our group member has a fragrance sensitivity – and we’re supposed to be hugged to check for any scents

A reader writes:

I belong to a local chapter of a fee-for-service interest/hobby-based group for over 100 women. It is a private business, but very community oriented. When I first joined, I was advised it is a scent-free group and environment due to the extreme sensitivity of one member. I, and I expect all the other members, make an effort to be scent-free at the times we meet.

Before a recent meeting, the group received a pleasant email from leader stating that the one sensitive member is still experiencing a lot of difficulties (choking) due to scents. We were given a lengthy and poorly written list of ways to reduce our scent (be aware of shampoos, laundry products, lingering perfume from previous wearings, etc.), as well as products and stores that sell natural and scent-free products. We were also advised that at the next meeting, each member would be greeted with a big friendly hug so we could be smelled; if we demonstrated scent, we would be asked to wash in the bathroom.

As you can imagine, there was tremendous push-back and chatter on this, with concerns being expressed around things like:
· What is an offensive scent anyway? Do natural products that smell naturally count? What about smelling of food, tobacco, your house, etc.?
· Assuming that people are trying to be scent-free, what is the balance between the rights of one and the rights of the group?
· Touch is very invasive/triggering for some people. In that light, how dare you insist on hugging me?
· Smelling me, really?
· How does this person function in the rest of the world, and others who are scent sensitive?
· If my scent is really that offensive, what am I to do about it in a public washroom? And if I can’t get rid of it, which I likely can’t, will I be sent home?

I feel badly for the woman organizing the group, who is a free-spirited self-employed artist. She is leading a group of women who work in a variety of corporate/bureaucratic/even small-scale workplaces, who have knowledge of HR standards, policies, practices, and such. I think she was in over her head with this situation.

I know this isn’t your typical workplace conundrum, but it is a workplace/business and I value your wisdom, and that of your commenters, and I would love to hear your thoughts from a corporate / management perspective.

Scent sensitivity can be really tricky to manage when it goes beyond “please don’t wear perfume and we’ll be fine.”

But announcing that everyone will be hugged in order to inspect them for odor is a hard no.

In a work setting, when a fragrance sensitivity can’t be solved with a perfume ban (which is a lot easier to implement than a “no scented products anywhere in your home” rule), at that point you’d typically look for other solutions to ensure the person could work comfortably, which might mean moving them to a better ventilated area, having them work remotely if it’s feasible, having them call into meetings rather than attending in person, or so forth. (The excellent Job Accommodation Network has suggestions here.)

Your situation isn’t exactly a workplace, but it would still be reasonable to say something like this to the group leader:

“I’m very sympathetic to fragrance sensitivities, and we all want people to be able to participate without being in physical distress. I think it’s reasonable to ask group members to refrain from wearing perfume to our meetings, but we can’t really ask people to be subjected to a hug and a scent inspection.

Are there other ways to make this work instead? I don’t think we’ll ever be able to reliably ensure that more than 100 people are using only fragrance-free bath and laundry products and that no one will have a lingering scent from wearing perfume at another time (and if that does happen, it doesn’t sound like a quick wash on the spot will resolve it). The  Job Accommodation Network, which helps people with disabilities find reasonable accommodations, notes here that under the ADA, it’s probably not reasonable ‘to have and enforce a total no-fragrance policy because it is difficult if not impossible to enforce.’

When this comes up in workplaces, sometimes the accommodations are moving the person with the scent sensitivity to a more ventilated space or having them attend certain meetings remotely. I realize that’s by no means ideal, but I propose considering options along these lines, since required hugging is inherently problematic and likely won’t be an effective solution.”

Frankly, if this were a smaller group, I’d suggest cc’ing your fellow members on this, but in a group of 100+, that’s not really reasonable (unless this is a group with a lot of all-group email discussions). However, a group of you who are concerned about this could also approach the leader together and say something similar to the above. She may just need to hear it from a few of you.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 399 comments… read them below }

  1. Emi.*

    I actually kind of think you should reply-all, so that everyone in the group who’s thinking “what? am I the only one who thinks this is bananacrackers?” will realize they’re not. But it depends on how argumentative your group is.

    1. JLCBL*

      I agree. Other people might be weighing whether they should speak up if they object, or even considering leaving the group if they are really turned off by this approach. And following this script or something similar makes it eminently reasonable.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Leaving the group is an important consequence to remember–some people don’t give you an ultimatum. They just quietly decide not to shop/commune/worship/whatever there anymore, and stop showing up.

        I have asthma, and some strong scents can be triggering. Still, the only thing you’re dealing with in a quick stop by the public restroom is to scrub off the roll on perfume you for some reason applied to your neck just before the meeting. Tobacco, sprayed perfume (hits the hair and clothes too), scents from detergent–these aren’t going to be resolved with a damp paper towel.

        1. R*

          They applied it just before the meeting because they like the scent and want to wear it on their person, as an extension of their individuality. If they know you exist, which isn’t a given, they probably don’t know you have asthma, unless you’ve already made a point about it to someone in charge.

          1. MakesThings*

            Falling Dipthong’s comment is directly in reference to the letter, which describes a situation where the group is already aware that there is a person with a scent aversion. What is your comment in reference to?

            1. Say What?*

              MakesThings is making a really valid distinction. There is an email to the 100+ members of this group detailing how this person is negatively affected. If they choose to ignore the request at that point they’re just being petty.

              1. Else*

                Or forgetful. I hate scents – it can bother my asthma, too, though mostly only if it’s overwhelmingly applied – but for the most part people aren’t being malicious or petty. There certainly ARE those people – usually they are the ones who will spray it on themselves and then dance around behind your head, hoping to “catch” you not dying from their stench. Still, I think most of the time it’s just forgetfulness. Especially in a situation like this, where they probably don’t have to avoid scents in most of their daily life.

    2. Observer*

      Better, put everyone else on BCC (and say that you are doing this.) This way everyone sees that someone is addressing this, but you don’t wind up with an accidental reply all blizzard.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ooo, I like this. (And agree that there’s value in a reply-all response.)

      2. whistle*

        Just a quick FYI, because I see this misconception all the time, people who are BCC’d on an email do not get a response from a reply all.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          That’s the point. If OP puts everyone except the group leader under BCC, they will all get the email and not be able to reply all and start a massive chain reaction that clogs up everyone’s inboxes.

          But the suggestion to say in the email that “I’ve BCC’d the entire group so that they are aware of this” is brilliant.

          1. Ann O'Nemity*

            Exactly. You ‘bcc’ to avoid reply-all, but you tell the group leader you’ve done it so you’re not being sneaky.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        Yes, do this. You cannot possibly be the only person flabbergasted by this, but there is no need to start a ridiculous email storm over it. Mostly because who has time to deal with that?

      4. letter writer*

        I really like this suggestion of opening up the concern to all, while also limiting the future email storm. Thank you!

      5. BRR*

        Winner! I was going back and forth because I thought people should know but I don’t want to advise to trigger a reply all avalanche.

    3. Aveline*

      I have fragrance issues. Major ones.

      I think this is bananacrackers.

      So, OP, if you read this, please know that this is objectively unreasonable. Even judging as someone who truly suffers.

    4. Cruciatus*

      I agree. Recently at work they shared an email about some changes to recycling/trash and most people were annoyed but, hey, what are we gonna do? Then someone replied-all and questioned what the hell was happening and that was all it took! Other people came out of the woodwork to also question this. (And in the end, our employer held a forum about recycling/trash so people could learn more about where they were coming from and they could take any ideas we might have.) Not a perfect ending, but the point is sometimes you just need one person to say something.

      I have empathy for the scent-sufferer, but 100 different people with thousands of different smell combinations (food, shampoo, laundry detergent, baby wipes, whatever) is just impossible to combat.

    5. C*

      I am EXTREMELY scent sensitive – as in cannot breathe around air fresheners/perfume, potential Epi-pen use, always carry at least 2 masks in my purse, regularly need to remove myself from scented situations, etc.

      I think the original e-mail from the group organizer is way over the top – especially for a group of over 100. I can totally understand asking people to please avoid wearing perfume/heavy scents to my house – but not for group meetings or ever doing an inspection – especially with such a big group.

    6. Worker Bee*

      I have asthma, allergies, hives, you name it. If someone says they are so sensitive others have to pass a SNIFF test, they need to wear a medical grade mask. I know and don’t expect the world to stop for me.

      1. whingedrinking*

        That was my reaction too. The human nose is actually pretty sensitive, so if you can’t smell what someone is wearing without being in hugging distance, the quantity of particles coming off them is probably pretty small. Someone could still have an allergic reaction to trace amounts, but in that case they’d barely be able to leave the house.
        Also, even if this ridiculous “smell check” had any validity, you do not need to *put your arms around* someone. Just stand close and lean in.

  2. Melissa*

    Or at least maybe bcc the group, since I think (?) that keeps the dreaded “reply all” chaos at bay but still lets others know someone raised the concern?

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This reminds me of the letter where the company had super strict dress code rules to accommodate one employee’s OCD. Expecting 100 people to live completely fragrance free lives is not a reasonable expectation.

    1. Anonforthis*

      YES! Wasn’t that the one where everyone had to be completely symmetrical with their clothing and had to line up alternating men and woman for the bus? At that point you’re basically in a cult.

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          Alison, if you can ever get an update for this letter I will be so incredibly happy. This one just really stuck with me. I’d love to know the outcome.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I was shocked when I went to find it and realized how old it was because the details have really stuck with me and that was before I was even commenting with this username.

        2. Goya de la Mancha*

          Ok, I opened this link thinking ti was going going to be from several years ago and that people have learned better practices, but this was just last year?!?!?!??!

        3. BETH ANNE*

          Wow i hadn’t read this letter that is crazy!! I’d love to hear an update..I bet the letter writer ended up changing jobs.

        4. Bacon Pancakes*

          I am curious, if the LW was unwilling to follow the OCD clothing rules, could they have been fired for failure to comply, and if so would they have any legal recourse? It seems like the OCD dress code was such a misguided “accommodation” that they would have a case for illegal termination if they were let go.

    2. Allison*

      Yes! I’ll happily refrain from applying scented products before or during work, and I already wash all my clothes in unscented detergent, but I like things that smell nice, if my employer expected me to give up ALL my scented personal care items, hug or no hug, I would look for a new job immediately.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Right, I don’t care how they smell. You will pull my ‘works for my curly hair’ hair products from my cold dead hands.

        1. Justme, The OG*

          I think people would much rather me use my “slightly scented but works” deodorant rather than an alternative.

          1. Videogame Lurker*

            I wound up having this conversation with my mother – the only stick of deodorant I had* was a citrus scented one, but ten years ago citrus scent didn’t bother her so I didn’t think anything of it. Along comes a ridiculously warm two weeks, I packed two tee shirts and three tank tops assuming I would run a small load of laundry a couple times a week tops. I wear the tank top, and Mom asked if I was wearing perfume (never have because my parents are both sensitive to strong perfumes, and I have family who can and will wind up in the hospital is exposed to perfume in a small space like a house). I told her it was my deodorant, and she knows from raising me that I have Body Oder, so we sit at an awkward moment where all I can do it wear the same two tee shirts for two weeks, and laundry had to be finagled with to wash all my shirts.

            I have to agree, if all there is is scented deodorant, I will use it because the alternative is to stink and potentially ruin my clothes.

            *in my suitcase, home I have two, the citrus and an unscented, I just grabbed a stick and use it, then tossed it into my luggage.

          2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            I used to work in a very “crunchy” type college with a scent-free policy. My second year there they had to remind students that the policy applied to “scents” both natural and chemical because the odor produced by a bunch of hippies sitting in a warm classroom was…..ripe.

        2. BottleBlonde*

          Ha! My immediate first thought as well! Some of us took years to curate a hair care routine that actually works to combat frizz…I’d probably leave the group before giving up my leave-in conditioner.

        3. The Other Katie*

          An ointment I have to use for my eczema in winter has a scent. (It’s not a very nice one, but they didn’t apply a masking scent so it does smell.) Am I supposed to itch my arms off on the off chance that 1 in 100 people I encounter reacts to the scent? It’s a dilemma.

      2. Kuododi*

        I had the same situation some time ago when I was in training on an in patient psychiatric unit. One of the staff MD had problems with strong scents so it was just one of those unspoken things everyone recognized to leave the favorite perfumes or cologne for after shift. Occasionally there would be pushback from a visiting trainer or new staff but all and all no major issues. I quickly discovered a quick rub with an alcohol pad won’t kill the scent completely but it will take the funk down a peg or two.

        On a related note….if anyone tries to hug me for the purpose of sniffing my scent, I will punch them in the throat!!! Fair warning….!!!

        1. Julia*

          I thought most medical facilities where mostly scent-free anyway, not because of the doctors, but to not make life easier for patients?

          1. Kuododi*

            Oh….to the best of my knowledge you are correct. Keep in mind I did my training when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth and documentation was taken on actual paper forms, written in black ink. (The Internet, Electronic Tablets, smart phones etc weren’t even wishful thinking at that point;). Enjoy!!!

          2. Issa*

            I work as a travel nurse and yes most of them are. But there are a few, even big name ones, who aren’t. I am not sensitive to scents but OMG some of the nurses in the hospitals that aren’t scent free will still choke me out with how much perfume they apply. I am talking I can smell their perfume from three doors away strong. I don’t know how their patients stand it and I don’t know why administrators haven’t put their foot down.

  4. Anonforthis*

    Wow. And also no. That is SO far outside of the realm of what I would consider normal that I would seriously question remaining part of this group.

    I’m also sympathetic to the person with fragrance sensitivity – some perfumes give me hives – but it seems way out of whack to require that EVERYONE be 100% scent-free AND BE HUGGED AND SMELLED prior to entering the group. The person with the sensitivity may want to consider investing in a face mask; everyone else may want to consider finding a group that is less bananacrackers.

    1. Doug Judy*

      Yep! I would include that in any response, that if they do this, I will be ending my participation in the group.

    2. Chinookwind*

      I was thinking this too. I was president of a women’s group with 150 members and I can easily imagine what type of response being told “you will be hugged and sniffed at the next meeting” would get – basically a much smaller group of women. Never mind asking everyone to be required to invest in costly household and personal cleaning supplies. Or the social stigma of being asked to go wash up before you would be allowed to stay. You don’t say what the general demographic make up of the group is, but the one I was part off was multi-generational and multi-ethnic (the only thing we had in common was religion and gender) and I could see this requirement turning away those with lower incomes, the elderly (due to medicated lotions and clothing with “clean” scents so deeply embedded no cleaning will get it out), smokers, those who travel there via transit (because other people’s smell rubs on to you) and even those who go this group on their way home from work from places that allow scents or even sell them.

      While it is justifiable to do something to help minimize the impact of a severe allergy, unless the goal of the group is to cater to those with those allergies, at some point the leadership have to decide if the needs of one person out weighs losing at least half the membership as well as limiting new members (who I gather would all have to go through a similar sniff test before joining?). You can’t be all things to all people and that may mean that allergy suffering member can only be involved remotely through email chats or other remote gatherings.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think I would just drop out of this group because there is no way I can 100% smellproof myself enough, apparently.

      2. anonforthis*

        Your last paragraph is key – I do a lot of work with volunteer groups and there is a limit to the amount of catering to individuals I am willing to do. I.e., if you are vegan, we’ll have vegan food available, but I won’t demand everyone attending only eat/bring vegan food.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I agree about dropping out. I would frame it as, “I think our group has lost its primary goals along the way here.”

    3. letter writer*

      Yes, as the scent-sensitive person’s identify is unknown, I don’t know what actions she has been requested to take (although I see no one there wearing a mask). And I don’t know what role, if any, she had in this solution. She may feel terribly awkward about it as well!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s asking a lot of people. I hope they did not do this without consulting her first. If it were me, I would embarrassed that people went ahead and did this on my behalf.

        But my guess is that she is still mentioning it to them. People tend to forget or push some requests to the back burner. I am thinking that she keeps asking about it that is why all this has unfolded.

      2. a good mouse*

        If she’s not the one administering the sniff test, how useful could it really be? The leader isn’t necessarily going to know which scents and how strong they need to be before triggering her. It seems to just become a “You smell weird” party after that. What if that’s just your scent, and the leader decrees you too smelly?

    4. Aveline*

      I have MAJOR fragrance issues.

      I would be so on that list signing that this was unreasonable.

      I’m just stunned.

      1. Tag, The Good Boss*

        Me too. I have multiple sclerosis and some scents (like a Jean-Paul Gaultier cologne for men) can actually trigger an episode. So it’s on me to distance myself from people who are wearing strong scents. That one person’s needs could lead to something like this in a group is outrageous! I would be among those quitting if it were enforced.

  5. Lynca*

    There is nothing friendly about smelling everyone via a hug. I have no idea how this person even thought this sounded like a viable idea.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I suspect this person is friendly and doesn’t have experience with professional norms, because the “hug and smell” is a bizarrely inappropriate tactic.

      I’m sympathetic to folks with smell sensitivities, but this is beginning to sound like the letter with the OP who had stopped using essential oils and washed all their clothes, only to have a self-diagnosed scent-sensitive coworker snipe about how much OP smelled when objectively she did not.

      1. Anonymeuse*

        I don’t know, my office has a no-fragrance policy, with posters around a few places, and I still have a couple of coworkers who regularly leave behind a trail of perfume. Maybe this person is extremely, unreasonably sensitive, but I’m not convinced yet that all 100 people are actually refraining from using fragranced products like hand lotion and perfume.

        1. letter writer*

          Scent free has long been a policy of this group, and I believe most people do what they can on the day of the meeting to reduce scent. But being asked to change the way we live and purchase new and expensive products seems out of line.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            Even if everyone did say, change to an unscented laundry detergent, that might not be the quick fix the organizer thinks it would be. If I’ve been washing this sweater in scented detergent for 6 years, switching to unscented detergent is not a cure all.

          2. Antilles*

            Not only is it out of line, it’s likely completely impossible. In a group this size, there’s almost certain to be people for whom changing all their scents is completely and totally unfeasible – for either cost reasons, health/allergy reasons, or because they don’t know how*.
            *If you don’t have a sensitive nose yourself, it’s often really hard to identify when a product actually has a scent. And if you’ve never had to think about it before, there are probably a lot of sources of scents that you don’t even realize exist.

            1. Cornflower Blue*

              Due to severe allergies, I have a perpetually stuffy nose and very little sense of smell. Your point about people not knowing when they smell is a very valid one.

            2. Birch*

              Well, and a lot of products advertised as “unscented” just mean they didn’t add any extra scents. My partner is mildly sensitive to fragrances and uses those, but they smell strongly and terrible to me! They just smell like whatever they’re made of. Almost everything has a scent.

          3. Shortbread*

            Remember: reasonable accommodations mean “reasonable”. None of what is being asked is reasonable.

          4. mx. mayor pereyra*

            Also, what if it’s not a person? What if it’s something in the meeting place, like floorwax or lysol that’s bothering her?

          1. Observer*

            That was another one. If I recall correctly, the pregnant woman knew that she had and was trying to figure out what are reasonable measures.

          2. Not A Morning Person*

            Yes, I think in an update the OP for that one said that the scent-sensitive person turned out to be pregnant, but didn’t yet know until someone said something to her and she got tested and was thrilled to be pregnant.

      2. Lynca*

        Honestly I think this is one of those things beyond professional norms. There’s no casual setting where I think this would fly either. It’d be really out of place in a book club to do this.

        Not to say I don’t have sympathy for the scent sensitive person because I do. I don’t like to be hugged though and would be really, really upset by someone proposing this. Upset enough to quit the group if they went through with it.

        1. letter writer*

          On principle, I’d do that too. But it’s a group and an activity we really enjoy, and some of us have been members for years. That’s a tough choice to make!

          1. Dr. Pepper*

            Then I think it’s worth raising a stink about. *ahem* It’s completely ridiculous and you have every right to draw the line of accommodation at “no, you will NOT hug and sniff me”.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Probably members will leave so that would be an opportunity to regroup and do activities together as a friends group or an actual group with a name and objective.

          2. Fin Shepard*

            Nope, the group should not have to wrap itself around the unreasonable demands of one member. Do not quit. this member is overly entitled.

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          I would not be happy to be hugged by someone I didn’t know well – but honestly the smelling would upset me worse. There was a boy in high school that used to sneak up on me and smell my hair all the time, so the idea of anyone taking a big sniff of me would creep me out endlessly.

      3. BookishMiss*

        Yes. That was my first thought as well – and I’m happy to see so far that the “find the smell” game is being avoided today.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      Nope, nothing friendly at all about being inspected for odors while someone intrudes on your personal space. How one smells is quite a sensitive thing in our culture already (which is why we have five thousand and one scented products to begin with), and to know you will be deliberately inspected and judged on your personal scent? Yeah, no. Absolutely not.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      It would be all I could to do contain the dog analogies running through my brain. There have been too many times I have hugged a friend, came home and had my dog sniff my hand/arm where I had hugged that person. I can only conclude the scent of that person is on me, even though I did not smell anything around that person.

    4. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      I mean, even if this were a remotely reasonable way to approach this, hug-smelling 100 people will take the entire time allotted for the meeting.

    1. Rainy*

      You know, people manage in the face of restrictions that the wider, less allergic population can’t imagine because they don’t have a choice.

      Me, I have multiple food allergies as well as being allergic to almost everything with pollen AND I have a pretty common form of sun allergy and somehow I’m in my 40s and live a full life. Comments like yours are A) unhelpful and B) pretty insulting and stigmatizing.

        1. Sarcastic Fringehead*

          But the scent-sensitive person isn’t here to answer it, so what’s the point in asking it in this comments section? The OP doesn’t even have this information directly from the scent-sensitive person – just from the director of the organization.

        2. Phoenix Programmer*

          No it’s really not. Just because your allergy or sensitivity is common in public does not make these types of questions, which really come across as victim blaming/allergy dismissive to be honest, ok.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I also interpreted this as a sincere question and not an insult at all. There are many times where we discuss tangental topics here, so it’s a completely appropriate thing to ask!

      2. Worker Bee*

        It’s valid and I’m super allergic and have asthma. My lungs have gotten me hospitalized. I would never subject a group to this sniff nonsense and would wear a mask if it bothered me so much.

    2. Amber T*

      Hello, your friendly scent sensitive commentor here who can get debilitating migraines if I’m subjected to a scent for too long (and by too long I mean for like, 30 seconds).

      Women’s perfume is a trigger for me. Not all women’s perfume. I can’t tell you why Celene Dion’s brand is fine for me, why Beyonce’s might give me a headache but I’m otherwise fine, or why Britney Spear’s line will make me want to crawl under a table and die (made up examples, I’m not sure they all even have perfumes). Certain scents of air fresheners and plug in stuff too – not brands, and not even general scents (like, Glades beach might be fine but another brand’s might not).

      So how do we survive? Mostly by running away and not participating. I usually know almost instantaneously if a scent is gonna trigger a reaction, so I have time to make a quick “hi, sorry, that smell is going to trigger a migraine, I need to leave” and dash away. My mom got a new plug in scent thing a while ago and it took two visits of me stepping in and immediately backing out again to get her to swap it.

      In an actual work setting, that’s not *always* available. I’m very open about my migraines (I get them for a variety of reasons, but scent related ones are the only ones that are not typically controlled/prevented by medication), so if I feel something come on, I do something about it. I have the benefit of 1) being believed and 2) having a fairly flexible office setting, so I can move away from guests or something, or work from home if need be. I have, however, sat through a migraine and worked because of deadlines, and that has SUCKED, especially when the offending odor is stuck in your nostril and just won’t go away.

      In a setting like this, that’s semi professional, I think it’s even trickier, because it’s supposed to be professional, but it’s also casual, and you don’t have the protections/guidelines of HR, or a helpful manager, or accommodating coworkers. If I was that person, I’d probably stop going all together, which would suck for me. But is it fair to figure out who’s causing the scent sensitivity and throw off their life? I don’t know, I don’t think so. It’s tricky. And it sucks.

      Also, unless the leader is the one with the sensitivity, she probably won’t smell it. When you’re sensitive to smells… you’re sensitive to them. You become like Gus from Psych, but just for that one particular scent – you can smell it from a mile away. A triggering smell is SUPER strong for me, but someone else might barely notice it unless it’s pointed out to them, and if it’s your own shampoo/perfume/scent, you probably won’t notice it all.

      Hugs “to catch someone’s scent” are a huge no, though. I would never expect anyone to do that “for” me and would be mortified if someone thought that was a good idea on my behalf.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Seconding that people who aren’t sensitive probably won’t even notice, so the smell-and-hug is not only inappropriate but also probably ineffective.

        I have, more than once, developed a headache and nausea at work for a scent at work that my coworkers didn’t even notice (usually scented hand lotion–Bath & Body Works is the bane of my workplace existence). Fortunately two weeks ago when the break room had what was described as a very unpleasant smell, I had horrible congestion and could smell nothing. It was nice seeing how the other half lives!

      2. Genny*

        This immediately jumped out at me too. Presumably the person doing the sniffing isn’t the person who is sensitive to smells, so how is the sniffer supposed to determine whether someone smells bad enough to not be allowed in? I can’t imagine your average person can smell laundry detergent after the clothes have been in the closet for a few days, but a scent-sensitive person probably could. Not only is this “solution” invasive, it doesn’t even work.

        1. letter writer*

          Excellent point! The sniffer isn’t likely to be sensitive to whatever the problem sent is, so it’s all for nothing!

      3. Kat*

        Funnily enough I had to ask a colleague to stop wearing Beyonce perfume because it made one side of my face swell. I have been trying to track what ingredients in particular cause my reactions but it is pretty much impossible. Luckily I just get headaches and the aforementioned swelling, not full on migraines, but it’s still a nightmare. Especially when all the department stores in my area have the perfume section *right* inside the door

        1. Nox*

          Did you offer to pay for another perfume in place of it? I spend a pretty penny on my chanel perfumes and would not be a happy camper being asked to not use a product I’ve made investment in.

          Most of my week I’m working 55 hours so its not like i have private time to wear it outside and whatnot.

          1. Susan Sto Helit*

            I don’t think you can really argue that being asked not to use a particular perfume in the workplace requires some sort of compensation. It’s not a human right – it’s a purely personal choice. Besides, what if a different perfume ends up triggering a reaction from someone else?

            The simplest choice is not to wear perfume in the workplace at all. If it means you rarely get to wear it then that’s unfortunate…but it’s no more unfortunate than being told that pink hair or knuckleduster-sized rings or facial tattoos aren’t appropriate in the workplace. It’s a want, not a need.

          2. Amber T*

            In the grand scheme of things, what is more important – that one person not be in physical pain or discomfort, or that you can’t smell pretty. I get that you wouldn’t be “a happy camper” by being asked not to wear something completely optional, but I guarantee that those of us with reactions are also not “happy campers” when we’re writhing in pain.

          3. Quackeen*

            Believe me, I empathize with you. I just transitioned to a scent-free workplace and it’s actually hard for me because I have panic attacks and the scent I wear is very grounding to me, so it’s hard for me to have that option taken away. Unfortunately, though, our preferences don’t stack up against someone’s health needs, nor should they. The person with the allergy can’t help it, but I can certainly help my choice to wear scents or not.

        2. Renna*

          I am a perfume junkie (oils, not sprays). Celeb/run-of-the-mill perfumes annoy me because they can make up whatever “notes” they want to advertise the perfume with; the scent doesn’t actually have to be in the perfume. So who knows what’s in it? I will say that the alcohol used to aerate the fragrance into a spray triggers headaches, etc etc for a lot of people, myself included, but since it’s the specific brand I’m guessing that probably isn’t the culprit.

          I reviewed her perfumes on the Fragantica database looking up reported notes. I’m not sure which scent your coworker is using, but I’ve found a few ingredients that people are more commonly sensitive to: pink pepper, vetiver, patchouli, jasmine, orchid. Cinnamon is a death note for me but I don’t see it in these.

          I’ve never heard of someone swelling because of a perfume before, at least without them actually spraying it on themselves. That sounds dangerous enough that it’s worth trying to get to the bottom of it.

      4. Question Mark*

        You have my sympathies on this. I’m not ultra sensitive to smells, but recently I was flying for work and a woman across the aisle performed a full makeup routine which included at least 7 large squirts of some heavy hanging dark musky scented perfume. We had at least an hour left in the flight so there was no escaping. It triggered a migraine which lasted 3 days, and impacted me throughout my business trip. I didn’t feel right about leaning across the aisle and scolding her, though it was extremely rude due to the confined space with recirculated air. Pretty sure I made a point of loudly coughing multiple times but she didn’t notice. I was also baffled how she got a full sized perfume bottle through security ( it was in her makeup bag, not a clear plastic bag). Ugh.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          “it was in her makeup bag, not a clear plastic bag”

          Aaand that would be how. TSA is looking for bombs and weapons, literally nothing else. I accidentally got a full sized bottle of Urban Decay All Nighter finishing spray past them because I’d forgotten about it in my everyday makeup bag that I threw into my carry-on for a last minute flight. (Also a shitton of lip gloss, which I’m pretty sure was technically supposed to be in with my liquids.) Don’t worry though, they found it on the way back! Ugh. O_o

    3. pcake*

      My sister gets so sick from other people’s scents including laundry preparations, shampoo, etc, that she was put on disability. Hopefully she can find a way to work at home. She has a lot of food allergies, as well.

  6. Alanna*

    I think this goes so far beyond reasonable accommodation, and I say this as someone with severe chronic migraines who often cannot stand any smell and I have super-smell powers when a migraine is coming on or already happening. It’s my responsibility to take myself as far away from the smell as I can or find a way to mitigate it (I can usually tolerate my own chosen fragrances, so cover the smell with that or coffee or open a window, turn on a fan, go outside, leave). I work from home so I can control my environment because that’s the only way I have anything close to a guarantee that I can be in a space that works for me. Perhaps this woman could join via video call on an ipad or similar?

    1. fposte*

      I also think that with various kinds of chronic reactivity there’s a phobic sort of feedback loop that develops–you get so stressed about the possibility of a reaction that you can react even to inoffensive stimuli and the fear itself becomes controlling. Which sucks–been there, done that–but at that point it’s no longer accommodating a disability but feeding a phobia.

      1. Mommy MD*

        So true. It’s “peanut hysteria” when sometimes non-allergic (by skin testing) people can have reactions like hives and shortness of breath when they (or their parents) think they are even slightly exposed to the “allergen”. It can be psychological.

      2. Cornflower Blue*

        I’m allergic to CONSUMING seafood and fish. Throwing up, headache, rash allergic, not anaphylactic shock allergic.

        My body has gotten so panicked about fish that I can’t even walk past fish markets without gagging and feeling nauseated. I know that there is no way that inhaling the scent is kicking off my allergies but all the same, I still want to puke if I smell it.

        That sounds exactly like the sort of feedback loop you’re describing and it’s nice to know it isn’t just me that ended up overly-sensitive because of an allergy.

      3. VictorianCowgirl*

        This is an untrue and extremely damaging assumption. I get migraines from some scents and I absolutely can no more give myself a migraine by worrying about getting one than I can give myself a broken arm. This adds to the image of migraneurs as hysterical self-reporting hypochondriacs and doesn’t add anything to the discussion at hand.

        1. Mia*

          Some people *can* make themselves sick with worry about getting sick, though. It’s great that you personally haven’t had that experience, but I’ve definitely anxiety-ed my way into a migraine because I was so stressed about being exposed to triggers.

        2. Lissa*

          “Caused in part by the brain” does not mean “fake”. As anxiety sufferers know all too well our thoughts and our health are inextricably linked. The real misinformation is that anything that’s affected by thoughts is fake or someone being a hypochondriac.

          The placebo effect, stress induced illness – there are many many examples of how our physical health is directly affected by our mental well being and state of mind.

    2. chrome ate my username*

      My mom, my sister, and I both have fragrance allergies and scent-sensitive migraines, so all three of us use primarily unscented products as much as possible.

      The thing that is amusing, is that, if you get us together, we all have products that we can tolerate that the other can’t. My sister’s hairspray gives me a migraine, and my mom’s deodorant triggers an asthma attack. My mom can’t stand some of my cleaning products, and my sister hates my conditioner. And the three of us are actively trying to use unscented/fragrance free products!

      It’s simply not possible to go to the “medically sterile” level of fragrance free, unless you’re a healthcare provider or caregiver for someone who’s been trained on appropriate products. For an extracurricular activity, it’s asking a lot.

      1. letter writer*

        That’s a really interesting point – that tolerance for various products varies between sensitive people. Thank you!

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Right. Everything, including fragrance-free things, smells like *something.* I had a girlfriend who got migraines from the smell of certain soft plastics (she used to joke that she was allergic to My Little Ponies, though that soft plastic stuff was common in many products). It wasn’t a fragrance (these weren’t the novelty scented ponies; it was the plastic itself, which was also used in e.g. certain shampoo containers), but it still had a smell.

        “No scent” is sooo much harder than “eliminate these scents.)

        1. letter writer*

          So true that everything smells – even if it’s not scented. I use a lot of natural and home made products, and they also have ingredients. Things from nature smell too!

      3. The Other Katie*

        This may be related to differences in the masking scents. A truly scent-free product is very rare – almost anything will have a scent (maybe not a very nice one). A lot of scent-free products use masking scents to cancel out the natural scent so that humans can’t consciously detect anything, but the scent is still there.

    3. Me Too*

      off topic …but ME TOO — severe chronic migraines who often cannot stand any smell and I have super-smell powers when a migraine is coming on or already happening.

      I’ve not met anyone else with the super sniffer symptom.

      1. Amber T*

        Lol that’s what my comment above is supposed to finish saying – “you become like Gus from Psych with his super sniffer.” I only get a powerful sense of smell with triggering scents, which isn’t really a superpower I want. I used to be able to predict when it’s going to rain (by getting a bad headache – thankfully meds *mostly* knocked that one off).

      2. tacoTsunami*

        Replying off topic but I had to because OMG ME TOO, super-sniffer symptoms: my friends joke that I was a bloodhound in a past life. When a migraine is coming it goes from daily-awful to absolutely unbearable. In the prodrome phase of a migraine, ANY smell is intolerable, including the things I can normally tolerate without too much issue. Sometimes that’s my first clue one is coming. If nothing else this thread has confirmed that I’m not existing in a vacuum where I dream of a fragrance-free world.

  7. BatmansRobyn*

    If this were me I’d stop showering a couple days before the next meeting, forget my deodorant the day-of, and then go to the gym immediately before attending. Have fun hugging my scent-free self then, friendo.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        I have a friend who, because of a dog attack when he was young, well, let’s be a bit delicate and say he will never father children. He gets long acting testosterone shots every month or so and it would be nice if he smelled like a weasel after. Instead, for the next few days he smells like a buck in rut. There’s nothing he can do about it, it’s his life. I guarantee he wouldn’t pass the sniff test.

    1. Mookie*

      Anybody friendly-hugging me to police my odor is either getting cleavage that smells like rotten vegetables or cleavage that smells like Cabochard Gres. Brace yourself accordingly because there’s no third option.

  8. Submerged Tenths*

    Yes, why is ONE person out of 100 able to subject the rest to being hugged (??) and smelled (!!???!!) so that she can attend a meeting. Would it not make vastly more sense for the one person to attend via screen?
    Add me to the “wondering how she survives daily life” group.

    1. EPLawyer*

      I am wondering if this is what the person with sensitivity asked to have done. I know if it was me with the sensitivity I would be MORTIFIED that this was the solution.

      Which, umm, yeah, has anyone like, ASKED the person with the sensitivity what a good solution might be?

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        Some people really do get off on making others bend over backwards to accommodate their every outlandish need. Others don’t understand how unreasonable certain demands are.

        I wonder if the sensitive person knows about this “solution” to her problem or if she condones it at all. I too would be beyond mortified if it were me and I’d be begging forgiveness form the rest of the group.

      2. Rainy*

        I really doubt that the person with the scent sensitivity is asking this. This strikes me more as something that the organizer, who means well but hasn’t bothered to actually ask the scent sensitive person what they need, has decided is a good idea. Somehow.

      3. Aveline*

        As someone with this type of sensitivity, I would never ask for this.

        It’s reasonable to ask for no perfume or strongly scented products?

        Both zero-scent and a hug test are unreasonable.

        My guess is that someone is doing this for them, not the person suffering asking for it.

        I *personally* would be mortified if someone did this on my account.

      4. smoke tree*

        I’m also guessing that the person with the sensitivity also is probably aware that whatever amount of washing can be done in a public washroom right before the meeting is not likely to be effective. I’m actually wondering if the organizer has suggested it as more of a shaming strategy, because otherwise I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am wondering what they have for soap in that wash room. Send enough people to wash up and that soap scent will permeate the entire meeting room.

          1. LilySparrow*

            Oh… Ten extra bonus points for irony if the reason the person keeps reacting isn’t because of the other members at all, but because of something **in the building**.

    2. Anonymeuse*

      I’m guessing the person didn’t suggest the hug tests, but lots of people (including some doctors, who’ll write a medical note to this effect) see fragrance/chemical sensitivity as a medical issue. So one person could ask the organizer or employer to tell everyone to please not wear fragranced products, just the same way one person with a severe allergy could ask their employer to request that people avoid certain foods, etc.

      1. Observer*

        Oh, it’s a medical issue all right. But there are limits to what can be expected in terms of accommodation.

      2. Fulana del Tal*

        Its one thing to ask not to wear perfume its another to ask not to use anything that has a scent. Unscented products are usually more expensive and usually still have a scent.

        1. BatmansRobyn*

          Many of them also don’t work, and no matter what it is absolutely insane to tell people that they need to alter their own at-home personal hygiene regimens (change laundry detergents? be aware of shampoos? don’t wear perfume in the days leading up to a meeting) in order to accommodate one member of a large organization that everyone pays to be part of.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            I don’t see the detergent/shampoo/perfume thing as a big deal. There are a tone of scent free options out their. I know a few coworkers who were using Zum patchouli detergent and switched when a coworker started who was allergic. It’s not a big deal? What’s so hard about helping a coworker breath better. People always act like anything besides perfume bans (and parfume is I motions, soaps, and detergent too btw) is some huge affeont on personal liberty.

            1. Roscoe*

              I disagree. I like the smell of certain things. I’m happy to not put on extra cologne, but I’m not changing my entire hygiene routine for one person, nor would I invest in 2 sets of everything. That is too much to ask of people to accomodate one person. Now if they want to purchase scent free everything for me, I’d take it and use it on my workday. But assuming they don’t want to incur an extra expense either, they shouldn’t expect me to.

            2. Natalie*

              It’s different when it’s one single product that needs to be avoided. Eliminating all possible fragrances means replacing many, many items – I don’t even use that many bodycare products but I can think of a dozen I would have to replace off the top of my head. For each on you have to find an alternative that is genuinely unscented, actually works for what they need it to, and is accessible and within their budget. That’s just not reasonable for most people.

              1. TacoTsunami*

                As someone who actually has to do this because *I’m* the one with sensitivities, I can tell you that you are absolutely correct. It’s brutal trying to find genuinely un-fragranced products that are also within the budget (and for my personal ethics, cruelty free). It’s enough to drive you mad. To expect someone else without the issue to do so is just expecting too much.

                I will say though, that 2018 is overboard in terms of fragranced products. It feels like manufacturers universally decided that everything you touch has to be scented.

                1. BookishMiss*

                  Seriously. There are these stress ball type stuffed animals at my bookstore, which I would love to own, but they exude this watermelon candy scent when squeezed. Just… Why.

              2. Rat in the Sugar*

                Yeah, I just thought about it and I’d have 11 different body/face/hair products that I’d have to buy, as well as dish soap and laundry detergent. All in all it would be a couple hundred bucks, which is not an amount of money I have just laying around unclaimed.

                Now perfume itself they can absolutely ban. I don’t really have to wear that at all so I wouldn’t be required to buy a replacement, just to stop putting it on. The soaps and detergents, on the other hand, I don’t have the option to just stop using and so I’d be forced to spend my own time and money to replace them.

              3. Phoenix Programmer*

                Oh I definitely agree. Bit like. You like the scent of patchouli so you are not willing to stop using it even though it makes your coworker vomit. Some people draw their line in the Sand there and act like vomitting coworker is a vilkian. I just don’t see it as a big deal to cut out a scent. I love vanilla but it gives my coworker a headache so I don’t use it at work anymore. I would also not buy vanilla scented detergent. It’s not that hard for these one offs but people still act like it’s an affront to their liberty and I just don’t get it.

                1. Natalie*

                  Nope. You said “I don’t see the detergent/shampoo/perfume thing as a big deal. There are a tone of scent free options out their.” in response to someone that was talking about the feasibility of changing many personal/home products. You were and are using the example of swapping out one single, specific product to support your assertion that it’s “not that hard” to swap out many, vaguely identified products and that anyone who won’t do that is indifferent to their coworkers.

                2. Ethyl*

                  *For you* it’s not that hard. Not for everyone.

                  Also, it’s a little hard to understand what you’re saying in some parts. So I’m not going to respond to the rest of it, but it does sound like you need to be a little more mindful of the different circumstances other people may have.

            3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

              Not wearing perfume should be easy to do. Asking people to change their household products is invasive. Some people bargain hunt and only want to buy the cheapest detergent and shampoo they can find in bulk at sam’s club and won’t want to shell out the money to go to a normal store to buy a tiny amount of the unscented stuff. Some people spend a lot of time finding that one kind of shampoo that doesn’t make their hair frizz like crazy. Some people need to wear coco butter lotion because their skin drys out easily. Personal products can be a very personal thing – you can’t ask people to change the way they take care of their body.

              1. Phoenix Programmer*

                That’s an interesting distinction. Zum detergent is very expensive in part because it uses essential oils so your clothes smell strongly of patchouli for days. If your coworker is allergic what’s so invasive about asking coworker to go for the orange version instead?

                1. Observer*

                  Because it’s not just the ONE item that’s at play here.

                  Also, even if it were just the ONE item (ie the detergent) which has a different scent available, you are assuming that the person using it couldn’t possibly have a reason to not want (or be able) to use the citrus version. Maybe that person is sensitive to citrus smells. Or their skin is sensitive to whatever they use for the scent. Or maybe they have someone in their lives who is sensitive to those smells.

                  In other words EVEN when you are dealing with ONE product that can apparently easily be changed, you are potentially running into trouble. When the issue is multiple products, and often significant differences in effects and costs, it is simply disingenuous to claim that it’s “no big deal”.

              2. Jady*

                I’m actually one of those people who need ONE kind of shampoo/conditioner for my hair. It took me years of hunting and research to find it.

                I’d be willing to change a lot of things just to be nice (perfume, detergent, makeup, soaps, etc), but my hair care products are not one of them.

            4. Kj*

              It is one thing for a specific product to be the trigger and for there to be a polite request for someone not to use that. And perfume is completely optional. But I have products that work for my health needs- I have sensitive skin and have done some work to find products that won’t trigger major problems and I’m not willing to change up everything I do for my own health for the sake of being scent free. It is not so much an affront to my personal liberty, but I have needs too and others don’t get to dictate and smell me to make sure I am complying with their demands. Some requests are reasonable. This is not one of them.

              1. Lissa*

                Yeah, “Sheila is allergic to lavender so can you switch out for something else”? No problem. But if it’s “Sheila is allergic to everything except Product X so you have to use that” is not really reasonable.

                1. Kat in VA*

                  No doubt. I have the finickiest, crankiest hair on the planet, and someone telling me I can’t use one of the two shampoo/conditioner combos that keeps my mane from simultaneously laying flat and poufing up like a pissed off cat would result in me telling them to get stuffed.

                  Things like lotion or whatever, or perfume (especially perfume), sure, I can forego those for a meeting.

                  But changing out my hair products? Nope. Not gonna happen.

                  I’m too tired and wired tonight to get into how someone hugging me to give me a sniff test is a huge NO in my book. I only allow being touched by my nearest and dearest; I don’t give hugs to strangers or even acquaintances.

                  I dunno, this one rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I just need to go to bed.

            5. Quill*

              People can also be scent sensitive to things like glycerin, shea butter, sodium laurel/laureth sulfate… all of which are often structural parts of products they’re included in, and not additional scents. Asking people to switch up hair care or lotion routines may not be feasible, especially if they themselves have sensitivities to some products, or skin or scalp conditions like eczema or dandruff.

            6. Antilles*

              I don’t see the detergent/shampoo/perfume thing as a big deal.
              You do realize there are people who have skin allergies to certain detergents? The specific reason I use the brand I do is because the other alternatives have caused me to break out in hives and I had to try several different brands till I found one whose formulation doesn’t cause a reaction. So no, changing laundry detergents is *not* a trivial exercise.

              1. Observer*

                In fact, this is true for pretty much anything that comes in contact with your skin.

                Most soaps that are genuinely scent free also tend to be really harsh. When one of my kids was a baby I was using a scent free “pure” product, and the pediatrician told me to stop because I was causing my poor kid to have have chapped skin all over the place. Not everyone is this sensitive, but that soap is known for drying people’s skin out.

                1. Ethyl*

                  “Most soaps that are genuinely scent free also tend to be really harsh. ”

                  OH MY GOSH THANK YOU. This literally never ocurred to me and you may have improved my household’s skin health like a thousand fold.

              2. Name to be decided on at a later date*

                I travel with my own linens because of my extreme sensitivity to laundry detergents. The brand I currently use is scented. I would not switch for a co-worker. Co-worker can avoid sitting near me, I cannot avoid my clothing.

            7. justcourt*

              People who need medicated shampoos, shampoos for curly/natural hair, etc. might see this as a big deal.

              I have really bad eczema and the only lotion that prevents me from having to use medicated lotion is coco butter. I also have to use a special shampoo. As much sympathy as I feel for people with scent sensitivities, I will not give up the products that work for me.

            8. Not So NewReader*

              But that is not what is being asked. It’s not just swap out these three products, it’s a list of approved brands and products that they are being told to use instead. I think that providing people with a list is asking too much. I want to join a group who is interested in X, in order to be a part of the group I have to use certain soaps which has nothing to do with X. Sorry my life is complex enough, I don’t need more complexity, I just wanted to join a group to enjoy X.

            9. Former Librarian*

              I have sensitive skin, and the chemicals used to remove/cover up scents in a lot of the “sent-free” options out there irritate my already existing excezma and cause me to break out in very visible rashes or hives. So no, I am not going to itch constantly, look terrible, and pop anti-histamines like candy just because a coworker doesn’t like the way my detergent, body wash, shampoo/conditioner, deoderant, or medicated lotion smells.

              Anything beyond a simple perfume or cologne ban IS asking way too much.

            10. alienor*

              I could see that if these were coworkers who were going to be around each other every day, but this is an external business-related group that only meets occasionally. It’s not reasonable to ask people to change the way they live at home all year round for a meeting that happens once or twice a month.

        2. Not a Mere Device*

          Right. If I’m going someplace where I’ve been asked not to use scented products, I read carefully, because if it doesn’t say “fragrance free” there may be a “masking fragrance,” which is no more guaranteed to be harmless than any other fragrance. That’s in addition to possibly smelling the active ingredient in toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant…

          I have a relatively easy time with accommodations here, because in a lot of cases I prefer the unscented version anyhow: I don’t want my dishes or laundry to smell of the washer. But “a lot of cases” doesn’t mean everything; shampoo is harder than dish soap.

          1. Aveline*

            Fragrance free can often include natural fragrances that still cause issues.

            I have had a lot of people disregard my requests wrt to fragrances in my home because “it’s organic” or “it’s natural.”

            Ironically, a lot of natural fragrances are worse for me that the artificial ones.

            1. BookishMiss*

              When people use “but it’s natural” at me as an excuse, I point out that arsenic, too, is natural.

            2. Bryce*

              I picked up some “free and clear” dish soap that turned out to smell absolutely horrid. In small print instead of “no perfumes” it said “no strong perfumes” and I gotta say, if they thought that was light they must all be lacking noses.

              Soap and detergents and such are my bane because usually they apply scent with the goal of it still being smellable later. Which means it’s obscenely potent at the point of first contact.

              1. A username for aam*

                The favorite sensitive-skin soap Cetaphil has a scent to it that I absolutely cannot stand. It stays on my face all day and I get random gross whiffs of it.

                This is a soap that’s recommended by dermatologists for people with skin conditions, eczema, sensitivities, and allergies!

                1. Ethyl*

                  I can smell.(and taste!) the silicone used in stuff like spatulas or muffin tins or ummmmm “other” products, and everyone always acted like I was nuts! But honestly, some things smell to people and they don’t smell to other people! Just….believe me!

                2. Bryce*

                  There are people for whom silicone doesn’t smell? I don’t find it offensive but it definitely has an odor.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              It’s natural/organic. This makes me chuckle.
              Just because it’s natural does not mean it’s not toxic. Snake venom is natural.
              Just because it’s natural does not mean it does not stink. Animal manures are natural.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Aside from the other ridiculousness of doing this, I wonder how long it would take for this screening to occur. Would they waste half their meeting doing this??

        1. Autumnheart*

          Well, assuming 6 seconds per person, that’s 10 minutes. And then you have to wait for all the people who didn’t pass the hug test and had to go wash up, come back and be re-hugged.

          1. paxfelis*

            And that’s without assuming the hugger wasn’t also going and washing, to deal with scent transfer.

          2. Nephron*

            Plus another 10 minutes waiting for the person who “went to wash up” and actually walked straight out of the building and will no longer take phone calls from anyone in the group now.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Also – wouldn’t you go noise blind after a while? I know when I smell a perfume at a store I am blind to all other smells after that. I feel like the first women hugged would be judged to a much higher standard than the later ones.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          The hugger would have to have a little flask of coffee beans, like they put out at the perfume counter, to “cleanse her palate” between hugs. :-P

    4. Another perspective*

      Some people honestly don’t or are low functioning in their daily lives. I have two family members who state they suffer from this issue (which I am understanding of because I am sensitive to certain smells, although “please don’t spray perfume or febreze next to me” is generally enough for me). And they don’t leave the house much or have many friends. They do ask our entire family to use an approved list of products in the weeks leading up to seeing them, and they have sent out notices asking large groups (ie middle school science fair participants) to not use any scents and only shop from their approved list. They are vocal about it and believe it should be accommodated. I don’t know if the specific person spoke up in this case or it could have gotten misconstrued from the original intent, but some people really don’t function in daily life much. These are family members that I love, but I only see them once a year since they can’t travel or really function in public, and they don’t touch me or come near me because of the sensitivities.

  9. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    So, leaving out the problem of the “hug test” (this comment box is not that big), I still don’t understand how this is supposed to work.

    What if the odor is something in the clothes (smoke is really bad for this, and not just tobacco smoke)? Washing up won’t do anything for that. What if the odor is from a hair care product? Is the person supposed to wash their hair (sans soap, since the bathroom soap probably also has fragrance added) in the bathroom? Does the offending person have to be hugged again after they wash up? What happens if they fail this hypothetical second hug test? Or is washing up assumed to always take care of the problem, thus leading to opportunities to cheat an already bad system?

    1. Girl in the Windy City*

      I was thinking the same thing.

      I’m not petty (or brave) enough to actually do this, but I like to imagine that if I were asked to wash up in the bathroom, I’d wash my hair, clothes, everything, and come back completely soaking wet, and then act as if nothing was wrong.

      1. Owlette*

        I might leave my clothes behind in the bathroom, too. Hey, if lingering scent in my clothes was an issue, you know.

      2. Xarcady*

        Well, you need to give the hugger person a really BIG hug when you are soaking wet–so they can make sure you no longer smell.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I’m picturing a room full of women with dripping hair because they all didn’t pass the sniff test.

    3. Manders*

      Yeah, I’m sympathetic to folks with fragrance sensitivities, but I was under the impression that a fragrance sensitivity is usually specific to certain chemicals that you can ask people can avoid before attending an event. I’m just not sure how you can guarantee that a group of 100 humans is never going to produce any kind of smell.

      1. Aveline*

        Yes, it’s specific to certain things. Knowing what those are and being able to ask to “not wear X” is nigh impossible.

        I’m not allergic to every perfume out there. I’m allergic to over 75% of them. It’s easier for me to tell guests coming to my home “no perfume” than to say “no patcholi, but lemongrass is ok.”

        As a practical matter, saying “I’m allergic to perfume” is all one can do.

        When and where that request is reasonable is another matter.

      2. Allergies, I has them*

        “Fragrance” in an ingredient list is one of, or a combination of any of a number of, over 500 difference chemicals. US laws allow companies to call all of those chemicals “fragrance”, so knowing what it is that is triggering your reactions is basically impossible. And, companies are free to change what they use from batch to batch, and they do, depending upon what’s cheaper when they’re buying ingredients. So a product that was fine for me that last 27 times I bought it can cause a reaction this time.

        I can’t keep up with my own allergies to fragrances, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone else to.

        1. Manders*

          Ah, thanks for the clarification! That does sound like an impossible task to try to keep up with it all.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah, my aunt has extremely sensitive skin allergies and has to be careful which laundry detergent she uses. She had settled on a store brand from a local grocery store, but then they were bought out by another chain and the formula changed. Even the name brands have been okay for a while and then not okay somewhat suddenly.

    4. EPLawyer*

      oooh excellent point. Go wash up in the washroom that probably doesn’t have unscented soap. That’ll fix it.

      Have they thought about moving the location (not as easy as it sounds I know) to a more open space? Then maybe the person won’t get hit as much with the scent as you do in a small room.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, it’s like they totally overlooked that washrooms *themselves* have scents in them. Everything from the lemony “the janitor must have just been here” to an air freshener or soap to well, human gases.
        If her nose is really that incredibly sensitive, sending people into the bathroom doesn’t seem like a solution to the problem.

    5. Iris Eyes*

      Well they could move the meeting to a clean room I suppose. A decontamination shower, then full body suit. I think that might be less invasive.

        1. Chinookwind*

          Wouldn’t be cheaper to just buy the person one airtight suit than the other 100? It would also mean that she wouldn’t have to worry about what chemicals were used to cleean the meeting space.

          1. Iris Eyes*

            Yes but clearly PPE for the person with the problem would single them out and make them uncomfortable. Otherwise they would already have some sort of filtering apparatus in regular use.

            1. Natalie*

              I can’t imagine hugging people to smell them and then sending the offenders off to the washroom alleviates the whole “singled out and uncomfortable” aspect.

    6. mcr-red*

      You’re right, the bathroom soap is probably fragranced and washing up isn’t going to help. I have odor sensitivities and get migraines from some and many times I can’t tell what is going to trigger it until it happens. One time my daughter put on hand sanitizer and WHAM. Couldn’t get near her. I had her scrubbing down her hands, nothing was taking it off. I think I even had her take a shower and the smell toned down some but I still couldn’t get too close to her until it completely and totally wore off.

      Also “unscented” products, still have a scent. Sounds crazy, but they do just naturally. It’s just not chemical fragrance smell. There’s an “unscented” air freshener thing my mom uses that makes me nauseated every time she uses it.

      1. de Pizan*

        It’s not natural with the unscented products–products that say unscented will actually put in a masking fragrance that supposedly hides the smells produced by other ingredients (I’ve got scent allergies as well, and it took me the longest time to figure out that unscented products still all had a fragrance/parfum ingredient and therefore that’s why they still bothered me). Products that say fragrance-free not only don’t include any include any ingredients that were specifically added for their scent, but also don’t include any masking fragrance.

    7. Jennifer*

      I went into a bathroom the other day and it was reeking of smoke (and everyone where I live has smoke free buildings, so I assume it was just used by a smoker). What the hell could I do in that situation?

      Seriously, is this group just going to end up publicly shaming people/sending them home for smell? That seems likely.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah, I find that sometimes if I am near a coworker who smokes, I smell the smoke, even if they haven’t had a cigarette in hours. Other people, I probably didn’t realize they smoked for a while, because the scent didn’t linger. I don’t know what some people are doing differently than others.

        Also, I’ve known as few women who smoked and then put on perfume, or men who would put on body spray or spray deodorant. Did not help, and was worse.

        1. mcr-red*

          OMG, there’s a woman who works in the same building as me who does this – smokes and then puts on perfume. So much worse! I get instant migraine if she’s around me any length of time.

    8. smoke tree*

      I mentioned this above, but I’m wondering if the organizer intends for the smell test to be more of a shaming tactic, to give people extra incentive to switch to scent-free products.

    9. AJHall*

      Well, the obvious solution is strip naked for the hug. Given how obtrusive everything else seems to be, it’s an obvious next step.

  10. Delta Delta*


    Avoid using scented products on the day you have the meeting? Maybe. Let me hug you to determine if I think you smell? Hard no. I don’t want to be hugged. I don’t want to be sniffed. This creeps me out.

    I feel for the person with the sensitivity, but this is too much. And, did the member with the sensitivity appoint the leader as the Sniffer-In-Chief? or go along with this? She’s probably mortified by the hug email. (yes, this is speculation, but it feels within the realm of reasonable speculation)

    1. JS*

      True I never thought the sniffer could be mortified as well. We assume she is the one behind it but it could be a case of an over enthusiastic organizer trying to please everyone.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I would sincerely hope that she is mortified. It’s an unfortunate situation but she surely understands that this is irrational. Hopefully she speaks up and comes up with solutions that have worked for her in the past.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, who is the Sniffer-in-Chief? The person with the sensitivity? I picture her developing horrible symptoms after sniffing three people. So that wouldn’t work either.

      1. Sarcastic Fringehead*

        Right, there’s no way she could do the sniffing. So how is the Designated Sniffer even going to know what’s too much, scent-wise?

      2. Bag*

        I wondered that. If it were the person with the sensitivities, then they will probably make themselves ill (not least because many people will have some residual scents even if they have followed the request for fragrance free products etc)
        It is it someone else, that person won’t necessarily know what scents will or won’t cause a problem.

  11. Observer*

    There are SOOO many things wrong with this letter. And what makes all of the badness worse is that it simply cannot work without banning a lot of people from the group. The reality is that if someone who has made an effort to be scent free still smells of something, there’s no way that the public washroom is going to be a viable place to solve that problem.

    It’s bad enough to decide to do something that is really out of line to accomplish an otherwise good end. But, if you are not going to accomplish that goal, that becomes gratuitous nastiness.

    1. letter writer*

      That was part of my concern – no scent that is this “offensive” will be cleared up in a public bathroom. So then what? Members have to make choices.

  12. JS*

    Yeah I would be uncomfortable with anyone sniffing me, a sniffing HUG is down right creepy and predatory.

    I feel for anyone with extreme allergies but it seems as if little things trigger this person so much its a wonder they arent walking around with a portable oxygen mask.

    1. Name to be decided on a later date*

      My kids found a list online called creepy/funny things to say when hugging someone. It’s all I can think about reading this letter. For me…I might let myself be hugged just so I could whisper in the hugger’s ear “you smell different when you’re awake.” LOL! (That and “I killed Mufasa” are my favorite on the list they found).

  13. Patches023*

    For those wondering how people with extreme sensitivity survive daily life, they do so with great difficulty. I have a friend who’s throat closes up if she gets too much fragrance. She has to limit her interactions with people and her outings. It is no fun for people who have this.

    1. Observer*

      I’m sure it’s no fun, to say the least. What people are pointing out is that if the sensitivity is that severe, then the sufferer must already know that they have to limit where they go and what they do. This is majorly unfortunate for her, but that’s the reality of the situation.

      And before anyone jumps in with “How dare you put your convenience over the LIFE of a sufferer?!?!” allow me to point out that this standard is not just about people’s convenience. For many people it’s a matter of being able to function in the rest of their lives. And sometimes, people emit smells that are similar to the scents that are found in commercial products but are due to their diet or health issues. (And, aside from the enormity of asking someone to change their diet to accommodate this kind of thing, in some cases these diets are required for people’s health.)

    2. an infinite number of monkeys*

      Oh, no, unquestionably not. I think one of the biggest problems with the “hug test” requirement is that it paints the sufferer in a terrible light, likely very unfairly.

    3. Chinookwind*

      Patches023, I feel for your friend who suffers like this and if she were part of my women’s group, she would have found no end to the empathy we would give and we would look into any all accommodations we could make that also didn’t prevent others from participating. For those who saw it as inconvenient, I would have no sympathy. But the hug and sniff test would directly impact I could see this requirement turning away those with lower incomes, the elderly , smokers, those who travel there via transit and those who can’t decontaminate after work and I would have had to draw a line with “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

      That wouldn’t mean I would have “cast out” your friend, though. Knowing this group of women, we would have brainstormed a way for your friend to participate from afar, whether it be teleconferencing (since we already use a mic for the hard of hearing, we would just loop the phone in), group emails and chats, sending members over to interact with her who were willing and able to meet her conditions and/or even sharing our projects with her for to do on her own. This wouldn’t have been a stretch as we had a few housebound members (usually elderly) that we included in such a way.

      There are ways to include someone in a group that requires compromise on both sides and may not look like what everyone else is doing, you just have to be flexible, creative and willig to put in the time.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One of my all-time favorite letters! I have a vivid image of my head of her giving those full-body hugs, while was loudly proclaiming how good it feels to be hugged.

  14. Neena*

    I have allergies to a lot of things and sensitivity to some smells has come along for the ride. The thing is, this is my problem to manage and I refuse to make it the responsibility of others – that just isn’t reasonable. The world is not going to work around me; I need to work around my own limitations. So, sometimes I need to remove myself from a situation. An organization asking meeting participants to refrain from heavy perfumes and after-shaves is being kind and thoughtful – compliance isn’t expected or required, but appreciated.

    Who is going to do the inspecting (the hugging) and who determines what is unacceptable? The expectation is that the everyone is going to work around one person?? Nope. Sorry this is hard for the one (and I am that one) but it isn’t appropriate to subjectively judge others and force them to leave. I take responsibility for my own self and don’t make my issues anyone else’s problem.

    “This request is not reasonable and while I’m willing to not use heavy perfume on the day of the event, I will not be physically inspected upon arrival and judged on whether I can participate.”

    Rather, the person with the sensitivity will need to arrive and determine whether she can participate.

  15. Ann*

    1. Submit to invasive hug
    2. Be told that you stink
    3. Attempt to bathe in a public washroom, which probably has scented soap in its dispensers
    4. Return to invasive hug test, only now you are wet too

    1. Ann*

      (I am sensitive to odors. I hate how everything – everything! – has to have a smell. I mean, really, I put deodorant on so my armpits WON’T smell – I don’t need them to be ‘meadow fresh’! But that hug test is just beyond the pale.)

      1. Quill*

        Same. Most hygeine and laundry products don’t need *added* smell (and to be honest that’s probably what’s sensitizing these scent-sensitive people…) and it would be nice to walk into any public bathroom that did not smell like dying gardenias because a variety of “cover the poop!” scent products have been applied to it.

        … The hug is just yikes.

      2. Boop*

        Oh man! I was in the store yesterday trying to get detergent pods for my dishwasher and EVERYTHING had a scent! They’re dishes; I don’t care if they smell like a spring breeze!!

        I’m also imagining the hugger standing at the door, hugging everyone as they enter and giving a huuuuuge sniff each time. I bet she hyperventilates pretty quick. Hehe.

    2. JS*

      5. Likely be told to bathe in the public bathroom again because of a mystery smell that “you didn’t get all of”.
      6. Come back completely naked just to spite them.

      Okay maybe not 6 but I would love to see their faces.

      1. paxfelis*

        7) Find out that the scent that’s causing the problems is actually something in what’s used to clean the floors.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      I’d opt out of attending the meeting, myself. It’s all kinds of invasive and boundary crossing. It’s also completely impractical because everyone will smell like something, be it their natural odor, their pets, where they’ve been, or (gasp) scented products they use. Who determines what is an acceptable level/type of smell? I already use unscented everything because I too HATE how cleaning and personal care products have to “smell”. I get dizzy walking down the laundry soap isle at the store, I hold my breath walking by someone wearing perfume, and I’ve been known to gag over having to interact with someone wearing too much scent. But being sniffed upon arrival to a meeting? Absolutely not. And if you insist, you can do without me.

        1. Unscented*

          For unscented hair shampoo/condition, if you are in Canada, ONEKA brand is my favorite, followed by Carina Organics. In my opinion the Oneka conditioner is richer and more moisturizing. Both of these are made in Canada and available in health food type stores. They are reasonably priced if compared to salon products, though maybe not if you are comparing to mass-market drugstore brands. I usually pay between $12 – $14 Canadian for a 500 ml bottle of Oneka.

        2. de Pizan*

          I like Dr Bronner’s pure Castile unscented hemp baby shampoo. Avoid Whole Foods’ 365 brand fragrance free shampoo–it made my hair fall out in fairly alarming handfuls.

          1. Ktelzbeth*

            Whole Foods’ 365 didn’t make my hair fall out, but it left an unbearable residue. Seconding the recommendation to avoid it.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Or maybe start their own organization that allows for people to wear scented products? That’s where I’d be tempted to go.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          You might be on to something here. Divide the group into two sections. Those who pass the sniff test and those who don’t. NO. Don’t do it along that dividing line but perhaps have a way people can self-select which section they would like to join.

    4. Turquoisecow*

      A lot of people shower daily, and probably a large number of people would shower the night before or morning of an important group-wide meeting. Having been told that there is a fragrance-sensitive person attending, and asked to take that into consideration, I would presume a lot of people would make an effort to wear unscented clothes and use unscented soaps and refrain from wearing perfumes or scented deodorants to the meeting. (Not all, but a significant number of the group)

      If all of that preparation isn’t enough to make them acceptable to pass the “hug test”, then what are they going to be able to do in a public washroom? They can’t rewash their clothing. They can’t remove the scent of diesel exhaust they picked up while waiting for the bus. They can’t erase the scent of cigar smoke they walked through passing a guy on the street. They put in a lot of effort, and they still fail the test!!

      I’m sympathetic to the issue, but it seems far easier for the sensitive person to attend remotely than to try to get 100+ people to the meeting in plastic bubbles.

  16. Anonymeuse*

    As usual, I think Alison’s advice is great, but one thing I’d add is that it might also be worth addressing some of the more questionable chatter from the group. Fragrance/chemical sensitivity is sometimes mistaken for a preference rather than a medical condition, but if you substitute it for something else like an allergy or a physical/mobility issue, then questions like “how does this person function in the rest of the world?” become really problematic. I’m not saying the LW or the person who asked meant anything by it, but if it was me I’d probably push back a bit to try and make sure that the person with the sensitivity doesn’t feel excluded or condescended to.

    All that said, as an introvert who likes her personal space, it’s a hard pass on hugging. If I’m unknowingly causing someone’s medical condition to flare up, I’d much rather have a group leader discretely approach me and let me know than line up for my smell-check-admission-hug.

    1. Emi.*

      I think there’s room to ask how this person copes with the rest of life … so that you can apply that solution to this event.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      Not to mention cold and flu season is coming up. Hugging everyone is an excellent way to start an epidemic if one person has the creeping crud. Ick.

    3. SushiRoll*

      I asked this question and it was sincere. I think we all can agree this hug test is absurd, but apparently the sensitivity is so severe/at such a high level that it’s made someone feel this solution is warranted. Hence, wondering how this person can go out in the world where they don’t have people blocking for them, hugging everyone they may come near first and warding them off before they come within smell-range.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        Except most people don’t ask “how does victim get by” every time a well meaning 3rd party does something akward trying to help them. They only do it with allergies.

        Did you ask “how does weird last name man get by before his bosses we’re educating others about his potential religion?” No? So why is it legitimate with a scent sensitive/allergic person? Why do you assume the fragrance sensitive person asked for the hug test?

        Finally why do you keep insisting your question is legitimate when Alison had already asked you to stop. And the answer is simply “cause we have to” and many other scent sensitive people have spoken up that this question is rude and insensitive. Just drop the whole “it’s a legitimate question” line already.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Not only that, but the person the OP wrote about isn’t the one who wrote in and isn’t in these comments, so there’s nobody to answer the question of how this particular person gets through life.

          SushiRoll, if you truly want to learn more about the difficulties people with extreme scent sensitivities deal with and how they cope, there are internet resources for people with that issue and people trying to accomodate it. If it’s an issue you care about, you can educate yourself (and I encourage you to do so!). But nobody here can answer your question as far as the person the letter is about, so there’s not really a point in asking.

    4. Observer*

      but if you substitute it for something else like an allergy or a physical/mobility issue, then questions like “how does this person function in the rest of the world?” become really problematic.

      I hear what you are saying, but I think that this can actually be a reasonable question even for these other types of disabilities. And, sometimes the answer is going to be “Well, I actually cannot attend X” or “I really can’t do Y” because of that problem. That stinks, of course, but it also begs the question of “Why do you expect this to be any different?”

      1. OhNo*

        Exactly. Being disabled myself, sometimes the answer to the question of “How do you do this in your normal, everyday life?” is simply, “I don’t.” In which case, it would be perfectly reasonable for the organizers of an event to say, “Well, all the accommodations we can reasonably apply to this situation won’t make this accessible to you, and we can’t magic away your disability, so you might have to sit this one out.”

        It happens. It sucks, but it happens. Sometimes the best you can do is try to set things up in a way that is more accessible for next time. In this case, that might be setting up some kind of remote viewing, or changing the meeting space, or who knows what. But it’s no more reasonable to expect everyone to submit to a hug-and-sniff test than it is to expect everyone to carry me up and down a set of stairs in a sedan chair.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          You’re sitting one on one with a manager to discuss what works for you is fine.

          Bit posting to the internet at large “how do those people live!?” It’s dismissive. It’s also completely irrelevant to the letter.

          I find it interesting too that so many people assume the scent sensitive is the one asking for the hugs. It’s not in the letter.

          1. Observer*

            I don’t think that the relevance and legitimacy of the question is affected by whether the sufferer is the one who requested it or not.

            If the question is being asked as way to “prove” that the sufferer is just a drama lama, then it’s inappropriate, no matter what. If it’s a question intended to explore what are reasonable accommodations, it’s reasonable regardless. Intent and context are the keys, not the identity of the person making the request.

            1. Phoenix Programmer*

              It’s not coming across that people asking this want to know how to help the scent sufferer. It’s coming across that the scent sufferer is being dramatic or should shut up and deal.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        “That stinks” No pun intended. :)

        I do think the “I cannot attend X because of Y” can lead to a useful discussion. Sometimes it can lead to a change of venue, or a different time, or making the meeting a Skype call.

      3. HannahS*

        Yeah. As someone who needs disability-related accommodation at school and work, “How do you manage this in other settings” is a question that leads to figuring out what accommodation will look like. I get that it can be thrown out as a question-that’s-really-an-accusation-of-malingering (and holy cow, that does not only happen to allergic/scent-sensitive people) but it’s also a legitimate question that can lead to helpful answers. Scent-sensitivities/allergies run the gamut from “They give me a headache, so I try to move away from people wearing strong scents” to “I’m deathly allergic to linalool and I can barely leave the house.” Those answers can guide potential accommodation, which I’ve seen range from “This is a scent free environment” to “No bringing peanuts on Wednesdays, when Dr. Allergic is here. Also, we clean all the surfaces Tuesday evening and throw out everything in the fridge” to “I avoid crowds.” In this context, I get that it’s not a super-helpful question ask because the LW doesn’t know how severe this woman’s issue is or how it manifests, so she can’t answer those questions and come up with counter-solutions. But if the woman herself was writing in, or if the organizer was and she knew, it wouldn’t be inherently problematic to ask how she manages her sensitivity when she’s at work or a party or meeting her kid’s teacher.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        The only way people learn how to accommodate issues is by asking how other people with the same issues accommodate them in similar situations. This is true of disabilities, preferences, religious needs, or a number of other things.

        I honestly don’t know how many people with mobility issues manage to survive in this world where so many things seem against them, so if I had an incoming employee with mobility issues, I might ask others online how they’ve dealt with these things in other situations, so I can know whether proposed solutions are reasonable or feasible.

        I get that it’s not an individual’s responsibility to educate people on anything, but it’s not an unreasonable question. If you don’t want to answer a question, then don’t answer it, but the whole “oh just find some other online resource, google is a thing!” Seems insanely rude to me. How do I know if the resource I’ve come across on google is even legit?

    5. galatea*


      I’m also a little surprised to see comments implying that it’s the person with the allergy who wants any of this — as someone with life-threatening allergies, this sounds like the sort of (humiliating, awful) standards random people who mean well and know absolutely nothing about allergy management independently come up with.

      I really feel for the person with the allergies tbh — being singled out as the reason this invasive, overly friendly greeting is going to happen feels awful.

      1. Amber T*

        Yes – there is of course the chance that this was requested by the one with the sensitivity, but more likely than not, this is coming from the leader, who thinks this is a great idea to keep the member involved, not realizing she made an even bigger mess.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It could be that the person is still having difficulty and has mentioned it or it could be that the leader asked how it was going and the person said “so-so” or similar to indicate that she was not comfortable yet. In other words, the leader took a simpler conversation and ran it out too far.

    6. quikaa*

      I have a friend that is extremely scent and chemically sensitive to the extent it incredibly adversely impacts her daily life. However she would never request a group to do these things.
      Usually she asks to be seated near a door or other ventilation, for there to be some space around her (so she is not crowded and air can circulate) and for people to understand if she has to get up mid-meeting and leave if it is too much. Also not to shake hands or hug for obvious reasons and if possible to not wear perfume or heavy scents. These are pretty reasonable accommodations. She also brings her towel to sit (scents can transfer from chairs) and tries to reduce her exposures.
      My friend brings along some scent free wash that is good about taking off scents if appropriate (this is only when meeting with friends and family in small groups where we know her well and happy to accommodate if we accidentally have some strong scent on us). We usually meet outside where she can sit upwind or in well ventilated, non-crowded places. She shops in airy places the moment the store opens to avoid crowds (on-line shopping is such live-saver now), found a vet who will make house calls, doctors and dentists who are familiar with serving scent sensitive persons, family and friends who will pump her gas, etc to help her navigate daily life.
      So basically, the answer to how does this person function is.. she functions with great difficulty and with sever limitation on her activities.. but she tries to do it with as much grace as possible and understanding that not everyone else can live in a scent-free world so she needs to skip things or work it out as best as possible without unreasonably imposing on others.

    7. letter writer*

      Most of the chatter I heard was about the manner in which the issue was handled, not about the sensitive person. I think learning how someone manages in other situations could inform this one too.

    8. CTT*

      Agreed, although I want to point out that most extroverts are also not cool with hugging in professional (or professional-adjacent) situations too!

  17. Matilda Jefferies*

    I feel like about half of Alison’s letters fall into the category of “you should be able to solve this by using your words,” and the other half can really only be answered with the Nopetopus gif.

    This one is the latter. Good luck, OP – I have no advice, only sympathy!

  18. Fulana del Tal*

    When I read these type of questions I wonder how do people function in the public? I live in NYC scent is everywhere. If someone’s scent sensitivity is this bad that’s problem they need to figure out and manage not the group.

  19. LurkNoMore*

    This is unrealistic and I say this as a person who gets ‘perfume headaches’ all the time. The only thing you can do is to remove yourself from the stink and make some sort of passive aggressive face/noise so that the person gets a clue that it’s them (ok, not really but boy would I like to).
    However, please let me take this opportunity to say that I hope some of the people that have become nose blind to how strong their scent is will use this letter to check themselves. I’d rather take an elevator with a person who had just had a cigarette than a man that bathed himself that morning in Axe (definite headache trigger). Also, can the international airports quick forcing us to walk thru their smelly duty free shops?!?!? Nothing sucks more that getting a headache at the start of a 13 hour flight. And finally, don’t wear perfume to church!!!

    1. Ophelia*

      UGH, yes. I’m not that sensitive to smells, but perfumes do give me a headache if they’re strong and in close quarters, and the Duty-Free is the WORST. Blech.

    2. Properlike*

      The Bed Bath and Beyond stores are impossible with their active scented everything at the entrance. And those essential oil misters!

    3. Quill*

      Bath and Body Works, Lush, Bed Bath and Beyond, Yankee Candle… all stores I have to wait outside if anyone I’m shopping with wants go go in.

      Fortunately for me my sensitivity is more related to “Too many scents! Abandon ship!” than any one smell, but I still don’t know how anyone survives working in one of those stores.

      People, err on the side of not announcing yourself via scent.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        For me, it’s the people who put on perfume to get on an airplane that get all the stink-eye I have to give. I have asthma and my sister has scent triggered migraines, so entering an enclosed tube for multiple hours with someone wearing a strong perfume or cologne is torture.

      2. Kat in VA*

        I am literally allergic to nothing, according to the allergist’s office that called me and then put the head allergist on the phone as he was so excited to talk to “the one person who is allergic to NOTHING!”… not dust, not pollen, not mold, not anything…

        …and I if am in a LUSH store for more than 15 minutes, I get a headache. A world-class thumper & beater kind of headache.

        Which sucks because it’s my daughters’ (plural, as in three) favorite store and their go-to when they get a mall trip for their birthday.

        Oddly, stores like B&BW don’t bother me. Something about LUSH, though…

  20. WillyNilly*

    I am sympathetic to sensitivities, but before even considering submitting myself to such extreme measures, I would need reassurance the person with the sensitivity was taking steps (face mask? allergy nose filters? small personal clip on fan?) to help themself. Going totally scent free can be a significant time and monetary cost that 100 people cannot all necessarily take on casually.

  21. AOK*

    Hard pass. I am sensitive to being touched by anyone I deem outside of my immediate family. Don’t hug me, don’t casually touch my shoulder or arm, don’t pick lint off my shirt. Nope. Hecken Nope.

    1. ArtK*

      Out of 100 people, it’s quite likely that there are others with similar feelings. So now what? We have conflicting needs. Who wins?

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        We don’t have conflicting needs, and it’s not a case of somebody wins and somebody loses.

        One person needs to be in a scent-free (or scent-reduced) environment in order to accommodate her sensitivity. Cool. But nobody needs to hug anybody else, or submit to being hugged, in order to confirm their scent-free status. There are lots of ways to figure this out without resorting to hugging several dozen people without their consent.

  22. Cordoba*

    It’s the free-spirited artist’s group, nobody has to attend, she can enforce a scent-check hug as a condition of entry if she wants.

    Were I the LW my response would be to just stop showing up for the group.

    If the people complaining just knocked off for a few meetings the organizers would likely get the message and change their policy. If they do, great. If they don’t, they’re indicating that they’re irrational and are best avoided.

    1. Chinookwind*

      As long as the LW makes sure the organizers know that is why she is dropping out. A quick email stating “FYI – the new hug and sniff policy makes me uncomfortable and I no longer will be participating with these meetings as a result,” should do the trick, especially if she can get a few others to do it.

      And if the organizers value the scent-free person over the numerous other members, that will also tell you a lot.

      1. RoadsLady*

        Chinookwind is correct. Most people aren’t mind-readers as far as I know. While I technically agree with Cordoba, I think it’s unlikely they’ll get the hint to the exact nature of why everyone jumped ship. Explaining the hug test is a no-go for many will make things clear and professional.

  23. Blue Cupcake*

    No way would I give permission to be touch. The thought just makes my skin crawl.

    And how long are they going to waste hugging 100 people at each meeting? If the woman notice a scent, then talk to the scented person individually. Don’t subject 100 people go this creepiness.

    Also some medications cause people to give off a scent. What then?

    1. Blue Cupcake*

      Forgot to add who is this almighty person to judge who pass or fail the sniff test? I can smell people by standing next to them; there’s no need to hug. And what if 20 out of 100 *does* smell? Now their scents are the hugger too combining into one super stinky smell.

      1. Blue Cupcake*

        Oops. Forgot the word “on” as in “Now their scents are on the hugger too……”

  24. Admin Amber*

    Vicks Vapo Rub works wonders for perfume smells or just bad smells in general. I am not a fan of perfumes, and I also believe in live and let live. The affected person could try that rather than expecting the group to accommodate her.

    1. fposte*

      Unfortunately, if you’re genuinely allergic to the substance, covering the smell up with something else doesn’t help–the allergen is still present. It does help if you just hate the smell, though.

    2. Quiet Pls*

      Or they could be like me and they may not be able to be anywhere near Vicks either. Do you have any idea how nasty that stuff smells? The very reason it “works” for your example is it is increadably invasive and gets everywhere. I’d prefer the perfumes over that horror.

      1. Aveline*

        Fragrance allergies are not about the unpleasantness of the smell, which is when Vicks is useful. (e.g., decomposing human bodies)

        I do perfectly fine with rotting animal flesh. Not so much with very fragrant flowers.

        People really, really misunderstand the nature of this type of medical issue. It is not the desirability of the smell. It’s about the particulates it emits.

    3. Aveline*

      As a person with fragrance allergies, Vicks is about the worst offender for me. Camphor and Eucalyptus are very bad substances for people with these types of allergies. Guess what is in Vicks? Both.

      It’s not about something “smelling bad” or a “bad smell”. You may not realize this, but a lot of perfume and natural fragrance has a particulate component. That is not blocked by Vicks. It is usually made worse because now you have multiple particulate issues going on.

      “The affected person could try that rather than expecting the group to accommodate her.”

      Also, please, please don’t assume there’s some easy solution that the sensitive person has not tried.
      If it were that easy, I can guarantee you she would have done it.

    4. Jaid_Diah*

      At work, there’s someone allergic to menthol scents. There’s signs everywhere in her area about it. I’m gonna say it’s not for everyone.

  25. OperaArt*

    As a person with fragrance sensitivities, I would be mortified by the hugging and washing requests. Besides, would I be expected to do the hug-and-sniff?

    I have no problem at work, since few of my colleagues tend to wear much in the way of fragrances. Away from work, my choir has a no-fragrance rule, but that’s common in in many singing groups. After all, everyone is standing very close to each other and breathing deeply.

    The one time it’s been a real problem was jury duty where I spent hours a day trapped in a small room. I swear that one woman on the panel was marinating in her perfume. I felt sick and foggy-brained for 8 weeks. I asked if she could dial it back, but she refused. She wanted to become a doctor to help people. I thought, “Hello. Over here. Start with me.”

    Side note—so very often people hear a request for fragrance-free settings as “you stink.” No, often the fragrance smells quite nice…until I have trouble breathing.
    Also, the components of artificial fragrances are trade secrets so there’s no way to tell exactly which chemical is the culprit.

  26. LurkieLoo*

    I am pretty sensitive to synthetic fragrance. To the point that strong shampoo can actually trigger a migraine. I can tell you that it is NOT easy (or cheap) to find decent unscented and/or naturally scented products. To expect 100+ people to convert . . . not likely. I mean, I’m only looking for naturally fragranced stuff and have a hard time. Soap is pretty easy, but hair products . . . no way.

    I do feel bad for the person. On a recent flight, I had to wear a mask because the woman next to me had so much perfume it was a definite problem, but I didn’t want to make a fuss on a fully booked flight. At least she wasn’t trying to talk to me. Those 16 in one seamless neck scarf/bandana things are the BOMB! The one scent free person should try that and see if it helps to filter out the one or two who are probably doing the best they can to be scent free.

  27. Allergic to Everything*

    I am allergic to a large number of things. After consulting with an allergist I take allergy medicine every day and avoid everything I’m allergic to. How do I survive day to day? Well, I’m constantly aware of what’s around me (so I can avoid things I’m allergic to) and I wear an allergy mask when I need to. That mask works wonders even if it makes me look weird. Maybe your coworker can use one of those if she really wants to attend in person.

    1. Aveline*

      Masks almost never work for fragrance allergies.

      – A sufferer in a support group for sufferers

      1. Aveline*

        To clarify – A lot of what people are assuming here is allergies that have to be breathed or swallowed. From everything I’ve read, the majority of people with fragrance issues are not the type where ingestion is necessary. Contact with the dermis (particularly on the face or in a mucous membrane) is all you need.

        A mask won’t prevent that unless it’s a full-face balaklava with full body covering.

        It really, really depends upon what type of allergic response one has.

        In any event, we all agree the hugging is out of line.

        Everything else we are putting forward isn’t really useful for OP as she’s not the one suffering the sensitivity.

        I think we are all trying to be helpful by solving the allergy issue, but we don’t have enough info to do that and that isn’t really the point here.

  28. Xarcady*

    I don’t have a scent sensitivity, but I do prefer unscented products. It can be difficult to find products that work for you and are also unscented. Unscented shampoo that doesn’t leave my hair feeling like straw? I have yet to find that. So even though I use unscented laundry detergent, body lotion, hand lotion, and deodorant, someone with a scent sensitivity might still have a problem with my shampoo.

    So I can see someone else finding only a scented hand lotion that will cure their dry skin. Someone finding only a scented laundry detergent gets out the grass stains from their kid’s football practice–should they have to go to the expense of buying 2 different kinds of detergent and having to wash all their clothes separately?

    And it’s not easy to find unscented versions of some things. And many stores don’t carry them in-store, only online.

    And really, washing in the rest room is only going to take care of something applied to the skin. If the offender is laundry detergent or fabric softener, then that person is going to smell or they will have to go home.

    And the hugging? Just no. I don’t hug anyone other than family members.

  29. YouwantmetodoWHAT?!*

    I am very scent sensitive. It runs the gamut from sneezing, to migraines to my sinuses swelling and I can NOT breathe. I /request/ no perfume and I really, really, REALLY wish that scented clothing detergent & fabric softer had NEVER been invented!
    And I find this abso-effing ridiculous.
    I can’t even. :-|

  30. Quiet Pls*

    I have scent sensitivity. I have once before asked for someone in the office to stop using an extremely fragranced and acrid hand lotion because it was affecting me. Privately, in a one to one with my boss. I struggle on public transport and other places.

    I have worked in a place where you couldn’t eat oranges or use orange based scents because of a co workers allergy. No one blinked, they just went elsewhere if they had an orange for lunch etc.

    The most I would ask as someone who has a sensitivity is perhaps a no perfume/scented sprays policy. Hugging would be very much hated and I’d feel terrible! Its bad enough having to mention something like this without having to be embarrassed by the response!

  31. Not a Mere Device*

    Not only would this be ineffective for the reasons stated, in a 100-member group there’s a fairly high probability that mandatory hugs would trigger PTSD even without the possible “you must let yourself be hugged, accept the hugger’s judgment of your body, and if they’re not happy go wash and repeat the process.” Even assuming the leader’s motives are entirely as stated–rather than her getting sexual or other pleasure out of holding people and smelling their bodies–that doesn’t mean nobody will react badly.

    Also on the practical level, the person with the sensitivity can’t be the one doing the checks–that would guarantee exposure to any scent even from someone who would otherwise be across the room from her. And there’s no guarantee that the group leader (or other designated hugger) would detect any scent that could bother the person with the actual problem, especially if (as could happen) it turns out that several people have a lingering scent from the same laundry detergent, soap, or shampoo. I imagine this as “Anne, you’re good. Betty, that smells like scented Tide. Carol, you’re good. Diane, cool. Emily, is that Tide again? Fran, cool. Geri, are you using a scented shampoo?…” and by the time she gets to Zenobia, whose sweater also has residual Tide, she’s not smelling it anymore.

    I have a friend whose migraines can be triggered by certain chemicals/odors at levels I don’t notice., so while I try to pay attention and mention if I notice (for example) nail polish, she may have a problem before I notice anything.

  32. Brownie*

    I’m scent sensitive and in my workplace there’s always someone who borrowed scented lotion, put on perfume, just had a cigarette, microwaved fish, and so on. My solution is an N95 particulate filtration mask. It lets me work and be around smells that otherwise would make me ill. Perhaps the OP could suggest having a box of disposable masks of N95 filtration or higher on-hand at the meetings and, if there’s a complaint about smell, giving one to the complainant so that they can continue to take part in the meeting instead of having to leave.

    As for the hugging… no. If I have to hug someone in order for my nose to be close enough to smell them then they’re basically scent-free to me if they’re at arm’s reach. Plus hugging doesn’t rule out smells coming from backpacks/bags/purses which can hold on to smells quite well. Throw in the unwanted touching and NOPE. Poor idea, needs a rethink.

    1. MyMomNeedsThat*

      My mom has extreme sensitivity to scents so it’s always fun trying to de-scent myself enough before a visit. I’m going to buy her some of these masks!

    2. Aveline*

      If they work.

      I’m in a support group for fragrance sensitive.

      This absolutely makes no difference for me and would make me worse off.

      It really, really depends upon the type of reaction. Some scent-sensitivities are all about whether they get into the nose/mouth. Some are all about contact – any contact – with the face. For the latter group, filtration does not work.

      My specialist tells me the latter group is the larger group of sufferers, but we are only now understanding how scent-based contact allergies work (i.e., particulates in the fragrance coming in contact with the dermis).

      If the allergy is one that has to get into the nose or mouth to be triggered, a mask is absolutely the way to go. If it’s not, then you really do have to ask people to dial it back, to meet outdoors, etc.

      For me, what works is that I ask people not to wear perfume, I always meet somewhere well-ventilated, and I always have a an ability to go wash off immediately if I come in contact with fragrance so strong it’s leaving a trailing cloud (i.e., there’s more than just the smell, there’s some form of particulates).

      We don’t know what the suffere in the group can do. We do know the proposed solution is ludicrous.

  33. peachie*

    I know the topic of fragrance sensitivity as an ADA issue comes up a lot, and I’m curious–what are the rights and responsibilities for both the employer and the employee(s) in cases where third-party employees might have to modify their behavior in a way that costs them money? (Switching to all fragrance-free products, for example–I can imagine that might get pretty pricey, especially if it took a few tries to find, say, shampoo that fits the criteria and works.) Can the employer be expected to cover those costs? Or can the third-party employees?

    (This is a genuine question–I’m not saying that I would be unwilling to do this for a coworkers with sensitivities in any case. I know these sensitivities/allergies are legitimate medical issues, and I’d be happy to do what I could within reason to mitigate that. But, then, I’m in a position where it wouldn’t be an insurmountable financial burden, and that’s certainly not the case for everyone.)

    1. Genny*

      I think this gets into the question of what’s considered a reasonable accommodation. Generally speaking, and I’m not an expert on this at all, I think it would be considered unreasonable to make a third-party responsible for fulfilling the company’s obligations under the ADA. With the exception of a blanket perfume ban, Allison’s suggestions are all the company doing something to accommodate the scent-sensitive person. None of them require a third-party to do change their behavior in a substantial way.

    2. tacoTsunami*

      I know mine is handled under ADA but more in an umbrella way under migraines and allergies. Since fragrance is generally a strong trigger for me, my workplace accommodated me accordingly but always using the language of migraines. If that makes sense. I think if you can get a doctor to confirm a link between fragrance and some other ADA condition, like mine did, it’s easier to ask for and receive accommodations.

      And, the accommodations are actually simple: I have a few for migraine specifically (different computer screens, etc), but in terms of fragrance, they switched facilities to using unfragranced soaps in bathrooms and cleaning products in general, they allowed me to speak personally to my two officemates who had no problems dropping their scented laundry products and while my office isn’t explicitly perfume-free, they’ve offered to make that distinction if it seems necessary. Beyond the softener of the two people I share my small office with, no one has been asked to change personal products or anything of that nature: it’s really me and my employer working together and me compromising as much as possible to minimize the impact on others.

  34. LQ*

    The Hug Test seems so absurd that there’s no way the person who is sensitive came up with it. If they had to be the Hugger they would be sick in the first 3 people and done and no longer able to attend. If they had someone else doing it, how can the other person possibly know that they are sensitive enough or to the right things to be able to identify “this person is smelly”. And then the Hugger would not be able to attend this event because they’d smell (and have transferred the smells from one to the next possibly unless they washed up between every single hug). So who is the professional hugger and smeller?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Really good point, so the person doing the hugging has automatically signed up to go home early and not attend the meeting. I’m surprised that this has not been mentioned yet.

  35. TacoTsunami*

    If I could request and enforce a fragrance-free workplace, I absolutely would. If you don’t have fragrance sensitivities, I know it can seem a little ridiculous, or eye-roll inducing, or flat out annoying. But unfortunately, I have extreme sensitivities to scent and my world is one where I have to leave theaters and dinners, change seats, cross streets and take all kinds of avoidance tacks to avoid being triggered into either an asthma attack, nausea, a migraine or some pleasant combination of all three.

    At work, I’ve addressed this both with HR and with my officemates. Since fabric softener is a particularly “sticky” scent in clothes and one which nearly immediately causes severe wheezing, I gently asked my officemates to be mindful of what they used on work clothes. I also offered to provide them with scent-free softener. No one took me up on that, and sometimes they do come in smelling strongly although the both of them made a very-much appreciated effort to tone it down. When they do have a strong scent, I remove myself as much as possible. I don’t make a fuss, I don’t call them out for doing something they have a right to do, I don’t even remark on it unless one of them directly asks me why I’m sitting in a different spot. This is a “me” problem, not a “them” problem, and I’m thankful for all the times they do make an effort for me.

    HR took steps to mitigate other scents by having maintenance choose clean/clear cleaning products where possible, and not purchasing the heavily fragranced foam soap for common bathrooms. We spoke about perfume and my take is that I’m generally able to use avoidance in terms of perfume, although they were willing to send a company-wide email.

    I think these are all good measures which help me, and hopefully, are a good compromise between people’s daily choices and my ability to breathe as much as a possible. One thing I would never do? Expect HR to hug every person coming into the building to check them for fragrance. I suspect if the person in this letter with the sensitivity was given a say, they would be aghast that this is happening. I’m often in large (150 people) work gatherings with folks who don’t know about my sensitivities and don’t make any effort to de-smell themselves: and I’m generally okay by being mindful of who I sit near and being willing to change spots if I have to. This is just such utterly extreme overkill, and goes a long way towards making rational people be *less* inclined to be open to the types of compromises I mentioned.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t know what it is about fabric softener but you are right it builds up and seems sticky. My husband was given some shirts, I had to wash them six times to get the built up fabric softener out of them. I know I only knocked it back, there was probably still fabric softener in there even after six washings. Whoever had them must have been nose blind because the scent from those shirts fill our closet, which is how the six washings came about.

      1. tacoTsunami*

        I’ve read that it’s due to the chemical composition of the softener – it’s intended to actually bond with the molecules of the clothing fabric. My husband will occasionally not check a washer or dryer at a laundromat before running his clothes through and come home with scented laundry – it was one of these incidents that led me to a great product called Enviroklenz. It’s designed to break down those bonds and does a remarkable job at keeping our clothes unfragranced – it’s a lifesaver for people like me who would otherwise be tempted to get rid of perfectly good clothing.

  36. Tammy*

    I have a number of friends who have very strong chemical/scent sensitivities, like to the point that some scents can send them to the emergency room. So I’m very sympathetic to this issue. But, quite apart from the whole weirdness around a hug inspection, there are a couple of problems with this approach in terms of it actually solving the problem it’s intended to solve:

    If you’re carrying sufficient scent to cause problems for the sensitive person, there’s likely to be nothing you can do in a public restroom that will solve the problem./li>
    The cumulative exposure of the hugger to all of the people’s collective scents might well overload them. This creates exactly the problem you’re trying to solve.

    I think the only workable solution here is to be mindful of scents in meeting venue selection, remind attendees to be mindful of scent sensitivities in their preparations before coming to the meeting, and to let responsibility for making choices about whether to attend the event given those realities fall on the person who’s scent sensitive. There’s only so much you all can do to accommodate. (And to be clear, I think you should try to accommodate as much as is reasonably practical, but you might not be able to fix this.)

    1. TacoTsunami*

      Yep – that’s absolutely true. I don’t know about the person in the OP’s letter, but for me, the scents that trigger me aren’t going to be handled with a quick scrub in the bathroom. It’s going to take using a laundry additive to remove softener build up from clothes, it’s going to take scrubbing with unscented soap to get rid of perfumes, so on and so forth. This seems well-intentioned, but ultimately pointless and frustrating and embarrassing.

  37. Chellie207*

    I used to attend occasional meetings in an office where they had a similar sounding policy. The receptionist would sniff at people from behind a sheet of glass as they came in and insist that they were wearing scent. I once arrived a little early and ended up in the conference room with 2 employees who worked in the building. They apparently were both smokers, and since there was no smoking allowed on the grounds, they would smoke in their cars with predictable outcomes. People would intentionally wear scented stuff into that building because of the irrational implementation of a (probably) well intentioned policy.

  38. Ben There*

    HAIL NO to the hug test. The number of people I want to hug in any context is limited and those I’d want to hug in even a quasi-business setting is very close to none. Introduce the idea of it being a ‘test’ for me to pass rather than show of affection/intimacy and I.AM.OUT. What’s the plan for addressing the needs of those with a trauma history that makes an unwanted hug an emotional/psychological trigger? (Cause in a room of 100 women, I’d bet there’s more than one or tow who legit fit that bill.)
    I am extremely sensitive to scents and have sympathy for the person who suffers, but think this group needs to get more creative. Three (arguably) more reasonable/manageable/doable accommodations might be 1. for the one sufferer to wear a mask to reduce the impact of smells 2. offer a ‘low-scent’ area in the meeting room, complete with a small air purifier. 3. offer remote access to the meeting through Skype or similar software.

    1. Observer*

      In a room with 100 people, there are going to be at least one or two with SOME legitimate reason to not be able to be hugged. Any one of these things is not likely, but in the aggregate? There is a not insignificant percentage of the population that have legitimate issues that make hugs a real problem.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think that “I don’t want to be hugged” stands on its own as legit. I don’t think we need a reason.

        And really, if they are going to sniff people why dress it up as a pretend hug? It’s an insincere hug as the hug is only a means to get the sniffer closer to the person. They can just lean forward and sniff people if that is what they feel is important. Why pretend to want to hug the person? That makes no sense.

        I don’t mind hugs. I hate insincere hugs for [reasons]. Don’t subject me to hugs from people who don’t know me or care.

        1. Observer*

          Oh, I agree that “I don’t want a hug” SHOULD be enough. But to Been There’s point that there is probably someone with some sort of PTSD, I’m saying that it’s not just PTSD, but other issues as well. And, that’s something that even someone who is boundary challenged enough to think that hugs are a reasonable solution should be able to understand.

          And, good point about just sniff.

  39. I Prefer Tea*

    It won’t work. Putting aside how bizarre the hugging suggestion is, it still won’t solve the problem. You can’t have the person with fragrance sensitivities be Head Sniffer because, hello – triggers. So will the leader be Ms. Hug&Sniff? She doesn’t have the same sensitivity – she can’t determine if a scent is a trigger or not, and she likely won’t pick up on all scents, because she doesn’t have to deal with this on a daily basis. Her nose is untrained.

    Plus, as others have pointed out, the magical bathroom that can remove all scents probably has scented soap.

    1. letter writer*

      Really good point: the sniffer won’t have the same sensitivities as the sensitive person, thus making it pointless.

  40. Bunny Girl*

    So I used to work in a haunted attraction and we sniffed people specifically to make them uncomfortable. In a professional or semi-professional setting? No. Just no.

    I have a lot of sympathy for the person with the sensitivity, but where does it end? What if you have conflicting medical issues? For example, I have really severe scalp eczema and I use a special shampoo to control it. It does have a smell to it when my hair is wet, but I don’t think it does when it’s dry. But someone with a sensitivity might. So where would that leave us?

    I understand reasonable accommodations, but I think the Letter Writer needs to push back with a group. Asking people not to wear perfume to the meeting is one thing, and totally reasonable, but this is nuts. And I think asking everyone to completely switch over to scent free products is asking a bit much too. That could be really expensive. Maybe have the employee wear medical face mask or meeting some place that is more ventilated would work better.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      So I used to work in a haunted attraction and we sniffed people specifically to make them uncomfortable. In a professional or semi-professional setting? No. Just no.

      Well, that’s a good litmus test. If it’s something done in a haunted house, don’t do it in a professional setting.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        To be fair I don’t think I did a single thing at the haunt that I would now do in my office job.

        1. LCL*

          Please post about your haunted house job on a Friday thread! Pretty please? It would be fun reading.

  41. Knitting Cat Lady*

    Ya know, if I received that e-mail I’d start a war of competing medical issues.

    I’m on the autism spectrum. I’m extremely touch averse.

    I tell people not to hug me. People surprising me by touching/hugging me have gotten punched. Total reflex.

    There are two people on this planet that are allowed to hug me. My mum and dad. No one else.

    So, my reply would be: ‘Due to medical issues I can’t be touched. I will not subject myself to the hug test.’

    With an implied ‘Go fuck yourself’ for good measure.

    1. Quill*

      I’ve got PTSD and once jabbed an aquaintance with a fork when she hugged me from behind. Surprise huggers squeeze at their own risk.

  42. Anonymeece*

    The hugging is problematic in and of itself, but I am also really creeped out by the “and smelled” part. That’s just… really weird and unworkable. I do not want anyone to be actively sniffing me, thanks.

  43. Hiring Mgr*

    Who would be doing the hugging..the group leader? This sounds more like an indication that the group leader is simply lonely, and in need of human contact, so she’s using the scent issue as a way to guarantee some hugs and connection. I understand this, as the “free spirited artist” types often use that persona to mask inner turmoil and loneliness. Still, this isn’t the way to go. /s

    1. letter writer*

      The leader was doing the hugging and sniffing, but I have to defend her motives. I believe she didn’t want this situation to be taking place and just didn’t handle it as professionally as someone in a more traditional workplace might have.

    2. Rat in the Sugar*

      Plot twist: the hugger and the scent-free person are one and the same. She won’t let even smells come between you.

  44. Bagpuss*

    I have sensitivities to scents. They trigger my asthma and I have contact reactions to a lot of stuff. Mine are not as serious as some, but enough to both understand how difficult it can be, and to realise there are limits to what can reasonably be expected from other people. Plus, there are things which can trigger reactions more quickly than there is a noticeable scent.
    I think the suggestion that the group (or the individual concerned) have masks available, makes sense, together with avoiding scented products in the meeting room ( e.g. no air fresheners etc)
    Finally, if there are problems with specific individuals, address those people – don’t try to force the entire group to go through an offensive and potentially distressing touch and sniff test.

  45. LeisureSuitLarry*

    I’d go with an email to the whole group that basically says “no, you will not be hugging or sniffing me.” I can appreciate a sensitivity to smells, but I’m not about to allow someone to invade my personal space like that without an explicit invitation. Also, with a group of 100+ people it will be virtually impossible to eliminate all scents. I think this is the complainers problem to deal with.

  46. Matilda Jefferies*

    This is another variation of the letter from this morning, where OP1’s boss decided that everybody needed to have mandatory training sessions to learn about a new employee’s (presumed) religion. In both cases, I would bet money that the leaders who came up with these “solutions” did so without actually asking the person they’re trying to help. Looks to me like they both just ran ahead with their ideas, probably to demonstrate how socially aware they are, without considering that they might be inappropriately singling out the people they’re trying to help.

  47. kristinyc*

    Ugh, wow. I’m pregnant right now (yay!) and sensitive to some smells, but I would never ask people to do all this. As much as I’d love to ask everyone on the streets of NYC to not have BO or smoke cigarettes, and for the city to never have hot garbage on the streets in the summer – that’s not possible. I just basically hold my nose for the 6 block walk to the train and hope for the best.

    Also – as a person who recently switched to natural deodorant – a lot of it is still scented, and, um, not as effective as other brands. There will still be smells involved.

  48. Allison*

    I don’t want anyone hugging me at work for any reason. Hugging me AND smelling me? Absolutely not! I would be very vocal about this, and start looking for a new job.

    I sympathize with people who have fragrance allergies, and I am willing to accommodate them to a point, but there are very few people I’d be willing to go 100% fragrance free for. It is unfortunate that some people are probably unwilling to comply with a scent-free workplace policy, but hugging people to literally sniff out the culprit (if there is one) isn’t the way to go.

  49. Meißner Porcelain Teapot*

    What gets me is that, if everyone is already using unscented stuff and ditching the perfume and the scent-sensitive person is still experiencing issues, then it’s likely that:
    a) the scent is picked up in an environment the “offender” can’t really control (e.g. if you live in a house that belonged to a smoker, your clothes will inevitably pick up that smell and laundry does not really help), or
    b) the problem is not with the attending people, but with the venue (e.g. I get extremely strong headaches from the smells of paint, paint thinner, and carpet glue).

    Either way, this hug test is ridiculous and I would kindly refuse to be subjected to it. (“I feel terribly sorry for X that she still has trouble, but I’m not comfortable with having other people hug and sniff me.”)

  50. fluffy*

    In my mind, the group leader is planning on frisking the attendees, not hugging. Would I go to a meeting if I were going to be frisked? Not unless I was held at gunpoint.

  51. Free Meerkats*

    I’m someone who mainly uses added scent-free products. But mainly because I don’t like added scents, things should smell like what they are. Nearly everyone here is missing that not having added scent =/= scent free. EVERYTHING has a scent of some sort.

    Without having at least some idea of what offending scent is the problem, this effort is doomed to failure. I could live a hermit’s life for a year, washing everything only with handmade fat and lye soap in fresh spring water, but have a sardine, onion, and horseradish sauce sandwich on a garlic bagel on my way to the meeting and be anything but scent free. And unwanted hugs cause my right knee to spontaneously rise quickly.

  52. Izzy*

    OP, I know you’re describing this as a workplace/business situation but I think it would probably help your group leader to keep in mind the ways in which it *isn’t*. She sounds very set on eliminating fragrance totally, which is something you might be able to work towards in some workplaces; you could update the dress code to ban perfumes/aftershave*, have HR/managers enforce the message, have the business reimburse people for unscented products, etc etc. People might also be more willing to do it if they knew they would be helping out a colleague they know and spend 8 hours a day working with, and if they knew the request was backed up by their boss.

    In a hobby group environment with 100 people in it, though, it’s just not realistic to think that all 100 will remember to follow these instructions perfectly every time. 100 people are just not going to buy and maintain a seperate set of products and remember when to use them and how long for in order to go to meetings of an interest group for a few hours a week. It would be great if they did and the group leader should certainly keep asking people to minimise scents if they can! But pragmatically, she should be focusing on other ways to create a safe environment for the scent-sensitive member because she can’t possibly hope to control the personal hygiene habits of 100 people who she is not actually the boss of.

    *In hospitality roles it’s very common for strong perfumes and aftershaves to be counted as a dress code violation, for example, and also common for airline staff.

    1. Observer*

      . She sounds very set on eliminating fragrance totally, which is something you might be able to work towards in some workplaces

      That’s actually not true. Yes, you can ban things like perfumes and, as you note, many workplaces do that. But totally getting rid of scents? It’s just not physically possible. Even if they reimburse for the cost of officially “scent free” products.

      But, you are completely correct that a workplace is more able to reduce the load than a group like this.

      1. Izzy*

        Yeah, I phrased that really badly! I definitely don’t mean that eliminating scent 100% is actually doable in a workplace. What I meant was that you could get closer to achieving it than you could in this context, not that you could actually get 100% of the way there. Sorry, tired typing.

  53. GreyjoyGardens*

    People have already addressed the ridiculousness, invasiveness, and ineffectiveness of the “hug and sniff” – I am here to talk about the TIME factor. How much meeting time is hug-n-sniff going to take up? A half hour at least, depending on the number of attendees. That is going to seriously eat into the time available for actually doing the thing that your group meets to do/talk about. Even people who don’t mind being hugged and sniffed won’t like that. Either you have less time for fun, or the get-together runs late, which is no fun on a work or school night. Or if people don’t like driving at night. Etc.

    One reason I quit a group I otherwise liked, which was a similar hobby/interest type group (no compulsory hugs) is that we had a few flakes who always ran late, and then our group leader liked to spend a LOT of time futzing around setting up and getting ready and giving little “warm up” chats. What was supposed to start at 6 and end at 8 wound up going from 7 to 10! On a work night. No thank you. Especially when “preliminaries” started taking longer and longer.

    LW, your group is going to start hemorrhaging members left and right – including, possibly, the scent-allergic one as well. Are there enough people to form a spin-off group? Can “Free Spirit” be replaced as group leader? Can there be some by-laws to address potential problems?

  54. Bubble Boy*

    I don’t believe for a second that this person is actually as scent-sensitive as they claim. It’s far, far more likely that they’re the kind of person who believes gluten clogs your chakras and that you should buy special “magnetic water.”

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      This is rude and uncalled for. Also we have no evidence that the scent sensitive asked for the hug test.

  55. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I’m so curious to see the first day of the sniff test in action. I’m imagining the Scent Sensitive Person being the only one left in the room and a 100+ people lined up in the bathroom INCLUDING the Sniff/Hugger, since this person would have by now picked up the offending scents from all the contact.

    Honestly, it’s horrifying yet absolutely intriguing to me how some people come up with these ideas. I mean how do their minds work? I’ve had some spectacularly bad ideas (and am sure to have more) in my lifetime, but I can’t fathom this.

  56. Cowgirl in hiding*

    The person with the sensitivity could wear a mask with a charcoal filter that would take any smells out of the air. This would be more reasonable than having everyone else change their life styles to match one person. Of course Allison’s suggestion of having them attend remotely is a very good idea. It might increase the membership and attendance if people that are home bound or sick could still be involved if it was a webinar type meeting.

  57. Tanklizard*

    Everyone is focusing on being hugged but can you imagine being the designated hugger (unless the leader was going to do it all herself)? Hugging people that don’t want to be hugged would be such a joy. Reminds me of the random urine drug tests in the Army…Privates Sleepy, Snuffy, and Dopey you get to pee in a cup…Sergeant Tanklizard…you get to watch them…yay.

    1. AdminAsst*

      Drug tests in the military are for safety’s sake and justified. Smelling down people in their own personal space to attend a private club is not. How can affected person go anywhere in society if there is this level of sensitivity? And if there is, it is incumbent on them to find a solution that goes beyond banning perfumes and strong scents at the meetings.

  58. Ruthie*

    As someone with severe(!) contact allergies, I am sympathetic to how disruptive and life changing allergies can be. And it’s from that experience that I want to strongly underscore how difficult it can be to avoid natural or unscented products. I am, ironically, particularly sensitive to products specially formulated for sensitive skin, which are often one and the same as scent-free. After trying dozens of deodorants on the spectrum from all natural to Rx only, I have found one that I have a minimal reaction to, and it is pretty heavily scented. Same thing with my laundry detergent.

    1. Claire*

      I came in to say a similar thing – I spent years auditioning all the deodorants, and have found one, and only one, that is functional as a deodorant and also doesn’t make my underarms burn and itch to the extent that I want to claw my own skin off. It is a hypoallergenic formulation but it’s not unscented. I’d love for there to be more than one option – I recently panic-bought about 10 containers because my supermarket stopped stocking it and I thought it was being discontinued – but there is no other workable option for me. Saying that I couldn’t attend a group while wearing scented deodorant would really be saying I could not attend, and it’s not obvious to me that this would be the correct decision.

  59. RoadsLady*

    First and foremost, yeah, this is a bad idea.

    Second thought, I’m horrified/amused by the idea of who will give the hug test.

    I can just imagine Event Organizer skipping up to Scent Sensitive and saying “Good news! We implemented this crazy system to weed out any scent offenders! We’re just going to have you hug everyone and if you pass out, we’ll send them to wash up!”

  60. nnn*

    The weirdest thing about the “hug test” is it doesn’t even reflect reality – you don’t need to be fragrance-free enough to stand up to a hug test, you just need to be fragrance-free enough to stand up to sitting next to someone.

    If the one member’s environmental sensitivity is so sensitive that others need to hug to pick up the kind of scents the member would notice by being in the same room, what would happen is the scent would “contaminate” the hugger. Then the hugger would hug the next person, and that person would become “contaminated” by the scent.

  61. Beth Anne*

    Wow, this is so crazy! The thing is this sounds like an after work type group/meeting. So even if okay I didn’t wear any perfume or makeup or even deodorant since I woke up by the time this meeting occurs I will have come in contact with other scents…for example, I work at a restaurant so every day I come home smelling like fried foods.

    And like others have mentioned okay you get hugged and declared too smelly (too smelly for one person is different than other people for one) going to the bathroom is going to help unless you can take a shower….

    I don’t get why the one person just sits away from people.

  62. Hamburke*

    This sounds like my aunts former neighbor… They lived in a townhouse community and she complained about her neighbors scents – their laundry detergent (bc it blows out of the exhaust vent), their personal hygeine products (bc you might getting close to her in the parking lot), their cleaning products, their cooking food… It was insane! There was no telling this woman that she was being unreasonable – the last I heard, she sued the HOA.

  63. nonegiven*

    Out of 100 people, at least 10 are still wearing a scent. Cologne, powder, lotion, something. Before I go to extremes, lets see those 10 stop wearing perfume on meeting days.

  64. Cornflower Blue*

    Can I just point out this is likely to run into discrimination issues and single out WOC?

    For example, a white friend of mine once told me (all well-meaning, of course) that I shouldn’t eat curry before a flight because the scent of it will reek out through my pores as I sweat. I was aghast and wondered later if that meant she eschewed onions, garlic etc in case they made her smell, though I never had the courage to ask. If people get accused of smelling because of the spicy ethnic food they eat, that’s going to raise a furor.

    At the same time, there’s a stereotype that people of African descent stink/sweat more. I can see them being really insulted as well if they’re being policed on their odor.

    1. Book Badger*

      I absolutely think this has the possibility to go in Bad Racist Directions for the reasons you describe, but I will say that I personally don’t eat certain foods, including garlic and onions, before important meetings, precisely because I smell like it when I sweat. The worst offender? Coffee, particularly espresso. Anything I wear after going to a Starbucks has to be washed in strong soap because my sweat gets a gross fishy/coffee smell immediately after. My dad also has it, so I figure it’s just a weird body quirk. (And I’m white, for the record)

    2. name*

      I’m confused. How is this a race issue?
      This person is sensitive to scents. Soaps, shampoos, perfumes, etc. I don’t see how this discriminates against some races.

      1. Observer*

        It’s not a race issue per se. But it could go that way, unintentionally, if the “smeller” mistakes body odor for “scent”.

  65. wondrous*

    I’m wondering if/thinking maybe someone/some people who are very overzealous took this into their own hands. Like the very sensitive person told them “Oh, thanks for reminding people not to wear fragrances, but honestly even laundry detergent and shampoos are still causing reactions for me, so I’m going to have to XYZ” and then, deciding to try and be “helpful” someone put the bananacrackers into motion.

  66. Raz*

    For the well ventilated space, you could install a hepa filter on the mains or provide standalone air purifiers. Filters do need changing.

    1. ToS*

      This! This is a better answer! Or the person can bring a portable filter for the room to increase air quality for her benefit.

      Some very real things that also happen…(1)there are additional, unknown allergens, (2) there is something in the room (are you hugging and sniffing the floor? What was the table last cleaned with? Is there a mold issue with the site?

      Seriously, if a portable air filter does not help, remote attendance via a variety of technologies is your answer.

  67. pcake*

    Why would you hug someone to tell if they have a scent on them? That just doesn’t make sense to me. And if they do hug them, might that not transfer the scent to the hugger, then having two people with the scent on them?

  68. Cyn*

    I’ve been sitting with this for a couple days because it’s upsetting me so much. Not only the question, but the answer. Normally I read all comments before I respond to something, but there are too many and most appear to be outright hostile, so I’m skipping nearly all.

    Chemical sensitivity is a disability. One that is next to impossible to live with safely in our modern world. I read this blog because I enjoy it, but the reality is that I can’t work, except for a small home business. I have a lot of difficulty traveling because every place I stay (no matter how carefully I screen them by phone) is a risk. Sometimes I’m okay, sometimes I’m sick for a few days. Sometimes I’m sick for months. Going to places locally has similar risks, though it’s easier to escape.

    I can’t go to outdoor events. I have never gone trick or treating with my child (and now she’s a teen so it’s too late) because of the risk that another parent would light up a cigarette. I haven’t been to Gay Pride since 1990 (when I had not one but two visits from the paramedics), I can’t do political marches, I can’t even go to my local town’s agricultural parade to see my daughter dressed up in costume marching with groups.

    Only one synagogue near me cares enough about chemical sensitivity accommodation to do it right. And it’s still not 100%. Sometimes I have to sit way in the back by a window. Most indoor events are hit or miss. Almost always I pay at least a small price for going.

    I’m not actually severely chemically sensitive. I know people who are (I run support groups for people who are). I’ve worked very hard on improving my health and, over the years, have gone from moderately reactive to on the more mild side. I can do a lot of things that most people disabled with chemical sensitivity can not. Yet, it still affects my life every day.

    So when a group says, “we care and we want you here and we’re going to do what it takes for you to be here safely!” I am in tears with joy. Do you all have any idea how rare this is? Sure, a fair number of places have a “scent-free” policy, but they don’t really know what it means. It’s like saying a restaurant has a no-smoking section, but guess what, it’s next to the smoking section. I’ve been places where the “please don’t wear scented products” sign is inches from the bottle of (scented) Purell or where the “scent-free” means personal care and doesn’t extend to cleaning and bathroom products.

    Groups that actually tell people “hey, you’ve got some sort of scented product on you today, could you please… (leave and try again next time, wash it off (if a hand lotion or something), or sit over here instead of over there)” are jewels in a world of harshness.

    So here we have someone who wants to go to a club event but can’t get over needing to make a few changes in order to make it safe for everyone attending. She could just say “okay, this place isn’t for me” and then go *literally any place else!* But no, she wants Alison’s vote of approval to ruin it for the people whose disability the group is accommodating.

    To say this is about not forcing the majority to do things to make it safe for just a few, is mind-blowing to me. Do you realize that this means you will never support disability accommodation of any sort, if it inconveniences you? All disability accommodations are difficult for someone (or they’d be the standard). Or they cost money. But they’re still the right thing to do. I simply can not believe that Alison would take the road of chemical sensitivity not being covered by the ADA. While it’s true that my disability gets little respect (including from judges), it’s still covered.

    This isn’t a letter where someone with chemical sensitivity is asking “how can I get my group to make these changes for me?” Nope. The group is already awesome! The group has already made the changes, already gets it, already cares. But someone who doesn’t want to make the disability accommodation wants to ruin it. How can anyone support this?

    A few notes:

    – If you haven’t lived with chemical sensitivity, or are very close to people who have, assume you don’t understand what it means to have it. Please don’t speculate or make comparisons to other issues or assume it’s about “smells.”

    – I love my mask but it is not enough to protect me. Synthetic fragrance and other chemical fumes can enter the bloodstream via the eyes and skin and also will stick to clothes, hair, and skin and get you when you take the mask off. Masks also don’t protect well against certain toxins, like pesticides. Masks that filter fumes are large, expensive, and quite uncomfortable. Plus they make it very hard for people to understand you when you talk. They’re for short-term use (like when you have no choice but to use a particular bathroom, or when you have to pass a smoker on the sidewalk). They do not work for meetings and etc, though the soft style can take a bit of the edge off (nothing more).

    – The “chemical” part of chemical sensitivity extends to pharmaceuticals. Even if there were drugs that stopped some of the symptoms (not really) they wouldn’t stop the overall damage and most of us couldn’t tolerate them anyway. My most dangerous reactions are to pharmaceuticals.

    – “Perfume” is a stand-alone product with no function other than to add scent. But we can use the term to mean fragrance added to other products. Many have synthetic scent so strong that it is the same as wearing actual perfume. A “scent-free” policy that only bans perfume the stand-alone product is one someone enacted as a feel-good measure or to appease somebody; it doesn’t actually work. Think of it as banning cigarettes but allowing cigars and pipes.

    – My guess is this group wasn’t actually going to hug people. Not only is that needlessly invasive, but it means the tester may end up with chemical residues on their clothes, etc. What I’ve done when I’ve sniff tested people (or, more commonly, gotten my well spouse to do it), is get pretty close but don’t actually touch them. The “hug” statement was probably to warn people that it might go into their personal space, not that there would be actual touch. Hugs do make it easier, since your nose is already in the person’s neck and shoulder, but it’s never necessary.

    – Lastly, if your response to my comment is to attack me or my disability, please keep it off the website.

    1. ToS*


      Thank you for so eloquently stating what a challenge this health condition can be. I have a colleague who used to be down the hall from me with a similar challenge. It is wonderful that the letter writer’s group is trying so hard to be inclusive, and it sheds light on how truly difficult this is to manage. Our floor was a solid C+ for overall environment, though my colleague had her own office and filtering devices that made things more personally manageable, things would happen. A temp was hired and cleaned the shared conference room with some products she brought in, which sent her home for two days.

      People would bring air fresheners in for the rest room and I’d move them to a different floor (spray), or dispose of them (solid) in the next building. I had Facilities remove the “pulse” freshener and brought in a decorative container of baking soda for a room that rarely had biological smells.

      It is important to be generous with how we interpret requests. Thanks for the reminder to be kind, everyone is struggling. And to be gracious, not all close proximity should be read as an imposition.

    2. bluephone*

      Expecting 100 (paying) members to magically make themselves COMPLETELY scent-free (no perfumes, no smells, no “odors” of any kind) is not feasible as many have explained. What if a member was able to somehow make themselves totally “smell” less and then, right before they get hugged by the leader, the building A/C or heating system belches out a load of musty-smelling air? (Because I saw nothing in the original letter about how the group leader was going to make over her carefree, peace-and-love space with HEPA filters, clean air ventilation, etc).

      “The “hug” statement was probably to warn people that it might go into their personal space, not that there would be actual touch”
      –I get that distinction but if I were a member of this group, there is no reason why I should ever expect the leader to be in my personal space like that, all for the sake of unfeasible “scent” testing. I don’t know what this group meets about but I’ve been a part of many extracurricular groups–from Weight Watchers to gym classes to writing groups–and never was I expected to regularly let other members into my personal space, close enough that it could be considered a hug. And quite frankly, I don’t want anyone getting close enough to sniff me either, just to make sure I didn’t accidentally cross paths with someone vaping away outside just before I entered the meeting room. I’m sure your spouse is polite and professional about it but still: absolutely not. I don’t even have to have issues with personal space and being touch-averse to say that this wouldn’t be okay for me.
      There is just nothing appropriate (or frankly, successful) about the leader’s suggestion. It will not help the member suffering from scent issues. It will certainly alienate most, if not all, of the PAYING members (and probably the scent-affected member too especially if she didn’t even know that the leader was considering this “solution.”) If done poorly–aka at all– it will leave the group open to lawsuits. Maybe it’s just a fancy neighborhood garden club where everyone pays dues (as opposed to some sort of professional networking group). There is still such potential for someone to say, “nuts to this” and look into a civil suit about harassment, inappropriate behavior, etc. I mean, good lord.

      Six months from now, AAM or Dear Prudie or Carolyn Hax or someone will have a letter from the leader of this group, freaking out about how she’s getting sued because everyone in the group thinks she’s a closet groper with major boundary issues. There’ll be a second letter to Captain Awkward, from the scent-sensitive member, who’s extremely upset that she had to leave a group she really enjoyed because the leader came up with some whackadoo plan to hug everyone for perfume scents and in addition to making the scent-sensitive member feel like an outcast, everyone else got pissed off and left.

      Everything about this group leader’s proposed solution is insane AND dumb.

    3. Lissa*

      Saying someone will never support any accommodation whatsoever if it inconveniences them because they wouldn’t be ok with *this* one doesn’t really make sense. Everyone has a level of inconvenience/cost/discomfort they’re willing to tolerate, some higher than others, but I don’t think there are that many people who would be willing to tolerate any level of cost, discomfort etc. because it’s an accommodation. I think there were a lot of comments that explained why this would be really difficult for them that aren’t just “wah wah I don’t want to” in this thread.

      1. AdminAsst*

        The OP said hug. Either way a smell test is way over the top. Sadly, some people with severe sensitivities may have to opt out from some situations. This is not an ADA situation and even legislators allow for businesses to only provide reasonable accommodations. Smelling everyone is not reasonable. A perfume-free/strong scent free requirement is enough.

    4. Not a Mere Device*

      I’m willing to be somewhat inconvenienced to accommodate other people’s disabilities, but I think it’s reasonable to ask whether the proposed accommodation will actually help.

      I hope that, if “hug” in this case actually means “stand eight inches away and sniff,” the organizer will see the responses to the idea and clarify. But it’s reasonable to take announcements at face value, especially something like this that isn’t boilerplate from a different context (like “if you have a medical emergency, please hang up and call 9-1-1. Otherwise, stay on the line to leave a message for the governor”), or to say “hugging everyone and sending some people to wash wouldn’t work, because of X, Y, and Z” and give the organizer a chance to say “you’re right, which is why what we’re actually doing is…”

      Even if “hug” isn’t literal, I suspect whoever sent this out really does think that a quick wash in the public bathroom would be enough to remove scent left over from someone’s sunscreen or shampoo or hair dye, or animal hair or dander clinging to a backpack.

  69. Noah*

    This is really not far enough. I suggest getting together as many people as you can and refusing to participate until this ridiculousness stops. This is not how volunteer organizations get to treat people.

  70. Amber Barnett*

    If this were a group I belonged to, I’d have already submitted my notice to quit by the time this letter reached this site. I’m one of those who are an EXTREME hard no to hugs or physical contact from anyone outside a specific groups of my family and friends, and I have extreme reactions when strangers try to touch me without warning.

    I imagine that enough people withdrawing from the group when this notice came out would get the organizer’s attention, but it’s good to have the script ready instead, for this and possible future situations.

  71. Indie*

    Does anybody actually want scented laundry products? This thread has really highlighted to me the uselessness of such a product. We should be able to choose when we smell and what we smell like. I imagine that when we do want scent we don’t want something cheap added indiscriminately to everything we own. Yet, it’s ubiquitous. My boyfriend just lost his last reliably unscented laundry product. The supermarket shelf is full of unnecessary ingredients. Oh! And while we cant control the laundry situation, people shouldn’t wear perfume in crowds (especially don’t wear perfume on a flight. It’s a jerk move.)

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