly investigate his complaints against his managers and coworkers. There’s never anything to them.)

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        There is NO NEED to get into whether EOs help this woman or not, though – and I agree with fposte that it is better not to go there at all. If she wants this accommodation and has some paperwork that backs up that she should have it, the company can then consider whether it is feasible to allow her to wear it all, given what it knows of other employee’s serious reactions to the scent. Is there anything it can do to reduce the burden, such as changing her location or improving air filters? If not, then can she work from home? If not, the company can just say no to this accommodation (requiring other employees to take medicine to avoid actual harm from the EOs really likely meets the bar for undue hardship).

      3. TL -*

        Oh, gosh, please don’t place any type of oil on a burn unless it is so heavily diluted as to be nothing more than scented water.

          1. JessaB*

            Actually there are specific goos that are for burns. I know when my mother was ill she dropped a cigarette on a nylon nightgown and one of the things they gave us was some kind of tub of something that was to both protect her from getting an infection (not antibiotic but a barrier kind of thing) and cool and heal the skin after she got back from the hospital. They used it at the hospital too. It was a prescription thing though, but the texture was kind of light vaseline-ish.

            1. TL -*

              There are medicated burn creams that are magic, absolute magic, but they’re not random goos – that’s what fposte was saying.

              And I do think there’s a “unless prescribed” exception here :)

              1. JessaB*

                True. I probably missed that undertone. Especially since fposte is usually pretty smart when they say things. I shoulda thought of that.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      Maybe we should look for solutions (which comments sections does most of the time) instead of piling on. I get that comments like this one don’t help – but stop pretending you’re better because you didn’t take your nicely worded “she’s stupid” comment to it’s obvious conclusion.

      Actually, saying “this woman is stupid” (or “this woman is seriously misguided and kind of selfish”) is a pretty far cry from “luckily the problem will go away when her so-called cure is proved ineffective and she dies.” It’s not an obvious conclusion at all.

    7. Mike C.*

      Look, I’ve watched family members die from this garbage, so calling out fake medicine isn’t to stroke my own ego, it’s to help prevent others from dealing with the same thing.

  14. Cleopatra Jones*

    Reasonable accomodations for one employee shouldn’t mean unreasonable accomodations for everyone else.

  15. LawCat*

    I’m baffled as to how a “highly potent blend of essential oils” can enable an employee to perform the essential functions of their job.

    1. Blue*

      She thinks they’re keeping her alive. Without them she wouldn’t be alive, and therefore wouldn’t be working.

    2. Jesmlet*

      Yeah staying alive is a pretty essential part of a job – you can’t do your job if you’re dead… this would not be an effective way to get around this.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        It does make me think of an old thread somewhere around Halloween where we discussed the impact of job-hunting as a ghost.

    3. fposte*

      If it’s essential to their well-being, it enables the employee to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Recombinant pancreas extractions do this for many employees, after all.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        Eh who knows. They might be for smelling, the smell may be just a side issue. I have menthol based lineaments I use on my joints that smell like a minty butt factory and are topically analgesic and soothing.

  16. sstabeler*

    aren’t the more potent essential oils supposed to be diluted before use anyway? particularly, I don’t think you are supposed to be able to smell more than a hunt of them. (I’ve used essential oils for a nasty- albeit not medical-intervention nasty- sunburn before. (the essential oils were basically substituting for aftersun lotion) They clearly had some effect, since the burn was less sensitive afterwards, and I could swear cleared up quicker than expected. That, and I swear I sleep better with a lavender reed diffuser in the room… However, I would never recommend essential oils for anything that needs actual medication- in both cases when I’ve used it, even if it was a placebo effect, time alone would have cleared up the sunburn, and I don’t have a medical condition causing me not to sleep. Since I like the smell of lavender anyway… Also, I keep the lavender diffuser in my bedroom, so if it does irritate someone, they can simply avoid that one room and not get irritated. If I was at work, I would probably not have one anyway, but would take it home if anyone didn’t like the smell of it, let alone if they were actually getting asthma attacks because of it. ( as in, if someone tells me “A co-worker has asthma” (so they don’t need to say who) any diffuser is going straight into a desk, to be taken home that night. )

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      Yeah, essential oils have aromatherapeutic benefits when used as a room scent but they’re TERRIBLE for your skin unless you’ve diluted them substantially. Even if her doctor legitimately recommended the oils, she’s not using them right.

    2. Jeanne*

      Some oils can cause harm if not diluted before use. We don’t know which of them she is using. I assume they aren’t causing skin irritation but beyond that it depends which ones.

      1. Gadfly*

        Although they are often concentrated enough that you can get a medicinal dosage through application of diluted oils through topical application depending on how diluted they are. They can be diluted past the skin irritation stage and still be absorbed enough to have an effect (a reason here to not trust ‘raindrop therapy’).

        And, if you thought they worked, wouldn’t a little skin irritation be worth it? A lot of drugs do a LOT worse as standard side effects,

  17. BananaPants*

    It’s unfortunate that this woman has been so deluded into thinking that essential oils have cured her cancer. Especially if she has a naturopathic “doctor”, she may well be able to get her hands on a doctor’s note.

    That said, aspects of aromatherapy can have a positive impact on one’s general mood and mental state. I use essential oils at home because I like how some of them smell and because we’ve seen an effect on how we feel when we use some of them. We don’t buy the MLM crap and we don’t ingest them, just diffuse or apply properly diluted kid-safe essential oils. It doesn’t make me stupid or a moron to spritz my sheets with lavender EO at bedtime because I feel like it helps me relax and fall asleep more quickly, or to diffuse a citrus blend because I like the way it makes our living room smell.

    Note: I don’t wear or use EOs at the office. We all have normal medical doctors who we see regularly, we vaccinate our kids, modern medicine is awesome, etc.

    1. Temperance*

      I don’t think anyone here would disagree that using scents at home to boost your mood (or because they make your house smell good!) is a bad thing, weird, or quackery. Apples and oranges to what I’m sure this woman’s coworkers are experiencing.

    2. Jeanne*

      But do companies have to accept notes from non-MDs for ADA accomodations? I’m not sure but I think the answer is no.

      1. OhNo*

        I’m sure they must be required to accept documentation from non-MD medical professionals, at least. Therapists (physical or mental), highly certified nurses, and those type of people should be able to provide the necessary information, I would think.

        (Plus in some cases they might be better qualified than an MD to know what you can and can’t do – personally, as a wheelchair user, I know my physical therapist has a way better idea of what I’m physically capable of on a day-to-day basis than my doctor does.)

        1. Tau*

          Yeah, there are plenty of disabilities you wouldn’t exactly be going to an MD for. I’m not sure where I’d even start if you asked me for a note from an MD for my speech disorder, it’s not exactly something where I’ve ever felt the need to seek medical attention for it. Same for my Asperger’s.

          1. Kj*

            Presumably for Aspergers you were diagnosed at one time and could produce the paperwork if requested. Of course, it is now called autism spectrum disorder, but there are DSM conversion conventions that apply to people who previously had Aspergers or PDD-NOS dxes. It is considered to be a life long disorder and people had to have symptoms at a fairly young age to be diagnosed so you would not need any new documents.

            Of course the only tiw

            1. Tau*

              That’s fair, I do have DX documents for my Asperger’s, although they’re sufficiently detailed with enough extremely personal information that I wouldn’t be comfortable giving them to an employer. (Particularly as I got diagnosed as an adult.) My best bet would probably be to go to my GP, hand them the DX documents and go “so can you just write me a simple note saying I have Asperger’s?”. Similarly, I don’t generally discuss AS-caused difficulties and how I work around them with my GP since they’re not exactly medical in nature and the average GP doesn’t know enough about AS to make it worthwhile, so for a doctor’s note saying I need X, Y and Z accommodations they’d basically have to take me at my word.

              The speech disorder is the weird one, really. I distinctly remember sitting in the office of an audiologist or someone going “so can you write me a note saying I have this disorder where it’s blatantly clear I have it if you talk to me for five minutes but where we don’t actually seem to have any paperwork documenting that fact?” Being able to use my old speech therapist instead would have made a lot more sense at that point.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        ADA accommodations are not like FMLA – with ADA, a company does not “have to” accept an order from any kind of doctor, MD or otherwise.

        FMLA: a doctor certifies the need for FMLA, and so company has to give FMLA to employee as ordered (with all the paperwork and certifications).
        ADA: employee says she needs accommodations, and employer has to engage with the employee to find accommodations that work for her AND that work for the business without undue hardship.

        So with ADA, no, the business does not have to accept notes from non-MDs. It also does not have to accept (as in, it does not have to follow) notes from MDs. Instead, it has to figure out what it can do to help the employee keep working, and explain what it can’t do.

      3. fposte*

        The answer is yes. In the words of AskJAN (on a really good page I’ll link to in a followup), “An employer may require that the documentation about the disability and limitations come from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional. Appropriate professionals include, but are not limited to, doctors (including psychiatrists), psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, vocational rehabilitation specialists, and licensed mental health professionals.”

        Does “are not limited to” means that naturopaths would count? Dunno.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think Jeanne’s question is whether a company can be required to adopt the accommodation recommended by a doctor. In which case, the answer is no. But can a company require medical documentation as part of the ADA accommodation process? Yes.

  18. Anita*

    I don’t think this is correct – having had cancer in the past does not equal a disability requiring reasonable accommodation in the present.

    1. Jesmlet*

      This is interesting… if she doesn’t have cancer anymore, could she actually get a doctor to say the essential oils prevent the cancer from coming back?

    2. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      Ya that was my question too. Does she even qualify for an accommodation? She doesn’t currently have cancer, so what would she be getting an accommodation for? There are standards to be met for being considered as having a disability under the ADA I though

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        According to the definition set forth in the Act, an individual with a disability is someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

        If she doesn’t currently have cancer, isn’t getting a treatment with severe side effects, and wasn’t disabled in some way from her cancer, I am not sure what the impairment would be and how it would be substantially limiting major life activities.

        Alison – what would the EO user have to do to prove she has a disability that needs accommodation in the first place?

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I think it’s worth pointing out that “doesn’t currently have cancer” is not a very clear-cut state to be in, once someone has had it.

          1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

            Of course. My point is if she’s healthy and only doing this to prevent getting it again, that doesn’t really trump the physical harm she’s inflicting on her co-workers.

            I feel bad because obviously this gives her peace of mind that it won’t occur again, but that doesn’t really get to be placed over her co-workers being able to breathe and function without migraines, you know?

          2. Anita*

            My point was that there are parameters for what constitutes a disability, which doesn’t seem to be noted in Donna’s response.

    3. GingerHR*

      It’s not entirely relevant here, as different country, but in the UK a cancer diagnosis means that the individual is covered under the Equalities Act even when in remission. Reasonable adjustments would have to be considered, but we’d get independent Occupational Health advice in this kind of instance. I’ll be honest, the advice can be variable, but it’s always rooted in conventional medicine.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        The American Cancer Society web page and the EEOC web page list that cancer is not always considered a disability under the ADA because it doesn’t always have severe impact on one’s duties – so it is case by case here in the States it looks like

        1. Gadfly*

          There are so many kinds of cancer. And the stage it is at also affects how much impact it has. So that makes sense.

    4. Ange*

      In the UK you are entitled to the protection of the Equality Act once you have been diagnosed with cancer, even if it’s successfully treated. Obviously I don’t know the specifics of US law, but it’s not impossible that it has a similar provision.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        I responded to another UK user above that in the US cancer isn’t automatically covered under the ADA

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To clarify, nothing is (except AIDS, I think); it’s a broad definition that doesn’t list specific conditions (but many end up being covered, generally including cancer).

          1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

            Alison, since she no longer has cancer though, I am not sure what she would be claiming under the ADA since she is capable of doing her job without wearing oils

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree—I don’t think she meets the definition of “disabled” for the purposes of the ADA, in which case, the employer does not have a legal duty to accommodate her in this way.

              1. fposte*

                But might this not fall afoul of the whole “The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as medication, medical supplies, equipment” thing in the ADAAA? If an actual doctor is willing to state “This keeps her cancer from coming back” (a big “if,” I grant you), is that different enough to make it not apply?

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure that provision means is that an employer must evaluate a condition to determine if it’s a disability without considering whether there is treatment available that would lessen the effects of that condition. So for example, if I have a depression diagnosis, the employer can’t say it doesn’t qualify as a disability simply because I could take anti-depressants (or because I’m managing symptoms by undergoing several different therapies).

                2. fposte*

                  @PCBH–Interesting. I was looking up Sutton v. United Air because of this post and I’m intrigued by the places that think it was bad law–not because the plaintiffs should have gotten to be pilots, but because it weakened the ADA. That’s what I was thinking of.

                3. Retail HR Guy*

                  @PCBH, actually fposte was right. Someone with a very serious condition perfectly controlled by medication may not be impaired at all in any activities of daily living but could still be considered disabled under the ADA. You ignore the mitigating factors in making the determination whether or not they are being utilized.

                  So, someone who is practically deaf without that hearing aid but does just fine with the hearing aid is still covered under ADA.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @RetailHRGuy, I’m a little confused because I’m pretty sure we’re saying the same thing. My point was that you can have a disability that substantially limits a major life activity even if the symptoms of that disability, or its limiting effect, can be controlled by medication or other therapies. That is, you have to evaluate whether a person has a disability without reference to their treatment, and you don’t take into account the (positive/ameliorative) impacts of their treatment when evaluating impact on major life activities.

                  @fposte, I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain that the ADAAA expressly abrogated Sutton v. United Air. In particular, the amendments sought to override Sutton’s holding that (1) you could not have a disability if its effects were ameliorated through treatment, and (2) a person must show impairment with respect to at least two major life activities to qualify as “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA. Both of those holdings are no longer good law.

                5. fposte*

                  @PCBH–yup, I phrased it badly and you’re right about the ADAAA. I meant that I remembered that case and looking at it is where I found the discussions of the problem of its findings and others, and thus the ADAAA.

                  I’m struggling to find an analogue because, well, essential oils and cancer, but if her technical status is remission rather than cancer-free and this is considered remission maintenance, does that change anything? Are we in a situation where her ADA-eligibility hinges on whether she’s described as cured or not?

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  fposte, I think the answer is yes—whether she’s in remission is materially different from whether she’s “cured.” Although as a practical matter, folks are only ever in remission, right? In which case she may be covered if her cancer substantially impaired a major life activity, but I honestly don’t know enough about how the ADAAA treats cancer survivors to know if I’ve got this right or wrong.

            2. fposte*

              It’s prophylaxis against recurrence. I think it would take a real disability lawyer and possibly a real court (or several real courts) to determine it didn’t fall under the ADA as long as a doctor recommended it.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                Yes. From the outside, we have no idea the status of her cancer – full remission? Chance of returning? Not actually gone but not spreading? And so I would absolutely work off the assumption that she has a valid disability and engage with her about what that disability is and what she needs for accommodation.

                To start the ADA dialogue, they do not need proof that she is covered by the ADA. They need to know she *may* be covered by the ADA. Whether she actually is and whether the accommodation she needs is workable is what the whole process is supposed to help determine. The company does not seem to have done any of that so they probably don’t know either. What they really can’t do, though, is decide right at the start *without really looking into it more* that “she isn’t disabled because she doesn’t have cancer.”

                1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

                  I’m definitely not saying they shouldn’t come to the table at all – I agree they definitely should. I just don’t know much about the laws so I was curious.

                  I was also curious since asthma can kill you and someone in the office is actively dealing with it. So since everyone can’t be happy, does an active issue outweigh a possibly past issue? Or is it merely about the reasonableness of each accommodation requests?

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @I GOTS TO KNOW!, I think it’s the reasonableness of the request for accommodation. In my limited experience, I’ve never seen the employer go into an analysis of whether one condition results in a “graver” disability than the other, and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve only seen folks focus on the accommodation request.

            3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

              Actually, I think the better question is does she have to prove she has a qualifying disability under the ADA in order to get an accommodation? And if she does, who does she have to prove it to – her doctor or the company?

              1. fposte*

                She can be required to submit paperwork from a relevant health care professional. If you have a look at the AskJAN link I posted elsewhere, that gives a good overview of just what an employer can require about the disability and the accommodations.

    5. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      Maybe I’m reading this incorrectly, but I got the impression that Essential Oils lady is not the one with the accommodation. Her move to the OP’s floor was to accommodate an employee with asthma on EO Lady’s original floor. Now OP and others on that floor are having migraines, allergies, etc. triggered by the essential oils.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        Rachel 2 – OP said the tone the EO wear gets when you talk to her about it is that it is an ADA issue, so it sounds like the office has sort of accepted that it is an accommodation for her, even though it isn’t an official one

  19. memyselfandi*

    This prompted me to search “essential oils cancer” which generated a whole bunch of stuff. Apparently it is a thing. I had never heard of it.

    What caught my attention in this post is the smell and headache. We had a young woman (intern) who was using a hair oil of some sort. In some people it triggered an instant headache. Others could not smell it at all. It took some time to figure out what was going on. I felt sorry for the young woman. I was one of the ones that could smell it, but I didn’t sit near her.

    1. Jeanne*

      It’s a problem in many offices with perfumes or other products. Normally, you can ask nicely for someone to wear less perfume, etc. But this is tougher because she is saying she has to do this.

    2. Temperance*

      Did anyone have a chat with her?

      I’m one of those people who is pretty scent sensitive, and I sometimes forget that other people don’t smell things as strongly as I can.

    3. Anxa*

      I can’t take shea butter. Being around it gives me such an intense headache and I have to work really hard at suppressing my gag reflex. Luckily it’s not an allergy, but I wish it wasn’t such a common product.

    4. blackcat*

      I wonder if this is one of those weird genetic things, like the people who think cilantro tastes like soap. Maybe some folks just have genes that mean their body goes “OMG NO!!” to certain substances while others remain blissfully unaware.

      1. Memyselfandi*

        I think so. I have a friend who is revolted by something in goat products. She can’t eat goat cheese.

        1. blackcat*

          … are you my friend? I do not know what it is, but there is something in all goat diary products that is so repulsive to me. I can’t even *smell* goat cheese without wanting to vomit.

  20. brightstar*

    It sounds like this woman is mentioning accommodation in an attempt to control the situation. As others have mentioned, I think the office needs to have everyone bring in doctor’s notes and start a formal accommodation process. And migraines often effect a person beyond the period of the actual headache, for some the effects last for days. So this could possible seriously affect some persons abilities to perform their jobs and lower productivity.

  21. rubyrose*

    Maybe a reasonable accommodation would be for the offender to put her oils on once a day, at home, in the evening, and take a shower before going to work in the morning wearing fresh clothes. And if forced between choosing that and not having a job, she might choose that.

    I do use oils at times and the only time I need to keep consistently applying them is for acute pain. If she has cancer and has acute pain, I would think she would be on a stronger pain killer than the oils. But she no longer has cancer (per the original post) so I can’t think of a reason that she would need to have them on 24/7.

    As to an oil company coming out and saying something is good for cancer – I would not hold my breathe for this. The FDA is constantly monitoring what the companies claim and so the reputable companies are very careful in this area.

  22. Ultraviolet*

    I’m curious about what the employer would have to do in order to prove that the essential oils were an undue hardship. I imagine it’s not enough that other employees are complaining about it, but does the employer actually have to start losing employees in order to claim hardship?

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      It’s sending other employees home sick. I would think that crosses the line, no matter how vaguely defined that line may be.

      1. drashizu*

        Yeah, probably anything that leads to losing several person-hours of work from other employees every time they have to accommodate her would be an undue hardship, especially if stopping her from wearing oil or replacing her with someone who doesn’t would let them instantly gain back more than one person’s worth of productivity. Assuming she went all-out and got a doctor’s note, though, they would probably need to try the isolating affected employees on the other floor (assuming office space is fungible and they can sit anywhere and still do their jobs) or letting her work from home (ditto) before telling her she has to stop.

    2. OhNo*

      I don’t think there are any set requirements about what constitutes an undue hardship, so that might just be on the employer to decide if they have a strong enough argument to hold up in court if they’re sued.

      I’ve worked at places that are so risk-averse that they accommodate every little thing possible because they are never satisfied with any argument for undue hardship. Hopefully the OP doesn’t work for one of those places, because then the people in charge might never take a stand.

    3. DeskBird*

      I’m curious how you would weigh the hardship of the smaller effects – for example employees who get a headache from the smell but don’t get migraines. Or just the simmering resentment of people who can’t claim a medical reaction but are forced to smell something horrible all day long. This can’t be making her popular. I wonder if she has a harder time working with other people if they resent her for smelling up the office.

      1. Natalie*

        “Or just the simmering resentment of people who can’t claim a medical reaction but are forced to smell something horrible all day long.”

        This definitely wouldn’t count as far as the law is concerned. Civil rights agencies specifically call out that the negative feelings of customers or co-workers aren’t an undue burden.

        1. Observer*

          And with good reason. These negative feelings have been used time and again to discriminate against women and minorities.

      2. JessaB*

        I think the issue is whether or not you can accommodate at reasonable cost. IE if you can move Oil Lady, or move Asthma/Allergy people in such a way that they don’t bother each other, then it’s reasonable.

        If you cannot. For instance if you only had one floor of a building and no place you could put Oil Lady where the A/A people could be protected, then you’d have to get into the is Oil Lady’s accommodation (able to wear oil) unreasonable when put against let’s say 5 people you cannot move. But before you get there you kind of have to have the discussion. Someone whether the A/A people or Oil Lady has to actually go and officially ask for an actual accommodation.

        So right now if Oil Lady hasn’t (or even if she has) I’d suggest that the A/A people go and request actual accommodations officially.

  23. Chrissi*

    This came up at our work. A worker insisted on wearing super strong oils and it was triggering another employees migraines. She didn’t wear them for health reasons though. Eventually the migraine suffering employee went to working at home full time because they wouldn’t tell this employee to stop wearing the oils. Even after she retired, the migraine sufferer kept working at home just because. It was all so weird.

  24. Carolyn*

    How can you condone something so venomously if you have never tried them? How do you think our ancestors treated themselves? Ran out to Walmart? Most of our drugs have natural base origins….. We’ve just modernized them to death! Destroying the best part of them.
    Although I don’t condone subjecting others to them no more than the smell of any expensive store brand perfume.

    1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      But there is a distinct difference between putting on oils that basically just have scents and using digitalis to create heart medicine, which is ingested in proper doses and gets into the blood stream.

      There are plants that you can use to accomplish different things. But they have to be used properly. There is no evidence that essential oils do anything more than assist with superficial ailments – and certainly no evidence to suggest they can cure heart disease or cancer. When there is evidence that modern medicine does

      1. Leatherwings*

        Yeah the idea that we’ve somehow lost a cure to cancer over a millenia and can re-find it by applying essential oils is a bit comical.

        1. Anon for this*

          Yeah. If we had a cure for all cancers at any point in history, we would not have managed to forget about it.

      2. Alex "Barney" Barnaby*

        My answer to “How do you think our ancestors treated themselves?” is “They kicked the bucket.”

    2. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      As I said below though, that isn’t the question being asked here. The question is how to handle conflicting accommodations. My guess is that the EO user does not even qualify under the ADA as she has no current illness that prevents her from doing her job, so she will have to stop wearing the oils to prevent giving her coworkers current debilitating illnesses like migraines and asthma attacks

    3. Mike*

      Well…. they didn’t treat themselves, other than using the same pseudotreatments being peddled by the homepathic community. The average age of death was far lower than it is now.

      There is not any science behind essential oils that has been peer reviewed to be effective. If there was, it would not be called alternative medicine, but rather just medicine.

      Not sure how reducing the percentage of sick, raising the average lifespan, as well as all but eliminated plague level diseases can be thought of modernizing to death.

    4. PoniezRUs*

      Our ancestors didn’t treat themselves. They died from tooth infections and cuts on their arms and legs. I don’t think natural remedies found in nature were all that common either and processing the source of the natural remedy has made them more effective.

    5. DeskBird*

      Our ancestors believed people got sick because they had too much blood in their body – so they would cut sick people and bleed them into bowls.

      1. seejay*

        Or apply leeches.
        Or drill holes into their heads and let the pressure out.
        Or sever the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the frontal lobes.
        Or wave smelly oils around and pray for the demons to get cast out.
        Or applied manual masturbation to calm the hysterics.
        Or died en mass when when rats with plague wandered through the city.

        There’s a lot of crazy things our ancestors did because they thought it did the right thing or it was spooky-foo. And a lot of the time, they were outright wrong. And if they were lucky, people just died. If they didn’t, they had things go incredibly wrong and bad and they suffered horribly. Oh and they died really young. Not at 60, 70, 80 and 90 years old like they do now. And they died from stupid common things like cuts and scratches and infections and child birth. Things that we shake off now and don’t even think twice about.

        In short, our ancestors led shorter, dirtier, and far more horrible lives than we do now, and we can thank science and medicine for it.

    6. Anon for this*

      My family has a long history of anxiety disorders, which they treated with natural relaxants like alcohol.

      I’m sure you can see the problem.

    7. Observer*

      How do you think our ancestors treated themselves?

      Actually, they frequently died of things that we routinely live though.

    8. Mike C.*

      How can you condone something so venomously if you have never tried them?

      Because they don’t survive the scrutiny of double-blind studies and repeated experimentation. Being able to extra and synthesize active compounds doesn’t “destroy the best part of them”, it ensures that we can properly and precisely administer a medicinally useful dosage while minimizing variability and the side effects of too much/too little medicine or of other active compounds found in the natural source.

      Does this answer your question?

  25. Brittany*

    Anyone who doesn’t think essential oils aid in the physical, emotional or mental health of someone is uneducated and closed minded. Take another pill and mask your symptoms without treating your illnesses but don’t discredit ones who use essential oils and see the benefits.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      Hey. Not everyone believes in homeopathy.

      I happen to use oils at home for things like stress and headaches but I wouldn’t characterize people who don’t as closed minded, nor would I replace actual, certified medical care with oils.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      You are arguing a point that is not really under debate here.

      This letter is about a person claiming that use of essential oils cured her of cancer and therefore she has to be allowed to use them at work to keep her from getting cancer. That really has nothing to do with whether aromatherapy more generally aids in meditation/enhances someone’s emotional well-being/etc.

    3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      There is no evidence that essential oils do anything more than assist with superficial ailments – and certainly no evidence to suggest they can cure heart disease or cancer. When there is evidence that modern medicine does. Most medicines do in fact treat the illness not mask symptoms.

      But that isn’t the question being asked here. The question is how to handle conflicting accommodations. My guess is that the EO user does not even qualify under the ADA as she has no current illness that prevents her from doing her job, so she will have to stop wearing the oils to prevent giving her coworkers current debilitating illnesses like migraines and asthma attacks

    4. Jessie the First (or second)*

      “Take another pill and mask your symptoms without treating your illnesses ”

      Also, as the mom of a desperately and chronically and likely terminally ill child, I want to scream at you for your callous sarcasm. Walk a mile in my shoes first and then try to say this to me with a clear conscience.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Yeah, just the arrogance of “take your pill, you sheeple” really, really, really strikes a nerve. :-/ But water off a duck’s back….

          1. Temperance*

            Oh, I totally get it. I almost died last year, and IV antibiotics saved my life. Hoping really hard and burning oils or whatever would have killed me.

            So I totally get it. I just eyeroll because, well, I know that my life is better because of pills, but I can’t imagine how painful it is to deal with your sick child and judgmental weirdos who are not doctors.

          2. Althea*

            I’m with you, too. My daughter is alive now because of a drug administered from birth until she could have surgery. And she’s still alive because of several surgeries, followed by the regimens of antibiotics to fight infection during her recovery. It’s hard to hear people declaring various drugs / treatments / “big” medicine as bad for you or charlatans as a result.

      1. Manders*

        I’m so sorry that you have to deal with this. The amount of woo that gets thrown at people who going through medical crises is just astonishing.

    5. Stellaaaaa*

      Great…is this the sort of post that gets linked somewhere else and now there’s going to be a flood of new commenters?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s the sort of post that brings out strong feelings in people, new commenter or not.

        That said, Brittany, you need to be kind when commenting here. (So does everyone else, though, and there’s been a handful of comments in addition to this one that haven’t been.)

      1. Marcela*

        Obviously no. Only the healthy, like my FIL, can pretend that medicine is evil, and that the ancient lived until 100 or more with perfect health and happiness.

      2. Whoopsy*

        I don’t know if I’d expect a reply from her; this sort of commenter rarely comes back to address any shortcomings. I wonder why?

    6. Mike C.*

      Why rely on “feelings” or “belief” when we have the scientific method instead? We don’t have to sit here and argue over the internet, we can actually test this stuff out and see if it works or not.

      It’s not people who discredit the vast majority of medicinal essential oil usage, it’s the results of direct experimentation.

    7. ceiswyn*

      Where does this idea come from that thoroughly tested and approved medications only mask illnesses without curing anything, whereas random nice-smelling flowers can cure everything?

      Didn’t that idea go out with posies against the Black Death?

      And if nice-smelling herbs and flowers are so effective, why did we ever stop taking them and switch to penicillin and the like?

      (Oh, yes. Because PEOPLE STOPPED DYING.)

  26. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Doesn’t the science-backed need, specifically advocated for by an actual MD, of someone with asthma to breathe outweigh the need of someone to use an unproven at best, quack st worst, remedy?

    The EO user would get laughed out of my office. Once people start to have graduate degrees, at least in my environment, people stop believing BS.

    1. fposte*

      Nope. The ADA doesn’t allow employers to judge the science. (Which is probably good, if you think about it.) It just lets them judge the documentation.

    2. ZTwo*

      It’s definitely anecdata, but in my experience well-educated people are often more susceptible to certain types of BS, particularly if it involves feeling more in the know, clever, or aware than those around them. That definitely includes homeopathy, naturopathy, anti-vaxxing, etc. Usually they’er people who want to investigate the truth for themselves, are skeptical of certain professions (often because they know people socially), have the cultural awareness/time/income to try this stuff, etc.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This isn’t how the ADA works, though. To be honest, we don’t want employers getting into the business of determining what treatment is valid/invalid. But the employer can require a medical diagnosis and some paperwork, and I think they should.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Definitely. Employers can also require that a note come from an MD, and thus refuse anything from the person’s naturopath or EO-peddling friend.

        1. fposte*

          To be clear: they can require that the note come from an appropriate health care professional for the claim made, but they don’t have the right to insist that they’ll only honor ADA requests with paperwork from MDs.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes, and we don’t want them to require only notes from MDs. If you have a mental health issue, for example, and your non-MD therapist provides paperwork, we want to make it possible for that paperwork to count. The same goes for a chiropractor, a physical therapist, etc.

            1. Tau*

              Yeah, I feel like a lot of people are pushing back against the idea of the described claim being considered valid accommodation under the ADA because they think it’s obviously ludicrous but aren’t thinking through the broader implications of the objections they’re making. E.g.: suggesting only notes from MDs should count, suggesting the employer be allowed to deny the accommodation on grounds of it not being scientifically proven to work, suggesting the ADA can’t apply because the coworker doesn’t have cancer right now… as a disabled person who may need accommodations in the future, most of these ideas are actually terrifying.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Tau, as someone who made the “is her current health status still covered under the ADA?” argument, I apologize if it was triggering or upsetting. And I agree with you.

              2. Lissa*

                I completely agree. We’re all coming at this from the lens of “well, we 100% *know* that oils are bunk”, but what if an employer 100% “knows” that antidepressants etc. are bunk? The scientifically proven thing…I get it, but there are people who will say some things are scientifically proven, and others will disagree. I’ve heard people say with absolute certainty that all sorts of bizarre things are “scientifically proven” and even provide links to legit seeming sites or professionals agreeing.

              3. KellyK*

                Same here, particularly since I have illnesses that people often dismiss as made up. The idea of employers as arbiters of what’s actually appropriate medical treatment is definitely scary.

    4. Observer*

      Well, your environment is apparently an outlier. Are you aware that the highest concentration of Anti-vax in the US is in an area with an extremely high percentage of people with graduate and post graduate degrees?

    5. Marcela*

      In my particular corner, my MIL and FIL, both biologists, and my SIL and BIL, both chemists, buy more and more of the quackery stuff. We just cannot talk to them anymore.

  27. Morning Glory*

    Assuming essential oils really could be considered under ADA, could you and the others suggest the company reasonably accommodate the woman by allowing her to work from home?

    A reasonable accommodation doesn’t necessarily mean the accommodation the person wants.

    1. Gadfly*

      It may simply not be an option for this job. Not all employers are set up to allow WFH, and not all roles work well with it. And depending on how it is handled it could raise other concerns. It seems to be everyone’s favorite answer for an accommodation for almost any ADA concern, but it can become like mommy-tracking an employee: well intentioned, but career limiting. Worse, it can start to suggest that people with disabilities need to be quarantined from the general set of employees…

  28. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    This letter reminds me of problems with my commute and my gym. Usually, when I get on my bus, it is pretty full, and often the only place is near this woman who smells terrible due to secondhand smoke. So I either have to shift my schedule by a half hour to get another bus, get a mask, or deal with symptoms. I’d stand, but there’s not really room to do so except at the front, where she is.

    Most evenings, I also have to hurry to finish at the gym, because there’s another person who smells like smoke and a Hoarders house, who always takes a machine near me while I have already started and can’t switch easily.

    Smells can be dangerous, even, for a lot of people. And, unlike with food allergies, no one HAS to wear oils or smoke.

    1. Morning Glory*

      Alternate option: be such an unpleasant seatmate that the next time she gets on the bus, she chooses to sit somewhere else to pre-emptively avoid you :)

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Well, she’s always on first, since it’s a suburbs-to-city express and she lives south of my town. Otherwise I might try that! I would fart or something, give her a taste of her own medicine. Haha. ;)

    2. Elizabeth H.*

      True, nobody has to smoke or wear a scent but unless your gym has a rule against smoking close to coming in, people are allowed to smoke. My yoga studio (and every other one I’ve been to) has in their policies not to smoke or use perfume or similar 1-2 hours before class, so, I don’t. But, I wouldn’t follow that specific restriction if there wasn’t a policy. There are plenty of people these scents *don’t* bother.

      1. Morning Glory*

        Sure, but that really only means that a gym employee isn’t going to remove this person, it doesn’t mean that other gym-goers aren’t allowed to hate them. ‘Technically not forbidden” doesn’t mean it’s not rude and inconsiderate.

        I hate people in yoga who save good spots for their friends who show up late, who have strong body odor/perfumes, who talk on their cell phones before class begins… it’s a long list. If someone came in smelling of smoke, I would hate them too.

  29. Bend & Snap*

    NFW would I wear a mask because someone else wanted to swim in essential oils.

    Maybe the oil employee could go remote?

    1. fposte*

      In some workplaces, it’s possible that’s the only accommodation they could provide, and your choice would be accept it or move on.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I really don’t see wearing a mask all day, every day to as an acceptable accommodation. It’s distracting, uncomfortable, and for something like asthma, probably not likely to prevent an attack.

        1. Temperance*

          I tried this around my MIL’s nasty boyfriend, who smells like an ashtray that’s been in a bar for 100 years. It didn’t prevent any symptoms.

        2. fposte*

          Yes, but not all workplaces would have another solution for you. They’re not required to have a good solution, just a reasonable accommodation. If it’s a workplace where work from home isn’t possible and physical separation is too difficult, if a mask technically worked, that might well be considered a reasonable accommodation, and your choice would be to accept it or leave (or come up with another possibility that didn’t ban anybody else from the office).

          I’m reminded of the reddit post I’ve mentioned before, by the woman with life-threatening dog allergies who worked in a small office with somebody with a service dog. Assuming proper documentation on both sides, there’s no neat win in a situation like that; the workplace can’t fire somebody as somebody else’s reasonable accommodation.

          1. Shayland*

            There was also a more recent reddit post about a similar thing, but the affected person did not have a life threatening allergy.

            Competing access needs is such a difficult topic, especally when it comes to service dogs. I’m thinking about writing an article on it.

          2. Observer*

            Something that makes it hard to breath is NOT a “reasonable” solution though. What people are pointing out is that these masks are not a mild annoyance but a significant problem.

      2. Artemesia*

        One can only hope that they lose all their best employees who are bothered by or just find unpleasant the ridiculous smelly oils. Inflicting this on other people is simply unacceptable. It is the classic, your right to swing your fist ends with my nose situation.

      3. Observer*

        I highly doubt it.

        Of course, and employer can do anything stupid (anyone remember the employer who was driving everyone nuts to accommodate someone with OCD?) But I have no doubt that in any locality where people can collect unemployment if they quite jobs with really unreasonable working conditions, this would count. The masks that work are not a minor discomfort. And for some people they simply are not usable or safe.

    2. TL -*

      My roommate wears a mask for part of her work because she developed an allergy to something she works with. It’s not ideal but it keeps her from having allergy attacks.

  30. animaniactoo*

    The largest way that I would actually push back against this once all the doctor’s notes and everything are in, is that everyone just taking additional allergy medication is in itself a problematic solution.

    Medications have side effects – sometimes even slowbuilding longterm ones that are not immediately obvious – and people develop tolerances and so you end up with potentially doing several people harm simply by having everyone need to be on allergy meds (or additional meds) simply to deal with one irritant. At that point, I think that it strongly moves into the category of “undue hardship”, because it’s asking several people to potentially cause damage to things they need like kidneys and lose the solution that works for them currently to manage their allergies with the potential that a replacement that isn’t as neutral on side effects or as good at preventing the symptoms from happening. In the name of accommodating one person.

    As an environmental thing, if this many people needed to rely on allergy meds, etc. to be in that location, the push would be to hunt down the irritant and switch brands of carpet cleaner or some such if that proved to be the thing. In the name of general employee health.

    I am assuming btw that “everyone” means “most people” and not literally everyone.

    Is there a way to physically locate this woman within the building, but with limited contact with others? Can they add air filters to reduce the effect of the oils on the people around her? What can be done that would keep her on premises, while mitigating the physical effect of the oils on the other employees?

    If the company gets to the step of asking her for documentation, I would also be sure to ask for *how* the oils are supposed to be used beyond simply the fact of whether their use is needed/recommended. Because at the level of scent being described, it’s possible that she’s in “overdose” category and could use a lesser amount that would not permeate the area as badly. It’s a reasonable path to explore in the other direction in terms of being able to determine if the employee is doing what she can to limit the impact of her need.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      This is a good point. Allergy medication isn’t meant to be taken in perpetuity by people who don’t otherwise have a daily need for it.

    2. OP*

      Hi, OP here. WFH isn’t an option, unfortunately. I’d say our immediate group (of which she is a part) has about 30 people, and there are 3 or 4 of us who have bad visceral reactions. I know of another 4 or 5 who have commented that they take something like Claritin or Allegra before they come to work to address the issue. She was moved to a mostly uninhabited part of another floor, but she still needs to come to our area for group meetings and such. During these, people generally move away from her so that she’s sitting alone at one end of the table (otherwise, they cough and sneeze and their eyes water). I actually am sympathetic – I don’t know what kind of medical advice she receives, and even if it is bunk, she deserves to be treated as fairly as possible. But yeah – I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been any kind of medical documentation. My best tactic is to put myself as far away physically as possible and simply not attend any meeting she’s also attending.

        1. OP*

          Yes, but the response has mostly been that they simply cannot ask her to stop because it’s an accommodation under the ADA. The best I’ve gotten is that I won’t be overly penalized for skipping meetings she’s in.

            1. OP*

              I think it’s a good point – I need a list, I guess. I.e. I cannot be in a closed space (like a conference room) with her, and I will set up a call-in line so that I don’t miss it, and I will keep my door shut if she’s on my floor, etc. I’m not sure that addresses the other folks who are impacted, but I guess I need to just worry about myself and then guide anyone else who asks. Thanks to Alison and everyone for the thoughtful conversation!

              1. The OG Anonsie*

                Is she aware of how much the oils are affecting some of you guys? I get the sense from the letter and your comments that all the conversations have been with management only. Which is fair, but I wonder if management is too afraid to really talk to her about it because they hear far-away echoes of a lawsuit. She may have something simple she can do that would help the situation greatly but has no idea it’s even necessary. Linette and Ruby Rose below mentioned applying to the soles of the feet is a thing, for example?

                1. DeskBird*

                  She’s been moved to a floor away from everyone else and when she comes to meetings everyone sits on the other end of the table – far away from her. I hope she knows that it is because of the oil because otherwise it would be really sad. She has got to know she’s effecting people and still be super dedicated to what she’s doing if no one is willing to sit near her and she’s keeping it up.

                2. The OG Anonsie*

                  Fair enough. But if management is really afraid of this whole thing, they may be presenting this to her in a really non-constructive way. Like oh, this one person gets headaches, so we’ll move you over here and everything is fine don’t worry about it. Some people, you know, it’s bothering their sinuses a little if you’re right next to them, it’s nbd, if they sit over there they’re fine. That’s a wildly different situation than what’s actually happening, you know?

              2. JessaB*

                Is it possible for her to attend meetings via skype for the ones where those with major allergies will be present? I know it’s silly sounding to have someone skype in for a meeting in their building… but it’s an idea?

            2. Scott*

              Bringing a note that says you need to stay away from “the employee with cancer”? Would that be good for your career?

              1. Temperance*

                Of course she wouldn’t bring in that sort of note, but one explaining that the woman’s choice to wear heavily scented oils triggers migraines would be perfectly reasonable and not suggesting EEW CANCER or whatnot.

                1. Beancounter Eric*

                  Bringing a medical note indicating that exposure to various substances induce respiratory issues of X nature would seem to me to be very acceptable.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                C’mon, that’s not what the note would say. The note would say OP’s reactive/sensitive to strong smells and that they cause migraines, etc. Not that she’s icked by an employee who used to have cancer.

                1. Scott*

                  Practically speaking though that would be the message wouldn’t it- not that she can’t be around x scent, but that it makes her sick to be around Jane.

                2. fposte*

                  I think if the scent is strong enough to fell people there’s not going to be much doubt about the nature of the objection.

                3. TL -*

                  @Scott: I have a coworker who uses a chemical that gives me a killer headache. So far she’s taken the request to not use it around me as an indicator that it gives me a headache. Same with my roommate, who has taken my request not to buy lemon-scented cleaning products as an indicator that I hate the scent of lemons.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Scott, it’s no different than “I can’t be around the employee accompanied by a seeing eye dog because I have allergies.” That’s not saying “keep me away from the blind person.”

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  No. Practically speaking the accommodation request has to refer to the trigger. And in this case, the trigger is the scent of coworker’s blend of essential oils, not the coworker’s status as a cancer survivor.

                6. JessaB*

                  Well there are options there, if the person cannot do without the dog because the service the dog supplies requires it to be right next to them (alerting for blood sugar, PTSD, epilepsy, pulling the person’s wheelchair, etc.) the allergic person could possibly join meetings by Skype or telephone.

                  If the person is someone who can leave the dog temporarily (many blind people can, some deaf people can, etc.) they can get to the meeting and leave the dog in their office.

                  But it can be dealt with. Also a lot of allergies have to do with dander and pet hair and things, so a request to keep the animal in a short puppy coat (if it’s poodle-ish in coat,) or brush it frequently (if it’s retriever or shepherd ish) could also be made.

                  I admit as a former Special Ed teacher, my go to is to adapt and think of any solution however wiggy it might sound, and even if it’s weird there’s a solution to conflicting ADA needs, it just has to be found. And sometimes that means getting permission from all the parties and arranging a group conference call (if the accommodation means they can’t be in the same room.)

                  But that also presumes that the company in question is going to actually engage in the process and not to play first in time is first in line, or that disease/need is better than your disease. (Why is the Ken-L Ration dog food jingle going through my head now?)

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Your company is really shirking its responsibilities – not to mention desperately misunderstanding what its responsibilities are! ADA is not a race; it *isn’t* that whoever gets there first gets to have any accommodation and anyone who requests second is SOL. And it isn’t that any and all desired accommodations must be given.

          2. Sarah*

            Is it possible for her to simply Skype into group meetings? I realize that seems a little silly with her being just one floor away, but it would avoid the scent issue with still allowing her to participate in the group meetings.

          3. BethRA*

            Is it possible that the company HAS gone through some kind of ADA process with her? I assume they wouldn’t be able to go into the details of that process with other employees for privacy reasons.

            (it also occurred to me that they accommodation she may be getting is more about her mental rather than physical health – that believing the oils keep her healthy may be how she manages depression or anxiety)

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Ugh, I’m sorry OP. I have a strong feeling that this isn’t an ADA accommodation and that your company is simply passing the buck—but that’s not super helpful to solving your problem. But regardless, I think it’s in your interest to start the accommodation process on your end.

      1. Temperance*

        Is it possible for her to call in to meetings, so you aren’t exposed to her? It seems very unfair that you have to miss meetings and potential job opportunities in order to protect your own health.

        1. JessaB*

          It also may end up that the asthma/allergy crew ends up needing to be the ones calling in. Or that they alternate. Isolating Jane isn’t the only option here (and it might not be the best one.) Something might need to be worked out where everyone gets a little isolated but attempts are made to have everyone allowed to both contribute and be social around the office.

          But the A/A group should also when dealing with the accommodation request cover any other potential issues like carpet cleaners or other products that may be in the office.

      2. Jesmlet*

        Does she have to be physically present at those meetings to do her job? Is there any way for her to call in or do a video conference? It’s an awful way to single someone out but so is having everyone move away from her.

      3. Noah*

        Part of the challenge here is that, even assuming the reaction to the EOs might be a disability (interferes with the major life activity of breathing), if Claritin works on the issue then it is not a disability under the Sutton case (corrective action alleviates the disability).

        1. animaniactoo*

          I’d challenge that on the grounds listed above – this is an introduced irritant affecting several employees, not just one, and they should not be required to potentially harm themselves/their own medical setups as *a group* in order to accommodate one.

          Also – I have allergies. I take the appropriate meds for my allergies. If I was required to start taking my primary allergy inhibitor on a daily basis, putting me at risk for developing an immunity to it (along with the other 2 or 3 that I’ve already been through, with the 5 or 6 tried that have not nearly enough effect), I don’t care if Claritin works right now. I want to at least explore a solution that’s not going to screw me longterm.

          In large part because I’m already at the stage that if you overload my system, there are not enough allergy meds in the world to keep it under control, and the only thing that works is distance from the irritant and time for my system to recover. Risking my current mitigator for anything other than an unavoidable need or something that is my choice (like my sister’s house 1x a year), is a bigger risk than “I forgot to take it today”.

        2. Old Admin*

          Another problem is that allergy medication has all sorts of side effects, drowsiness being one of them. That could cause problems with focusing on work.

        3. fposte*

          I believe the ADAAA is considered to have superseded (overturned? Not sure if you can use that language with a legislative action but one source does) Sutton.

    3. Artemesia*

      This. Having to take medication is an unreasonable thing to inflict on people to accommodate a person’s need to stink. Allergy meds are not that good and they have an impact on blood pressure, they wear out in effectiveness, and the actually very effective allergy meds have very dangerous side effects. Not reasonable accommodation and especially for something that is a phony affectation.

  31. Cynthia*

    I like the way my EO wearing colleague smells. I always take a good sniff in hopes of relieving stress! We always have a good laugh when we’re together so I guess it works!

    1. Buffy*

      I have an oil diffuser in my office as well. I’ve only gotten positive comments about the smell…however, if someone told me they were getting migraines or allergies, the diffuser would be going home with me that night.

      1. Linette*

        As an essential oil user myself I have a solution. If she was asked to put the essential oils on the bottom of her feet and then her shoes should reduce or eliminate the problem.

        1. rubyrose*

          Yes, that would work! Oil application suggestions often say to put on the feet, because of the (dare I say it?) reflexology points. She should not have a problem with this.

          1. Is it Friday Yet?*

            I was going to question how she is using them because I’ve been around a lot of EO users, and the smells have never been that offensive. My understanding is that you are only supposed to use a small amount, and most, if not all, have to be diluted.

      2. Artemesia*

        This. I sometimes wear a light scent; if someone I worked with was bothered by it, then I wouldn’t. I love peanut butter as do my kids; I don’t insist on my right to eat it in the same space an allergic person has to work or play. I don’t even take PBJs on planes anymore although it is a great travel food as it doesn’t require refrigeration.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m not sure how this is helpful to OP and her coworkers? They’re having awful allergic reactions, and OP is coming down with migraines, and we have no idea what blend Smelly Oils Lady is wearing. So I’m not sure how your unrelated positive experiences informs OP’s next steps.

  32. Faith*

    I would suggest, for the employees who are being affected, that you each go to your doctors and get a note requesting the reasonable accommodation that you be moved away from the offending oils causing your reaction, or be given a filter or mask to wear.

    So, if someone works in a small office where they cannot be moved far enough from the offending smell, then an employer can just give them a mask or filter to wear as a reasonable accommodation? Is it really reasonable to expect someone to wear a mask or filter all day every day?

    1. fposte*

      It may be reasonable to offer that as your accommodation, depending on the situation. That’s not the same thing as expecting you to wear it.

      I think masks are a bit of a red herring because they really aren’t likely to solve most reactions. But yes, it’s possible that the only accommodation a workplace could offer you isn’t a satisfactory one, even if the accommodation is necessitated by somebody else’s accommodation.

  33. Adlib*

    Personally I’m a fan of essential oils, but I cannot imagine insisting on wearing them while my coworkers had such strong reactions! Plus, how much is she wearing?? Sounds like a ton!

  34. Camellia*

    Never underestimate the power that the mind has over the body.

    Logic, science, etc., would tell us that walking on hot coals will burn our feet, but it is my understanding (I have not personally witnessed it), that there are those who can walk on hot coals without getting burned.

    If this woman believes that these oils keep her cancer away, I would not want to be the one to convince her otherwise, in case *I* would be the one in the wrong in this situation.

    I hope that something can be worked out for her – work from home, or in an enclosed office, etc.

    1. Buffy*

      Hopefully not too off-topic – but I saw a show (possibly myth busters?) that if you walk slowly, then anyone can walk on the coals. It’s when you walk fast and thereby press your feet down hard on the coals, does it burn you.

    2. fposte*

      Yeah, that’s not mind over matter, that’s physics. Most people can walk on hot coals without being burned–you just need the right coals.

    3. Sunflower*

      Actually wanted to chim in(because I read this last week randomly) that the hot coal thing is actually kind of a myth. Apparently coals aren’t great at radiating heat so as long as you keep walking across them, it just kind of feels like you’re walking on hot sand/pavement.

      But I agree with what you are saying about your mind having power over your body :)

    4. Gadfly*

      My husband is an RN–he has textbooks which note you can cure warts with hypnosis. It is just a generally known/proven fact in them. That might be a better mind over body example.

    5. Elizabeth H.*

      It reminds me of an experiment my AP physics teacher had us do when I was a senior in high school, lying on a bed of nails. He told us that if we were like a calm, still lake it wouldn’t hurt but that if we were like a roiling cauldron of anxiety we’d feel the nails. (This was supposed to have a humorous tone, I know why per the physics concept it wasn’t supposed to hurt.) Anyway most people were calm lakes and didn’t hurt but my friend Darin and I were both cauldrons and it totally hurt! It was so uncomfortable. I do think that if you are nervous and tense up it probably makes a difference. Also I was very skinny so could have something to do with it.

  35. Rachael*

    I wonder if she could be asked to consult with whoever prescribed her on the concentration of the oils. It could be that she would learn that she can dilute it more and cause less havoc at work?

  36. Fiennes*

    This is not, so far as I can tell, relevant to the specific problem faced by the OP, but it makes me wonder: What if the non-scientific health belief of one person is also a religious belief? If someone’s faith tells them to use smelly oils or do something else non-medical for their health, what is a workplace to do? Or to go back to the norovirus letter – what if the offending employee is a Christian Scientist who believes sickness isn’t actually real, and brings her kid in bc she thinks his illusion of illness will be cleared up by prayer and thus presents no risks to others?

    Like I said, this is a branch off the existing conversation, but it’s interesting to think about.

    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      You can make someone not do things that tie into their religion, or lose their job; you just can’t fire them for the belief, is the difference.

      There was an employment law case a while back where an employee with Native American beliefs took mushrooms/peyote or something, for a religious event, and was then fired for a positive drug test. The court ruled that as long as the rule about the conduct is uniform (here, “don’t wear overpowering scents,”) is not related to a religious belief and is evenly applied to all employees, you can fire or otherwise discipline someone for conduct relating to religion.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      If that’s the case, you end up in a different category of the law, and it could mean the employer cannot ask you to fully stop wearing those oils (or not—an employer could adopt a policy re: contagious diseases and decide that you don’t get to decide whether sickness is a real thing). But regardless, your religious practice shouldn’t change ADA accommodation for other employees.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Well, speaking as a Christian Scientist, that would not be considered appropriate on our end because even though we believe that prayer is the best way to handle these things, we also recognize that we need to be thoughtful of others!

      1. Temperance*

        I was wondering about that example. I thought that Christian Scientists generally eschew modern medicine, not that they disbelieve that contagious diseases exist.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Well, it’s actually pretty complicated theologically — but in terms of how we relate to others, we still recognize that it’s exceptionally discourteous to be ill around other people. Not to mention it sucks for the person who’s handling the apparent illness. At the end of the day, it’s not about whether the Christian Scientist believes they’re contagious, but whether the people around them believe they are, as we see it.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              No problem! We’re one of the odd-duck splinters of Christianity, and I enjoy opportunities to clarify things beyond “those weirdos who don’t use medicine.”

    4. Stellaaaaa*

      There was an interesting letter a while back from someone whose coworker was of a religion that required them to interact with men and women differently. I think the solution to that one was that the coworker would either need to let go of the religious rule at work or to interact with everyone in the limited way that he would interact with women. The sticking point was that the employee couldn’t just continue to act as he had been, and he had to account for the people around him. He wasn’t alone in a vacuum with the rules of his religion.

  37. LittleLove*

    As someone who is VERY sensitive to ‘smelly oils,’ I would be furious if I were suffering because someone likes to smell nice. No, just taking a pill wouldn’t cut it and no, I am not wearing a respirator all day at work to accommodate this person. This has actually come up for me and a fellow employee was very politely told to cut back on the fragrance at work. Fortunately, it was just perfume, not someone claiming unproven health issues. I would insist that the smelly person PROVE she needed disability accommodation because I would be happy to prove her smells were causing me medical issues.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      In her defense, she’s not doing it because she “likes to smell nice.” She literally believes she’s saving her own life. (That doesn’t mean I approve of the way she’s handling this!)

      1. JessaB*

        I don’t think it’s the way she is handling it, I think really it’s the company that is screwing up. Seriously. The company needs to step up and figure this out.

  38. Tara*

    Wow that sucks in this case I all the people negatively affected should request a transfer at the same time. This would send message that it’s not just one being affected by this also it put the employer in a lurch and if it happens enough they’d be forced to deal with it.

  39. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    An accommodation doesn’t have to be ideal or perfect for the person needing it. I think employers assume it does have to be; but if only needs to be a process!

    I think my family handled a similar issue better than most employers. Since I commute and work out, I don’t have many daily chores; but, one of the weekend ones is to vacuum. This aggravates my asthma. But, it’s not fair to expect my spouse or other family I stay with, to continue to do more work than I do around the house.

    We figured out that the problem is the vacuum canister; when I have to empty it, or it is too full, dust and pet hair goes flying around. So I still vacuum, but someone else empties the canister and closes the trash it was emptied into, while I’m in another room, and doesn’t let it get too full in the first place.

    As an analogy, the EO user and the other employees still have to do work like I do chores. There needs to be a way to make it work, without doing the professional equivalent of my claiming “I need the accommodation of not doing anything around the house.”

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t understand the example. There are dozens of household chores. why would someone whose asthma is triggered by dust be put in charge of vacuuming and managing the vacuum cleaner? Why weren’t you cleaning the bathroom for example, and someone else handling the dusting and vacuuming?

  40. nerdy medical doctor, first time manager who loves this blog*

    I cannot believe that I am the only licensed practicing physician on this thread! Anyway, it’s clear to me that the OP and OP’s colleagues do need to get notes from their own physicians about their own legitimate medical needs and work on balancing these out.

    I’ll try to address some questions I saw upthread:
    1. in the U.S. one does not need a bachelor’s to go to medical school, however, unless you are in one of the few combined 6year BS/MD programs, good luck actually getting in to an MD school without a bachelors. A BA is just as good as a BS if your grades and MCAT scores are good
    2. the dose makes the medication and the poison (effective medications, whether herbally sourced or synthetic, are nearly all toxic and even lethal at high enough doses).
    3. if a medicine/herb has an EFFECT, it will also have side-effects
    4. lots of things kill cancer cells in petri dishes but don’t work in the human body
    – a personal pet peeve is “___ kills cancer cells”
    –> bleach kills cancer cells, ammonia kills cancer cells — please do not drink or inject either!
    5. peppermint scent is quite good for nausea, as is eating peppermint, but can exacerbate reflux
    6. lavender essential oil is an estrogen mimic (which is why it is calming) and can therefore lead to premature puberty in little girls. My sister (also an MD) has literally treated children many times for this since the essential oil craze hit
    7. Placebos (“sugar pills”) are typically 60-80% effective – this is why careful science is key

    1. blackcat*

      As a non-doctor, I am fascinated by strong placebo effects (ones where you see actual, physical improvement, not just symptom relief). Particularly baffling to me are placebo by proxy effects. How does that happen?! Maybe it’s all mediated by stress hormones? I am so curious how that works.

      (My training is in the physical sciences… so I’m used to clear “X happens because of Y” explanations. I know medicine/biology is not that way, but I want it to be!)

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I’m reminded of the xkcd comic about handguns killing cancer cells in a petri dish.

  41. Claudia M.*

    Wow, this thread. Pages and pages of (sometimes uber-aggressive) EO/naturopathic bashing, and degree-elitistism. Sadness. :(

    That being said…

    I am a full supporter of “require medical paperwork” and “work from home” solutions! And unfortunately, someone above me as correct that “reasonable” accommodation does not always mean “what you wanted.”

    Some medical places have amazing devices that can filter out much of the smell. I worked at a vet office that had one – not sure how it worked, but it was amazing. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to request a workplace purchase one (or more) if that is a common issue.

    1. Temperance*

      I don’t think anyone is being an elitist, just pointing out that only actual, licensed doctors should practice medicine.

      1. TL -*

        We get a little elitist sometimes when the subject comes up. (Maybe not about degrees, but we definitely do sometimes develop a tone of “why would anyone think this?!” that is not particularly helpful, unfortunately.)

    2. Gadfly*

      We have one (Winex brand) that we got while living in a basement. Not only did it handle musty and cats, it handled teen boys–we still joke about the ‘fart sensor’ because one could fart at the other end of the family room and it would come on a few seconds later…

    3. Expat*

      “Degree elitism”, seriously? An opinion does not make you an expert. Expertise makes you an expert. We have a system of formalized qualifications so that it’s possible to tell the difference.

      It’s pretty gutsy to look down your nose at education while making accusations of arrogance. Sadness. :(

      1. Claudia M.*

        I value education. I am educated. Sorry if you felt offended or attacked.

        A degree alone does not a master make, in my opinion and my experience.

    4. Marcela*

      Considering how important real medicine is, yeah, I rather have bashing and “degree elitism ” instead of a bunch of aunts and uncles dying because they are deciding to treat our 100% rate of colon cancer with quackery and not medicine. I am truly afraid that when it’s my father’s turn, he is going to do the exact same thing and die in 6 months of something that he could prevent now with actual exams,and later with real medicines. I just cannot stand people like my FIL, who has been healthy and wealthy and educated all his life, claiming that my criticism, after seing people DIE, is just bashing the greatness of nature. WTH.

      1. Observer*

        Well, the problem is that the degree elitism doesn’t reflect reality at all. As I noted elsewhere, some of the worst anti-vax people have degrees. In fact the largest cluster, as measured b children in public school without vaccinations, is in an area with a very high percentage of parents with degrees – 45% with a Bachelors, 31% with a Masters and 11% with PhD.

        I’m not surprised – the best medical advice I have gotten has come from a very few people, only one of whom is a doctor. Of course, some times the best advice is “Follow the specialist’s recommendation.” But you need to be able to evaluate that advice. Some of the very worst medical advice I have gotten has come from doctors in practice. So, yeah, bashing people for not having a degree and assuming that a degree = the ability to evaluate evidence simply don’t hold up to the evidence.

  42. CJ*

    A mask for asthma?!? If I tried to wear a mask to prevent an asthma attack, the mask would bring on an asthma attack. Guess it’s good that this lawyer isn’t a doctor.

  43. Noah*

    A doctor might recommend the oils, but Employee will probably have trouble finding a doctor who says it keeps her from getting cancer. It’s not clear that whatever other benefit is something that actually requires accommodation.

  44. Kimberly*

    This happened at my sister’s workplace except it was an essential oils infuser. The offender was ordered to get rid of it immediately, because she was endangering employees and patients in the medical office. She tried replacing it with cotton balls soaked in the horrible stuff, and was told to dispose of the mess outside in the trash.

    The offender claimed she was protecting the staff from the flu. They are required to get flu shots, unless they have a real medical reason not to. She was a new hire and faced termination if she pulled something like that again. I’m a patient in the practice and would have fired my doctor if she allowed this nonsense to continue. That crap has landed me in the ER before. The practice is big on science based medicine. I’m shown research about my medical condition and new treatments as they come up..

    Also there have been some scary reactions to those oils. Like the daycare that had to be evacuated because staff and kids had a bad reactions that mimicked carbon monoxide symptoms.

    1. Artemesia*

      Several of my doctor and dentist’s offices specifically request people not wear perfumes in the office.

    2. Honeybee*

      In a doctor’s office? I mean, using essential oils in all kinds of workplaces is not a great idea, but a doctor’s office is one of the very worst places I can think of.

  45. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    I’m an essential oils user (though I *never* use them at work and go home for the day if I have a need to). I have a medical doctor that makes recommendations on which oils to use – but never would she (as president of the State’s board) claim that they can cure cancer. She would say that they could potentially help alleviate symptoms when properly used but not all people respond the same way. Those of us who have educated ourselves on essential oils also understand that EOs can easily trigger other conditions. I’ll never forget my friend’s experience on an airplane when a woman a few rows in front started applying a multitude of stinky EOs – and triggered an anaphylactic response in another traveler. The flight had to be diverted to the nearest airport because of this one person’s insistence on using those EOs in an enclosed space.

    I think the coworker using the EOs is certainly being unreasonable in her usage. The employer is in a difficult position, but there are options. Getting a strong air purifier in her office would be reasonable. Restricting the application of the EOs to her office is also reasonable protection for the chemically sensitive. OP should probably band together with other affected co-workers and have their doctors sign orders for chemical sensitivity. That would require HR to step in with more protections for keeping the EOs in the area assigned to that coworker.

    1. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      Also, EOs are supposed to be diluted. Diluted A LOT. Like one drop of EO in a tablespoon of carrier oil. The scent should be minimal!

    2. Artemesia*

      I was sitting next to a passenger who had a scary asthma attack just before we landed when a woman in the seat in front of us sprayed herself with perfume just before landing. It was terrifying; I thought she was going to die.

  46. Brett*

    Many essential oils are classified as hazardous substances or dangerous goods and have MSDSs.

    In particular, some are class 3 flammables, and a handful are level 2 NFPA health hazards. Some particular dangerous examples are camphor and pennyroyal.

    If the essential oils _are_ an occupational hazard and the co-workers are receiving chronic exposure in violation of OSHA standards, doesn’t that trump ADA? (Since basically the accommodation, in violating health and safety standards, is no longer reasonable?)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am chuckling. We had to work with a solution at one place. We were told the MSDS was on the wall. No one looked. I went over and looked up the solution we were using. Yep, KNOWN cancer causing chemical. Life went on. No one cared.

      1. Brett*

        Yeah, I once worked near methyl ethyl ketone propanol. Opening the can exceeded LD50 for the entire building (but that’s what safety measures were for).

    2. fposte*

      I would imagine it depends on the terms of the standard and the intensity of the use. If she’s using dilute versions that she can stand on her skin and nobody else has to touch the stuff, it’s probably on a par with creams containing capsaicin (which has a much scarier MSDS). But it does raise an interesting question about what random stuff somebody could bring in. Stuff that’s straight out illegal isn’t a reasonable accommodation, so cannabis oil is out, but how do you know what she’s actually hauling and how toxic it could be?

      1. Claudia M.*

        Cannabis, including the oil, is legal in some places, keep in mind. And some people are EXTREMELY allergic to even that small amount of smell.

        1. fposte*

          It is not federally legal in the U.S. You would not be able to claim a federal U.S. law protects your right to break other federal U.S. law.

    3. E, F and G*

      Best/Worst smelling Molotov cocktails ever. And possibly the weirdest Paul Blart Mall Cop sequel you could imagine.

  47. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I do a lot of alternative stuff myself. This right here is why I am only starting to look at EOs after decades of doing various things. EOs are an intrusive to other people.

    I really don’t think that proving to her the “wrongness” of her choices is going to gain anyone any ground. I think we have spent a lot of time here pointing how wrong she is and I am not sure that is helpful to you, OP.

    I think your strongest talking point is how her EOs are impacting everyone else. For example an increase in sick time usage and a preventable increase in OTC usage. It is reasonable to assume that prolonged exposure over a period of time will mean others will experience even MORE difficulties than they are now. For example, the OTC users will probably graduate to scripts. If they don’t quit the job first.

    The company has already moved her to a separate floor. Is she on that floor by herself? OP that is one HECK of an accommodation. They are paying for heat/light/taxes/upkeep/whatever for an entire floor for ONE employee?? My jaw hit the floor here. I have never heard of a company doing that. That has to be a prohibitive cost.
    I really hope there is not another company on that floor. Is the only reason this seems to be working because no one hears the complaints from the other company?

    You could also suggest that the bosses look at productivity levels to see if there seems to be an unexplained down turn in productivity that might correlate to other employees having a physical reaction to the EOs.

    My heart goes out to this woman, I know it’s hard to tell from what I wrote here. I have had to take a pass on good jobs in order to keep my health intact, I do understand in my own way. And this could be where she is headed, that she will be limited to certain types of jobs. Cancer is a *itch and when it’s not that is because it’s pure evil. I have never met a cancer survivor yet who did not feel that their whole life changed, including their personal beliefs and values.

    No easy answers. I hope for the best possible outcome here, OP. You will have to let us know how it’s going.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I read the letter differently, which is that the company spans multiple floors, so OP and their colleagues who are reacting to the EOs are now on the same floor as the coworker who uses them, and the asthmatic colleague is on the other floor. Moving floors is a good balance of accommodations for both the asthmatic and EO-using employee. But I can understand that splitting the space between all chemical and scent-sensitive employees and those who aren’t sensitive is a bit much for the entire company.

      I get the tone from the OP that their coworker should simply stop using the EOs. I understand that negative reaction to her reasoning behind it,* but while the likelihood of their actually curing her cancer is low (at best), various commenters above have discussed scenarios where EOs can alleviate symptoms which helps recovery in scientifically-sound ways. And hey, even the placebo effect is still a measurable effect.

      I expect OP and their colleagues will have much more success in framing this as conflicting legitimate accommodation needs that they’re trying to resolve, instead of eye rolling and resentment.

      I am also interested in an update.

      *I typically research home remedies for various non-life-threatening things because I’m terrible about going to the doctor, and many of them do provide me with relief. So when my mom told me her cancer was terminal, and she was thinking about alternative options, I said: “I totally support you in that! I’ve read interesting things about radical changes in diet…” Then she responded that dietary changes were not on the table. Some kind of crystal-energy-woo and Catholic saint-making miracles were her plans. It was a difficult conversation and our thoughts were all over the place, for all the obvious reasons, but I was so annoyed with her for that.

  48. Carol Wingert*

    The reactions you and your co workers are experiencing are real. What can be helpful to one person may be harmful to another. Your co worker can and probably will have an adverse reaction to the oils due to improper use. Some of them can be very severe. She is putting herself and others at risk. Unfortunately she has been givens wealth of misinformation on how to safely use Essential Oils.
    I would suggest researching personal inhalers. Oils can be put in a container the size of your lipstick. They have a cotton insert that can be satersted with your Essential oil of choice. She can keep it with her at all time. Just open it up and take a few deep breaths to get the benifits she is looking for without it effecting anyone else. Inhalation is also the most effective method for using oils in a case like this. Google personal inhalers. For safety information she may want to read the finding from Robert Tinsserand. He may give you the ammo you need it changing the situation. Good luck

  49. Ben*

    Not sure if this has been mentioned, but could the person wearing the oils not wear a mask themselves which contains the oils? Be cheaper for them, more direct to the system, and hopefully reduce the amount needed in the office.

  50. Ridiculouspost*

    There is definitely much larger problems in life than a co worker wearing smeLly oils. If this is your biggest issue in your life that you need to write an article about this, you must have a very simple easy life. So what if her oils smell… If they help her, let her be. Imagine how many annoying things you do everyday that others can’t stand.

    1. Temperance*

      They’re triggering migraines and making other people sick. This comment is needlessly critical and doesn’t reflect the letter whatsoever.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      This is not a helpful comment. Please see above for comments from many readers who have real, physical negative reactions to strong scents. The guidelines here including taking the letter writers at their word and the OP mentions migraines and allergic reactions.

      Maybe this is a good opportunity for you to read up on the various fascinating and horrifying ways each specific individual’s biochemistry responds to various, seemingly innocuous substances! I, for one, can’t use any hair products or my scalp looks like a horror movie…

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      If I’m doing things that are inhibiting colleagues’ breathing or giving them migraines, I would hope it would get raised so I could stop it!!!

    4. Honeybee*

      I don’t know if you’ve ever had a migraine, but they are debilitating. Mine last for 2-3 days and cause all kinds of physical symptoms – disorientation, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, photosensitivity – in addition to the blinding pain on one side of my head. Sometimes they are so bad I can’t drive, or I walk into walls or fall over from the vertigo and balance issues. Even once they go away, I still have moderate physical symptoms. They can ruin an entire week for me – and they definitely impact my work and productivity.

      Strong smells are a strong migraine trigger to me. It’s not just about “Oh, that’s a smell that OP doesn’t like.” It’s triggering a debilitating neurological condition that’s going to interfere with her productivity.

    5. I agree with you!*

      I totally agree with you. People have too much hate in them and always need to nitpick about others.

  51. ToS*

    The short answer is they need to follow the process for all affected employees. With the essential oils, there are natural limits – as in using them in a volume that disrupts the workplace is what is being dealt with. She can wear them in a manner that addresses her personal needs (like a small infuser around her neck) without overreaching into her colleagues’ spaces. Tone it down for work and ramp it up for other times. It may be worth putting an air filter in the work space to mitigate areas where migraines are being triggered.

  52. Victoria Victoria*

    I wear essential oils, but know how much to apply, so that the scent is not offensive. It sounds like this individual is going overboard and applying too much for daytime interaction with her fellow colleagues. She certainly should not be applying the same amount she probably applies more liberally at night. This is being inconsiderate and presumptuous towards all those in her workplace. She should not be surprised by their complaints, especially if the excessive amount of oil is making people sick! She has tainted a comfortable workplace and this unacceptable!

  53. Laren*

    I’m curious about how she wears these oils. Directly on her skin? Does she need them to be in contact with her skin or does she need to inhale them? There are ways to mitigate the affect of the oils on other people in either case. There are special necklaces made for people to wear and inhale the oils, and since they’re right under the nose, less can be used with the same results. For skin contact, patches can be made so less of the oil is exposed to the air and therefore the co workers.

    I can’t say I would ever possibly credit essential oils for cancer treatment, but there are at least ways to carry on using the placebo method without causing health problems for everyone around you. :/

  54. LaLaLayla*

    One person’s rights end where the other’s begin.

    Nobody is telling her not to use them but she needs to tone them down. If there is no doctor’s note with a prescription or dosing (2ml/ bid ) then she is doing so in excess.

Comments are closed.