when should employers disclose food or fragrance restrictions to job candidates?

A reader writes:

When during the interview process should an employer disclose that they have food or scent restrictions in their office?

I know on the employee side you recommend waiting until you have an offer or have started the job, but as the employer when should they bring up that the office is nut-free or scent-free? What about if the allergy is more obscure?

This came up in conversation because we have an employee who recently started and had mentioned that a deciding factor in leaving their previous job after only three months was that the office had essentially banned Indian food because of another employee’s deathly allergy to ingesting certain spices found primarily in Indian food, and their severe reaction to those spices being airborne. The company didn’t mention this to our employee (who is Indian) until after they started. They had to rework their entire food planning because they could no longer bring leftovers to work and warm them up.

So when should discussions like this happen? Phone interview stage? In-person interviews? Final round interviews? When offering someone the job? We were unable to reach a consensus so I am hoping you can help.

If you have any unusual restrictions, you should disclose that to candidates before they accept a job with you so they have the opportunity to opt out if it doesn’t work for them.

For something like a fragrance-free policy, you might as well disclose that before the first in-person interview, in the context of letting candidates know they shouldn’t wear fragrances to the interview. You should also explain exactly what it means, since in some offices it means “no perfume or cologne” and in other offices it means “no products with added fragrance,” which can be much harder for people to comply with.

Otherwise, though, you can mention it at any point in the process, depending on where it fits most naturally. You could bring it up in an early interview in the process of talking about the office culture or “general things about us you should know.” You could include it in hands-out on office policies and benefits that you give candidates. Hell, you could even put it in your job ad (although if you do that, you should also mention it again at some later point in your process because people don’t always remember what they saw in an ad several months ago).

The more restrictive or unusual the policy, the earlier you should mention it, so you don’t waste people’s time (or yours) if it’s a deal-breaker for someone.

But if it hasn’t come up by the offer stage, it absolutely needs to be mentioned at that point so the person can make a fully informed decision about the job.

Now, about your coworker’s experience more specifically, I hope that “essentially banned Indian food” doesn’t mean literally banned Indian food, and that instead it just means they banned specific spices the other person was allergic to when airborne, because otherwise we’re getting into a whole messy area, potentially involving national origin discrimination (depending on exactly how it was implemented) and definitely causing problems around inclusivity. “You can’t eat any of your culture’s food at work” isn’t okay, legally or ethically. “We have an employee at risk of respiratory distress from being in the same room as cumin, so we ask people to avoid bringing foods with cumin to work or to only store and eat them in the break room on the second floor” is more workable.

{ 346 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    Yeah, I find it unlikely that an employee was allergic to multiple spices contained in Indian cuisine and not commonly used in other cuisines.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Mmm-hm. Since cumin is in chili powder, too. And turmeric is in mustard.

      1. Violet Fox*

        Cumin is up there not far after pepper as one of the most commonly used spices in the world.

      2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        Some mustards. Not all. I’ve got two different Dijon mustards and neither has tumeric.

      3. Rainy*

        I’m allergic to turmeric. I can still eat mustard, I just eat the mustards that don’t have turmeric in them.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          OMG I’ve never heard of anyone else who has issues with turmeric! It upsets my stomach so I avoid it. I have to make all my own Indian food at home for that reason.

          1. Rainy*

            Yeah, it gives me the kind of intestinal issues that most people try to avoid, usually for 36-48 hours, until everything is out of my system and then some. The last time I had turmeric, I ended up sleeping on the bath mat in the washroom for a day and a half because I was too weak to make the 20 foot journey from bathroom to bed more than once.

            When they just use it for colouring, like in a yogurt drink, I’m usually only sick for 12 hours or so, but curry is just a nightmare. The smell of curry makes me a little nauseated now just by association.

      4. MassChick*

        Cumin is not, or shouldn’t be, in chili powder. Chili powder is just ground up dried red chillies. Either spice, or both, may be present in spice blends (like garam masala).

      5. MassChick*

        Cumin is not, or shouldn’t be, in chili powder. Chili powder is just ground up dried red chillies. Either spice, or both, may be present in spice blends (like garam masala).

      1. Antisocialite*

        Those were the only rather Indian specific spices I could think of, and they’re definitely not in every dish.

        This sounds very suspect to me.

        I grew up in the 80s and 90s in a town that had a huge Indian culture, because of local tech companies. A lot of the white, middle class people (my mother included) HATED the smell of Indian food and constantly complained that the scent bothered them and gave them a headache.

        Maybe this soured my viewpoint of the current situation, but I really can’t think of many spices that are specific Indian and not in lots of other dishes.

    2. Blueberry*

      I want to find this vanishingly unlikely, not least because I’ve seen and dealt with people using allergies as a way to be racist/ethnocentric, but I do have a friend who is allergic to several spices, including cumin and turmeric. So it is possible, and I can see a heavy-handed employer saying “no food of X culture” instead of “no food with X ingredient”.

      1. designbot*

        the way I read the letter was that the employer had said “no food with X ingredients” where X (or multiple X’s) just happened to be ubiquitous enough in Indian cuisine that the employee did not feel they could work around it.

          1. PlainJane*

            Right–it didn’t say “banned Indian food” but “essentially banned Indian food”… a difference in intent, if not effect.

            That said, there’s a point where you have to wonder–when can you push back? How much of this is, “So and so really doesn’t the smell” vs “So and so has a deadly allergy to the smell”? (Or even a super uncomfortable one.) As someone who has always had allergies, I’ve wondered about it. I get sick around lilies and lilacs, but not severely, so I don’t want to spoil someone else’s happiness at a bouquet a spouse got them for their birthday and therefore just get a box of tissues and call it good… but I know plenty of people who will stomp their feet and say, “My eyes are watering, so go throw that nasty thing out.” If it’s not a permanent thing, when can you just expect people to live with something for an hour or two? In general, I’m not a perfume wearing and no one sends me flowers and I don’t cook at work, so this doesn’t impact me from that direction, but I’ve always been curious about it from the other side. I kind of enjoy other people’s perfume and I think the flowers people get brighten the place up and I enjoy the smell of curries… At what point does the positive right assert itself for the sake of general office morale and happiness?

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              At the point where the employer loses the allergic employee’s work.
              Some allergies mean not breathing. Some mean blinding nauseous headaches. Some are anaphylactic shock.
              It’s much heavier risk than losing “pleasant enjoyment.”

              1. A*

                Absolutely. But if mild airborne exposure can cause a reaction that severe, is the individual really equipped to be in a shared work environment? I hate to say it, and I truly don’t mean it in a bad way, I just think there realistically has to be a line drawn. There is only so much accommodation that can be made (as well as required, although not necessarily the same thing).

                For example, at my last place of employment we would not hire individuals with severe nut-allergies to the point where airborne exposure was an issue – because our lab had circulating air and we had ingredients on site that could potential include trace amounts of peanuts/tree nuts. Unlikely, but possible. We didn’t run into an issue with the ADA because the only accommodations that could be made were not considered realistic.

                1. yala*

                  In a lab where there might be nuts around, that’s one thing, but if it’s a question of simple the food folks bring in (i.e. not actually work-related), then it doesn’t seem too unrealistic an accomodation.

                  That said, the specific *spices* the employee is allergic to should be banned, not an entire ethnic cuisine.

                2. JSPA*

                  Pretty special circumstances. What’s not realistic in a place that handles the allergen as part of their product line is entirely realistic in 99.9+% of workplaces. You’ll find yourself very much on the wrong side of the law if you extrapolate from that <0.1% experience.

                3. LlamaGoose*

                  I mean, there are a lot of people with severe allergic reactions or asthma triggers that nevertheless hold regular jobs, especially if the allergen is fairly rare. Peanut and strawberry allergies come to mind; nobody *needs* to eat peanut butter in a run-of-the-mill, non-food-related office setting. Many people successfully navigate the world with a severe peanut allergy.

                  Other allergens are trickier, because they’re of odorless chemicals that are just often in the air. Some people wear air filter masks in order to accommodate themselves.

              2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                There are a bunch of things that are good for office morale, including an office culture that’s not injuring your coworkers! If you knew that having flowers/wearing scent/eating a specific food was causing your coworkers actual distress, and you had any other options, would you really want to keep doing so?
                The real difficulty arises when the problematic behavior is non-optional, for whatever reason.

                1. Amethystmoon*

                  I agree that the spices should be listed in the ban. As someone who cooks from home a lot, and I do make food from other cultures frequently because they tend to be inexpensive compared to meat-heavy American foods, I would want to know so that I could put substitutes in. Or just save that food for supper and bring something else for lunch.

            2. TiffIf*

              At what point does the positive right assert itself for the sake of general office morale and happiness?
              If you have someone who is allergic-as in causing physical distress (even a minor allergy like it sounds you have to lilies and lilacs) then something for office morale never takes precedence, especially since there are numerous other ways to brighten a place up that don’t trigger allergies.

              Now if someone sensitive or allergic to certain spices tried applying to a restaurant where those spices are commonly used–that’s different–its an essential part of the business, and it is not a reasonable accommodation to prohibit the use of those spices.
              Unless you are in an industry where flowers are essential to the business–like a florist–then just liking the smell of flowers or the visual impact they have on a dreary office ought NEVER to win over a person’s right not to have an adverse physical reaction in their place of work.

              I have a deadly allergy to latex. I am not in the rubber industry, nor in a balloon or latex glove production facility, nor in a industry where latex gloves are used as PPE. Nothing remotely related to the work I do involves natural rubber latex. So reasonable is prohibiting individuals from bringing in latex balloons into the building for celebrations. Reasonable is asking caterers to use non-latex gloves in food prep and janitorial workers to use non-latex gloves for cleaning.

              1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

                And even those places often have non-latex alternatives for ppe, usually. Even the exceedingly small, one-doctor vet clinic I worked at ordered non-latex surgical gloves for me (she actually ended up switching to those because they also don’t leave that horrible rubber smell on your hands), and I only have a mild reaction to latex – my hands will itch incessantly, possibly blister a bit, if I wear them for very long. It’s a very inexpensive fix for the problem.

              2. PlainJane*

                The lily allergy isn’t that minor–it makes me dizzy and I get queasy. And if someone were bringing in lilies every single day, I’d mention something (probably apologetically). But if someone just gets a bouquet for her birthday, or if the grocery store has them out for Easter, I’m just going to suck it up for a while. It’s bad, but not life-threatening, and not worth making other people feel put upon for my sake. And a lot of allergies are like that–annoying and embarrassing, certainly inconvenient, but we’re not talking about a matter of life and death. (Obviously, if we were in a situation where a sniff of a lily would put me in intensive care, I’d say something; that’s a whole different class of allergy. But I don’t think those kinds of allergies are all that common.) Just some discomfort for a little while. I’ve always just figured that was the price I paid for having allergies (that and the weekly shots I had when I was a kid with controlled doses of my allegens; gads, those things hurt)–it’s the same whether someone brings in lilacs or I go outside while the cottonwoods are blooming, or to my aunt’s when she has a real pine Christmas tree–take my antihistamine and be careful not to scratch myself on the needles. I can’t live in a bubble (and really, really don’t want to), so I do my best to adjust.

                The truth is, I don’t push back on anyone’s requests, and if I had a bouquet of something that someone else was allergic to and I wasn’t–roses, maybe–I’d take it home upon request. But I’d definitely feel resentful about it.

                1. Greenfrog*

                  According to my asthma doctor, lilies are a very common trigger for asthma. Lilies are also a common base for perfumes, which will cause the same problem. I had to work from home once after a single highly fragrant lily was brought into the workplace, and the recirculating air system spread it all over the office. It’s a lot more common than most people think, and many people don’t recognize their specific allergy or asthma triggers.

              3. whingedrinking*

                Exactly. I used to work for a company that makes scented products, and many of them contain lavender oil, which some people are severely allergic to. It would be really hard to reasonably accommodate someone with that allergy in their manufacturing division. However, it would be perfectly reasonable to say in an office, “Hey, please stop using that lavender air freshener, it’s making Jane and Joaquin sick” even if everyone else loved the smell.

            3. Rainy*

              Orange oil is an asthma trigger for me. My office has banned peeling oranges in the office as a favour to my lungs. A couple of people have been a bit shirty about it, but in general I think people understand that my ability to breathe has to trump the convenience factor of peeling an orange in the office. Go outside and peel it and then bring it back, and everything is fine.

              1. TrixieTang*

                That’s a reasonable ask (please peel your oranges away from me because it triggers my asthma) and response. But, to me, it sounds unfair (and not correct) that a whole cuisine of a culture’s food is singled out because the smell of certain spices can cause an allergic reaction. And this is coming from someone with a deadly allergy to a common food.

                I also cook a lot of South Asian food and the bases for large batches of curry require small amounts of spices that are commonly used in a lot of East African dishes, Caribbean dishes, West African dishes, Southeast Asian dishes, East Asian dishes, a lot of European dishes, etc. Cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves… not uncommon for *many* countries and cultures.

                Sounds off to me that the Indian colleague was told off for bringing her food in and that other colleagues didn’t encounter those issues (assuming that’s the case). Also suspect that this wasn’t brought up before if it’s such a serious issue. Just sounds to me like the Indian employee was singled out after the fact for her food. Not to be so cynical, but my mom has dealt with a lot of stuff like this (i.e. racism) in her time for things exactly like her accent, her food, her ‘smell.’

                And even genuinely believing this ban of Indian food was 100% for allergies, aren’t there other reasonable asks that could be made (e.g. person with the allergy eats in the break room on the 3rd floor and anyone eating triggering food eats in the breakroom on the 2nd floor) to accommodate both people (and thereby everyone)?

                1. JSPA*

                  People can and have died from encountering the residue on another person’s breath.

                  This is NOT the right situation to presume that a ban isn’t necessary / must be overkill / is probably racist.

                  There’s plenty of overt racism in the world to call out and fight back against. Looking for it in someone’s medical accommodation–as opposed to any of the hundred other ways they could manifest that attitude–is….no. Really, just don’t.

                2. Rainy*

                  I have a bunch of food allergies in addition to the orange oil allergy, and I can’t eat any Southeast Asian cuisines unless I make them myself, which I mostly don’t bother about. Luckily the allergies that prevent me eating Southeast Asian foods require me to actually eat the food (or in some cases have it rubbed on me) to get sick, but they still make me sick, and if my turmeric allergy were bad enough that it being in the air would incapacitate me, you better believe I’d be asking for accommodations.

                  The problem with “person with allergy eats elsewhere” as an “accommodation” is that if their allergy is that sensitive, the residue on hands/clothing/breath is probably sufficient to trigger the allergy. I love peanut butter but if we had someone with a peanut allergy in my office I’d never take peanut butter to work, ever. Dunno if you’ve ever had to use an epi-pen but it’s not a fun time and you do not feel normal afterward.

                3. Batgirl*

                  I would agree with you if it was a general dislike of just Indian food or an allergy claimed only to be only Indian food.
                  But when you’ve got a deathly food allergy, it doesnt matter where you eat (it can’t be around you, full stop) or if the spices which affect you rule out one or more cultural cuisines.
                  The fact that this is ‘life and death’ makes it easy to prioritise.

            4. A3*

              I kind of enjoy being able to see. And someone’s perfume can cause a migraine that results in a splitting headache and me having monocular vision . One big blindspot where I have to tilt my head all around just to look at something straight on. In these situations, I can not complete work and can not safely drive. We ALL have things that we enjoy, but no one would support my “right” to have John Denver or Metallica blasting from my computer. Why then should anyone be allowed to knowingly and deliberately cause me physical pain? And where to draw the line? How about this: One person’s right to throw a punch stops at the other person’s face.

      2. Bee*

        Yeah, I have a client who’s allergic to several spices and herbs, and when we were meeting for lunch she specified no Indian, Italian, or Thai restaurants because it’s impossible to guarantee her safety even if a specific dish doesn’t intentionally contain those ingredients.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, I’ve run into some situations where people are allergic or sensitized to a bewildering variety of items.
          Sometimes it’s “pretty much all aliums, they’re all related and share much of the same chemistry” and sometimes it’s “a dozen random single items with no known connection.”

          I have a friend who is allergic to pepper.

          Yes, pepper, the most common spice (after salt) in american and english cooking. It happens.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            That may be me too, although I haven’t done the food-allergies test yet. Fresh black pepper makes my mouth break out on the inside. Sucks because I used to enjoy it.
            At least I’m OK if it’s been ground a while ago– I really only have to watch out for it at a really good restaurant, and with pepper- preserved things like some dry sausages. (Whimper… I miss sopressata on road trips.)

          2. KoiFeeder*

            I’ve got a nightshade allergy! No tomatoes, no peppers, no eggplants, nada. The only nightshade I can eat is potatoes- unless they’re green, in which case I’m allergic again (and have a much bigger problem because green potatoes are poisonous).

          3. Kris*

            My husband is very sensitive to black pepper; I don’t know if it rises to an allergy but if he eats it it makes him feel pretty ill. Avoiding black pepper is definitely a challenge for him

          4. Donkey Hotey*

            the most common spice (after salt) in american and english cooking.

            The only spice in English cooking, so far as I can tell. ;-)

              1. celery*

                Well actually, black pepper comes from India. It was one of the main spices the East India Company exported to Britain.

          5. Alexandra Lynch*

            I was in a hobby where we did dinners of five courses for anywhere to 50-200 people. In our local group, we had gluten allergies, milk allergies, egg allergies, honey intolerance, an allergy to black pepper, and an anaphylactic allergy to cinnamon.

            Given that the three most common spices that were used were pepper, cinnamon, and ginger, things were interesting.

        2. Princesa Zelda*

          That’s me — I have an allium intolerance. It used to be just garlic, but now includes onions, spring onions, shallots, and leeks, and the smell of garlic makes me nauseous and hungry at the same time — it’s incredibly unpleasant and distracting. I wouldn’t go to Olive Garden if you paid me a million dollars.

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            Much sympathy. I absolutely love garlic and the rest of what you cited, and if I had to give them up, I’d be heartbroken.

            Of course, I’m not allergic to any of them, and I still also wouldn’t go to Olive Garden if you paid me a million dollars ;)

      3. Lorna*

        I am allergic to anise, fennel, juniper, etc. It makes me very sick. Usually, my bodily reaction is to expel these substances from my body violently from both ends. If for some reason that doesn’t happen, it’s hospital time.

        Turns out, this is a rare familial issue. I have a cousin who had an anaphylactic reaction and came close to dying. They eventually figured out it was anise and fennel in a dish at the French restaurant he had visited.

        The smell of any of these types of seeds/herbs/plants makes most of the members of my family nauseous.

        So, yeah, this is possible.

        That being said, everywhere I’ve worked or been in close proximity with others, this has been forewarned ot everyone way ahead of time. For example, a group where I do a lot of volunteer work has a “no gin” policy at after-hours events. People know.

        I wonder how severe and widespread an allergy has to be before people can take it seriously. A former friend who has as kid with peanut allergies is evangelical about that, but thinks my allergies are all in my head. She thinks that if it were a “real” allergy, more people would have it.

        It’s difficult for the Indian coworker and I have extreme sympathy b/c she was not forewarned. That being said, if it’s someone’s comfort v. Another person’s health and life, we have to come down on the side of the person who needs to breathe. But there should always be a lot of forewarning so people can make choices. It’s not always possible, but where it is, it should be included in the job description.

        WRT to fragrances, the sensitivities and allergies are becoming more widespread. My allergist thinks that eventually most enclosed public spaces in our state will be fragrance free as they are now smoke-free.

        1. Quill*

          I have a theory that by adding fragrance to so many things we’re speeding up the rate at which the population becomes more sensitized to them.

          1. hbc*

            Allergies are weird. There’s also evidence that we’re living “too clean” so some immune systems get set at ridiculously low thresholds for “Dangerous foreign invader, attack!!” Some people respond to exposure therapy, some don’t. We just don’t understand them like we should.

            1. Quill*

              It may be more straightforward in cases where it’s not really an allergy, such as “smells give me headaches” because that can often be an overstimulation thing.

            2. KoiFeeder*

              Hey, don’t bring up parasite theory again! I can personally confirm that no amount of hookworms in third grade did anything about my asthma or allergies.

              1. Quill*

                Hookworms are not a net benefit but surviving them for years may explain why our immune systems are the shoot first, ask questions later type.

            3. Mookie*

              “Too clean” obfuscates the nature of some of these “modern”/previously unknown or little-known sensitivities, which can become widespread when industrial and commercial products, like scent, can no longer rely on sourcing their raw materials and ingredients ethically or that said materials are no longer sustainable or affordable as consumption grows. Cheaper, more practical alternatives are sought and some of those alternatives have never been on a global market. When novel or highly regional ingredients encounter great gobs of humanity, some of them will discover sensitivities, irritants, and allergies they never knew they had. New chemical processing techniques, adjuvants, and preservatives also play their part.

          2. Amethystmoon*

            I get hives from anything with perfume, so still can’t use scented shampoos, soap, or lotions. Don’t know why, must be something in the chemicals. I can use essential oils if they’re natural, though.

            1. Quill*

              Could be one of the stablilizers, emulsifiers, and solvents, could be the concentration of volatiles and aromatics.

              I managed to sensitize the heck out of my skin in terms of DMSO when I worked in the lab…

          3. Curmudgeon in California*

            I agree. Plus, exposure to pesticides tends to cause allergies to aldehydes & ketones, the major ingredients of man-made fragrances like are in everything from cleaning solvents to body care products. (I used to have a link to a paper on that, but I lost it.) I’m allergic to most of them – to the point of severe coughing & difficulty breathing.

            I also have some weird family allergies – celery seed, celery (a different plant), soybean oil, and cilantro. Celery seed brings a hacking cough 8 hours later, soybean oil causes explosive diarrhea within an hour, and cilantro is a migraine trigger. Fortunately these don’t have a odor or vapor component.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I also have a severe (but common) food allergy, and agree that being able to breathe trumps.

          But the former job was not fair to the employee who left after three months. The former job should have been way more proactive in saying due to allergies food containing these ingredients isn’t permitted in the building/X areas of the building well before they started.

          I think anything that out of the ordinary needs to be brought up during the interview process so that all parties are making fully formed decisions.

          1. Courtney Kupets*

            I guess I’m just more flexible with the foods I eat? If something was because of a life threatening allergy, I would say “that’s a bummer”, but then I would just..suck it up? I don’t know. Unless you also have many restrictions to what you can eat, I would just change up my own eating, which to me would not be that big of a deal, because there are literally hundreds of other things I could eat, and it would just be one meal a day.

            1. Dearth Mofongo*

              It’s not always about what you can eat but what you can prepare. If you had to cut all garlic and onions from your life, that would upend a lot of people’s cooking where I live. Is it the end of the world? No, here there are lots of foods that one can create that don’t include those ingredients. But if you learned to cook from your mother and she only taught you how to cook foods that involved those two ingredients (and thus all the foods you normally eat and like contain them), you’ve suddenly got to learn to love PB&Js and similar *every single day* while you figure out what else you can make that you also will like and it’s a huge hassle. It’s not because your food trumps their need to breathe, it’s just a hassle that maybe you don’t want to deal with (and could have avoided if you had been warned). (This also sometimes means overhauling your spice rack, which can be very pricey.)

              If I couldn’t bring leftovers from the night before to work every day, I would be on PB&Js all the time because I don’t have the time to make a separate lunch every day that is more varied than basic sandwiches. And it would bum me out, even though I love PB&J. Because I also love my arroz con gandules and mofongo.

            2. Jo*

              If you have a busy schedule (parents, kids, spouse, other dependents, other commitments) and your only chance to eat during the workday is leftovers from yesterday’s dinner, and your family eats X cuisine every day because that’s your culture and you just plain love the food, then that “one meal a day” quickly becomes “the only thing I can eat in 8-10 hours” which is…pretty significant imo.

              I’m not saying the employee with the allergies should suffer for someone else’s food habits, but clearly this was a dealbreaker for the Indian employee and that since it’s quite out of the ordinary it should have been brought up. That would have been fair to ALL parties involved.

            3. A*

              There are larger macro level issues at play. Putting aside the divisive fact that this extends outside of the workplace and into employees lives outside of work, this also touches on time and financial privilege as well as potential physical or mental health issues.

              Many people bring leftovers to work. Is it really ok for employers to tell their employees what they can and can not cook at home? Of course not. But is the employer going to cover the cost of whatever the amended ingredients are? Doubtful. Not everyone can afford to buy instead, or change to XYZ-free etc. not to mention that they shouldn’t have to.

              There are also situations where for physical or mental health reasons one might need to consume certain foods in certain intervals. When I first entered the workforce I was a recently recovering anorexic, coming off almost 6 months in an inpatient treatment. There were very few foods I felt comfortable with, and if my employer had tried to outright ban across the property (vs just a break room) any one of those foods/spices etc. I would have gone after them with the fire of a thousand suns.

              Obviously that is a very specific example, but my point is that you never know what is going on in others lives and what might seem reasonable to you might not for others. When it comes to people’s lives outside of work, no one but each individual gets to decide that.

            4. Avasarala*

              I don’t think it’s inflexible of an Indian person to want to eat Indian food, and to feel unreasonably disrupted by the ability to not bring leftovers to work as lunch.

              I know plenty of Americans that won’t go outside their comfort zone and struggle on week-long business trips where they can’t find American food for one or two meals a day. Now imagine that is your life now, for as long as you work at that company…

              1. Courtney Kupets*

                Right. But those Americans are also very strange to me. I studied abroad living with families both in high school and college, and I found it weird that other students couldn’t break out of their own patterns of eating. I think people who can’t get out of their own pattern are strange, but obviously, yes, if you are like that then this would be an issue that may make you leave a company. Also, Im a single mom of 3 kids with a tight budget. Its honestly not that hard to eat a variety of foods from different cultures. I think people just don’t want to, which is totally fine!

        3. Anise cookies*

          My family is Italian American and I grew up on anise cookies, I had no idea that was such an acquired taste for people until I grew up. I was surprised how many people disliked them and the smell, I have cousin in laws who say the smell makes them sick. Parmesan cheese was another surprising one, my boyfriend’s family calls it feet cheese. However, I can completely believe some people are allergic to it.

      4. AnotherDeb*

        That sucks that you know people that would do that.
        I’ve got a friend who is allergic Tumeric. She gets migraines from exposure. She loves Indian food, and is often looking for versions of it that doesn’t have tumeric.

        She’s asked to be seated far from the lunch room kitchen and makes the best of it.

      5. Jennifer Juniper*

        I am allergic to pistachios and cashews. I can eat all other nuts, including peanuts. I hope no one thinks I’m racist/xenophobic because of that!

    3. Niktike*

      My mother-in-law is allergic to cumin. When we go for food with her, most restaurants have at least something that doesn’t have cumin in it, but we literally cannot order Indian food with her. Nothing is reliably safe. Even naan sometimes is spiced with it! Banning cumin bans lots of things, including ALL of the Indian food.

      1. hayling*

        I get migraines from chili peppers, paprika, cumin, tumeric (among other things) and I avoid South Asian food as well as Central/South American. It’s just too tricky because they’re so prevalent in those cuisines. I haven’t had huge problems from inhalation but I can imagine that being in an Indian restaurant or even sitting next to someone eating reheated Indian food leftovers would give me a migraine if the scent was strong enough.

        1. Mimi Me*

          You’d live in Migraine hell in my building. There are 6 units in my building – the 2 downstairs are inhabited by two families from central / South America (Mexico and Peru) – and the two upstairs are from India. I’m not allergic to any of the spices, but I have felt ill on the few occasions when they’ve all cooked a pungent dinner at the same time and the smell wafts through the building. It can be a little intense. So. Many. Smells.

          1. CastIrony*

            This is unrelated, I know, but it reminds me of how Mexican families roast peppers on an iron skillet, and the spice goes all over the house, making everyone cough and run to safety.

      2. AP*

        “Banning cumin bans lots of things, including ALL of the Indian food.”

        This may be true of restaurant food, but certainly not home-cooked meals. Presumably the Indian coworker was bringing in lunches they had made themselves, not ordering take out.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Yeah, but cumin is also a main ingredient in all of the Mexican food I cook, and if I couldn’t use cumin, it wouldn’t be Mexican food any more.

          1. ian*

            You do you, but personally, given a choice between “Mexican food with adjusted seasoning” or “nothing even resembling Mexican food”, I’d probably be happy to make some tacos sans cumin.

          2. Bex*

            Really?? Are you in Texas by any chance? Because I’m Mexican-America and have spent a ton of time in Mexico, and literally none of the traditional recipes I use have cumin in them. But when I’ve visited the other side of the family in Texas, they seem to think “Mexican” food means loading up on the cumin, shredded orange cheese, and sour cream!

            1. Jedi Squirrel*

              My mother was born in Texas. We grew up poor, so we only had five seasonings: salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, and hunger.

              I’ve been to Mexico numerous times (mostly the Yucatan region) and I’ve noticed the cuisine is definitely cumin-lite.

              Ah, I would always volunteer to grind the cumin seeds and garlic in my mother’s molcajete. I miss that smell. It was so wonderful.

            2. Mookie*

              Asian empires introduced herbs like cumin to Europeans who, in turn, introduced them elsewhere. In many cases, such crops caught on, replacing or augmenting indigenous and adopted crops with similar flavors and growing conditions, or never survived past the colonial period.

              Also, like everyone else, Mexicans cook foods other than their own “traditional” cuisine and, of course, regional Mexican cuisine is not devoid of foreign influences. Look at the use of pita bread. Stringy cheese. The exchange goes, has always gone, both ways.

              This navel-gazing, gate-keeping cumin TexMex myth seems to be an American rather than Mexican preoccupation.

          3. JSPA*

            You can make any number of excellent moles without cumin. And quite a number of indian dishes are fine with (say) toasted cumin sprinkled on top (for at home) rather than cooked into the dish, leaving the remainder cumin-free, and more than edible at work. (I’m thinking of something like rasam or sambar made “from scratch”; it’s obviously harder if you’re used to using spice mixes, or have a thickened, slow-cooked sauce.)

            None of which answers OP’s question, which is, “the more limiting the limitation, the earlier it should be brought up.” That includes, “an ingredient that’s limiting to many, many dishes in some cultures” or “a wide range of items being limited.”

          4. CET*

            I live in New Mexico and our traditional Mexican food does not contain cumin. It does ALWAYS contain red and/or green chile though. I grew up in TX where cumin is used a lot, but now I’ve learned a different way to cook. It’s delicious.

        2. Eukomos*

          If someone’s been getting pre-made garam masala their whole lives and is happy with that, making it from scratch without cumin is probably not at the top of their to do list. Especially since their food would then not taste the way they’re accustomed to, possibly in a way they don’t like. In the co-worker’s place, I’d probably also prefer to keep making dinner the way I always had and find a new solution for lunch, rather than attempt to live a cumin-free existence.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            Yeah, my garam masala has cumin in it. Additionally, I put in a ton of extra cumin, plus I fry whole cumin seeds in the pan before cooking. I would not be able to enjoy my food without the taste of cumin in it, and I would be that person who quits in three months rather than go without it.

            Or, realistically, I’d probably just make a sandwich for lunch. (Had to get over my knee-jerk THEY’RE COMING FOR MY CUMIN reaction, lol!)

      3. Peach*

        +1. I can’t tolerate cumin, it gives me an itchy fullbody rash. I have a parent with an anaphylactic cumin allergy, though thankfully it isn’t severe enough to be triggered by airborne particles. It’s distressing to think people might think we were faking or being bigoted due to being careful about avoiding cuisines that tend to have a boatload of cumin in them.

        I even *like* cumin, but my immune system doesn’t. :(

    4. remizidae*

      Maybe they had a reaction to all spices, and people with non-Indian food just weren’t using much spice.

    5. Kanon*

      Someone I know claimed to be allergic to “all Asian food”. Found this pretty offensive but wasn’t in a position to address it. Turns out, person was allergic to seafood and didn’t know enough about Asian food to know that fish sauce, oyster sauce, shellfish broth were common ingredients in many dishes.

      1. Eukomos*

        My friend is a Japanese literature professor and lived in Japan for a few years, as well as visiting fairly often now. She’s also a vegetarian, and her stories of how impossible it is to find truly vegetarian food in Japan are hilarious because you have to either laugh or cry. Fish sauce really is ubiquitous there, I don’t know what Japanese people with seafood allergies do.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I’m sure there are some but I wonder if due to natural selection and seafood being so ubiquitous that most people who were allergic to seafood just didn’t survive to pass on those allergies.

          Similar to how people try to argue peanut allergies are made up because they are a “recent” thing, when the answer is probably, they existed before but we just didn’t know about it kids/people just died from it be we just didn’t know the cause.

          1. Eukomos*

            One of my close friends has a family that’s prone to autoimmune disorders, and she says there are definitely more severe allergies now than there used to be. Mild cases might just be getting better reported now, but people would have noticed if kids were commonly keeling over and dying from eating a peanut butter sandwich historically. Similarly severe celiac (like, doctor diagnosed, not just mysterious pains and bloating that might be caused by gluten) has become more common in the last few decades. Something about the way we live now it messing with our immune systems, genetic and diagnostic variance can’t explain the amount of change we’re seeing.

            1. TrainerGirl*

              My brother has a peanut allergy, but it isn’t the very severe kind. As long as he avoids ingesting peanuts/peanut products, he will not have a reaction. My parents ate peanuts in the house when we were growing up, and I always had a PB&J sandwich. It does seem like the allergies are way more severe these days.

            2. Timothy (TRiG)*

              Kids brought up on farms very rarely develop severe allergies to anything. Allergies are mostly a product of an urban environment and not much exposure to nature in early childhood, it seems.

              1. Third or Nothing!*

                I was raised in a small farming/ranching community and spent my summers with my grandmother out at her house in the country. Ate anything and everything, played outside in the dirt, all that jazz. And at 25 years old I found out that cow’s milk protein, chicken eggs, and processed sugar cause serious problems with my digestive and endocrine systems. Then there are a few random ones that are just mildly annoying, like how turmeric upsets my stomach.

          2. A Silver Spork*

            Child mortality rates started going down pretty significantly about a century ago according to Wikipedia, I wonder if a bunch of those kids were allergic but no one could figure it out?

            I think industrialization/globalization plays a part too. If you live in a village of 60 people, and your community grows/raises everything that you eat because you have very little contact with the rest of the world, it’s much easier to know whether your food has a certain ingredient, just walk over and ask the person who sold it to you. But these days, if your food came from across the world, you don’t always know what’s in it. Sure, you can read the label, but a) not everything goes on the label (pesticides, for example – I react to certain produce when it’s been treated with shellfish pesticide but no one ever says “treated with powdered lobster shell”) and b) how the heck are you to know, unless you looked it up, that E120 is made from bugs? And if you’re at a restaurant, you probably won’t even get a label on your food at all.

            And allergies don’t always kill you immediately without medical attention. When I was a kid, shellfish made me really, really sick but didn’t cause anaphylactic shock. I avoided it as much as possible. Then in my early twenties, I picked up a meatball thinking it was beef, and it turned out to be crab legs and oops, what just happened to my breathing. So it’s very possible that people would try something, get sick, find out what made them sick, and then avoid it and keep living an allergy-free life. Provided they lived long enough to make decisions on their food choices in the first place.

          3. Jojo*

            Possibly because foods travel more than they used to. Used to be Maine lobster was only available in Maine. Peanut was only available in the south. Now with refrigeration and other preservatives means these foods are everywhere.

        2. Swingbattabatta*

          I have a severe fish allergy (not shellfish, just fish), and I so badly want to travel through Japan, southeast Asia, etc, but I’m really worried about the food. I think I would have a really hard time screening out fish sauce, etc, particularly with a language barrier, but I’m not sure how to work around that to avoid having an anaphylactic reaction while still actually eating (and not just disgusting energy bars or whatever).

      2. JSPA*

        And if you’re allergic enough to also react to trace shellfish, the microscopic shellfish larvae which attach firmly to various seaweeds can make this even more impossible.

      3. Ellen N.*

        When people tell me that they don’t like/can’t eat Asian food; I reply, “Really, Russian food, Israeli food, Turkish food?”.

    6. Jack Be Nimble*

      I don’t doubt that someone could be allergic to cumin (or tumeric or cardamom, or any hypothetical ingredient) but I’d be very careful and very precise in drafting a policy around it. I’m no culinary librarian, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any single ingredient ubiquitous in one cuisine and unheard of in any other. I’d make sure that I was 100% clear on the allergic employee’s needs so I could draft a policy to protect them without accidentally banning an entire subcontinent’s worth of food.

      1. Retro*

        I agree that the employer didn’t take enough time to draft a policy that protected their allergic employee without infringing on the rights of their other employees.

        It would have been much more reasonable to ban cumin, and also point out that cumin is often present in spice blends so please take extra care in not being presumptuous that your food does not include cumin.

        1. Myrin*

          OP has clarified below that the employer did indeed ban certain spices (but she doesn’t remember which those were, exactly).

        2. MK*

          From a practical standpoint, this might not have made a difference. There is a spice that exists in 90% of dishes of my culture. You can make them without it but they taste like crap (possibly a chef might be able to adjust them, but I don’t have the time, knowledge or desire to experiment). Banning this from the workplace would mean I can only eat a couple of dishes there, and if bringing leftovers was a big issue with me for dietery, budget ot culture reasons, I would consider leaving too.

      2. hayling*

        It’s possible that those spices all have some common property. I get migraines from a bunch of different foods including cumin, tumeric, chili pepper, paprika, raw onions/garlic — I think they’re all vasodilators.

      3. Koala dreams*

        I think the problem is that many cuisines have certain “basic” ingredients that are used in most dishes, and if you ban one of those, it would mean changing almost everything you cook. In my culture, that could be black pepper or onions, in another culture that could be fish sauce or peanut oil.

      4. JSPA*

        Last I checked, there are 300+ antigen-based allergen tests commonly available. There are a lot more than 300 food ingredients in the world.

        It’s possible for someone to know, “I nearly died eating X, and again eating Y, but even with testing to narrow down the problem, there are several known ingredients plus an unknown number of possible cross-contaminants that could be to blame.”

        Doing challenge tests on purified fractions of (e.g.) some spice mix, if someone has anaphylaxis-level problems, may or may not be something an allergist is willing to oversee. I’d bet it’s not something an employer can demand.

    7. Morning Glory*

      Yeah my guess is that the employee was relaying the story through the lens of how it impacted them, specifically. So, like, a ban on cardamom might impact dishes from other cuisines but the impact on this specific employee was that they couldn’t bring in their Indian food which was a dealbreaker.

      1. Kate R*

        I was just about to post the same comment. And I think that’s likely what Alison was going for in last paragraph. If they specifically said, “You’re no longer allowed to bring in Indian food” that could be discriminatory, but if they listed ingredients, and the coworker determined that he couldn’t bring in his leftovers anymore, that’s not. I can definitely see myself relaying a story in casual conversation in a similar way or that that the OP paraphrased part of a longer conversation with their colleague.

        1. Morning Glory*

          I didn’t say cardamom is only in Indian food, I explicitly said it was in many cuisines. My point was that the employee was Indian so the impact on them was that they couldn’t bring in Indian food. The fact that cardamom is in Swedish food would not matter to them because the employee probably doesn’t eat a lot of Swedish food.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            Yes, I was agreeing with you and supplying supporting evidence.

            Now I’m craving Kardemummabullar.

            1. Twiggs*

              Aaw, älskar kardemummabullar! Unfortunaly the smell of cardamom gives me a headache.

              OnTopic, my current place of employment told me about their no peanut rule during the offer. Worked for me.

    8. MK*

      It’s not always possible to find out what substance exactly you are allergic to; my father has had allergic reactions for a decade now and despite the most extensive tests we still don’t know what causes them. It’s possible this person has been able to identify being in the same room as indian food as a trigger for her allergy but not the exact ingredient.

      1. Kimmybear*

        Yeah…my family specializes in uncommon food allergies. And some reactions can be combinations…dairy or red pepper are fine but combine them is a problem.

        1. Lorna*

          I have an acquaintance whose allergies are mediated by estrogen and progesterone. Wrong time of the month, she can die. Hormones and stars in alignment, she’s just fine. This is, btw, been confirmed by multiple doctors and tests.

          Bodies are weird.

          1. Quill*

            Gotta love the immune system going “welp, Estrogen is here, so it’s time to go hog wild!”

            (One of the theories why cis women are more likely to be diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. For many of us who produce estrogen, our immune system can get TOO active.)

            1. She's One Crazy Diamond*

              That completely makes sense! You have to have a good immune system if you’re gonna literally grow another human in your body.

              1. JSPA*

                Actually, sometimes the opposite. Need to not recognize a “non-self” in the making as “invader.” That’s presumably part of why pregnancy often suppresses autoimmune disorders.

            2. TiffIf*

              I was actually just reading an article today that was talking about how women seem more resilient to many diseases but the down side is that women may be more prone to autoimmune diseases.

              (It was an article specifically talking about the ratio of men vs women who have had severe complications or died from Covid-19, but it talked about similar findings in previous pandemics.)

      2. Clorinda*

        Especially because curry is a blend! So the worker could have a bad reaction to curry in general but not have any idea which of the five to ten spices in the curry was the problem–all they know is that curry in the air=anaphylaxis (or whatever the symptoms are).

        1. UKDancer*

          This happens to me. I quite like Indian curry but it regularly gives me a really bad reaction (fortunately only when I eat it, not when it’s in the air). I don’t know what it is in Indian curry specifically that has the effect on me but it’s obviously one or other of the spices commonly used. I am loathe to ask the hard pressed NHS to refer me for allergy testing and even more loathe to spend my own money on testing that may or may not reveal the answer.

          So I don’t eat Indian food. Other forms of curry (like Thai curry) are fine.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            I have a similar problem, where I get sick every time I eat Indian food and I have no idea why. I’ve been buying each of the spices individually and trying them on dishes at home, although that project is officially on hold until it’s both reasonable to buy spices from bulk bins again and emergency rooms are less busy in case things go really badly. So far, I know it’s neither cumin nor turmeric. Once we are in a more adventurous time, that’s something you could try as well if you live someplace where it’s easy to buy individual species common to Indian food.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes, also having experienced the reaction I have where the food leaves my body quickly and violently, I don’t particularly want to experiment with the spices to work out which one it is. I just don’t eat Indian food any more. While I quite like it, I like having control of my digestion more. There are enough other restaurants in London.

            2. Alexandra Lynch*

              I cannot eat chili because I have problems with the spices.
              At first, I thought it was “Ah, it is a cheap commercial blend. I will order the chili powder from the company that is expensive but puts only the spices in and lists them on the label.”
              Same reaction.
              “Ah, it must be a reaction to an individual spice in the blend. As they have listed them I will do foods with that one spice and see which one it is.”
              Reacted to none of them. Only when they are combined to make chili.

              Bodies are weird.

    9. Both/And*

      I think it’s not necessarily spices used only in Indian cuisine, but instead a set of spices (or even a single spice) used so frequently in Indian cuisine that to be unable to bring food with those spices results in a de facto ban of\n Indian food (or, at least, the Indian food that this particular person prefers). By way of example, I’d be inconvenienced by an office ban on spices X, Y, and Z, but in a minor way (I’d need to think before bringing leftovers, but I’d be able to choose from a large set of alternative dishes that I frequently consume). If this employee includes at least one of spices X, Y, and Z in 90% of what she cooks, it will be a significantly more burdensome restriction for her that will amount to, “essentially,” a ban on everything she usually eats without the office having actually banned Indian food or necessarily having done anything improper.

    10. OP here*

      I posted this separately but figured I would put it here also. Hey everyone, this is the original poster. So this story was told to me second hand by my colleague who worked in the office with this policy. To clarify some stuff, Indian food was not banned, but the spices that were banned were prominently used in Indian food apparently and as such had basically created a ban on Indian food. I do not know what the specific spice banned was. Sorry. What this lead to was a discussion about what things banned would lead to us turning down or quitting a job and what would we expect to be told during the interview process.

    11. Just Another Techie*

      Or, the person who left only cooks Indian cuisine, so it was irrelevant to him that the prohibition on, say, chili powder, also would apply to Mexican, southeast Asian, etc cuisines.

    12. eshrai*

      So I have an airborne allergy to cumin that is getting worse as I get older. I used to just have to avoid certain restaurants and types of food such as Thai or Indian restaurants. But I was fine with say, Mexican cuisine which also uses cumin, but much less in a recipe. These days I am getting more and more sensitive and just had a reaction to a spice mix that I have regularly used in the past (taco seasoning…does have cumin…but not a ton). So yes, it is possible to have an allergy that is triggered more by specific cuisines due to the concentration of that seasoning. I am also allergic to mustard which is common in Indian food, but its not airborne so i wouldn’t be bothered by it. I have asked coworkers to avoid eating it in their cubicle if they sit next to me…but an outright ban is a bit much unless its a very small office.

    13. closely, closely to the floor*

      One thing that complicates these issues is that, sadly, it’s not uncommon for people to lie about having allergies. It’s the classic “one bad apple” situation: people with (and without) allergies suffer because someone thinks “allergic to fish” is a cute affectation, and/or they like the attention they get, whatever.

      Poster=boy for Adult ADHD that I am, it took me 50+ years to realize that people do this – but it’s a very real thing.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I don’t doubt that there are folks out there who do lie about allergies, but I really doubt there are as many as folks make out there are. It’s really, really annoying to live your life around allergen restrictions, and I don’t think many folks choose to do so for fun. I think an awful lot more folks have one or more of four things happening:
        1) They have a significant physical reaction that’s not strictly an allergy, but they don’t have a better word to explain it. Nutmeg and mace make me very ill, for instance, but it’s a neurological problem rather than an immunological one. What should I call that?
        2) They have a reaction, but only in specific circumstances, which can make it look like they’re lying. My brother has an allergy to tomatoes, but only if they’re raw. Ketchup or tomato sauce are fine.
        3) They have a reaction, but they don’t have a good grasp on the trigger. My sister was “allergic to Ethiopian food”, until she encountered lentils in a different context and worked out it was a lentil allergy.
        4) They have a reaction, but they accept the consequences of exposure under certain controlled conditions. I am very allergic to cats, but I live with one and manage my exposure through various means. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to hang out on someone else’s couch with four cats.

        1. A Silver Spork*

          Or, people actually *do* have an allergy, but it’s the type that makes your head hurt or turns your digestive system into a liquefying machine or something else that’s more subtle than hives + anaphylactic shock, and people don’t believe you because if you REALLY had an allergy, you wouldn’t be able to breathe.

          1. Filosofickle*

            I have this one. I have an egg yolk allergy — officially diagnosed — that causes bad stomach pains. And I can have a little yolk, meaning normal cake or cookies are okay but not french toast, creme brulee, sabayon, even egg noodles. It’s creates weirdness because if I ask about ingredients people (naturally) get very concerned and telling them “Don’t worry I won’t die, a little is okay just not a lot” sounds like I’m making the whole thing up. It’s easy to order around it in restaurants; it mostly comes up when a friend cooks for me.

        2. hayling*

          Yep to #1. I get horrible migraines from a bunch of different foods. Technically it’s a sensitivity. But I tell people it’s an allergy otherwise they don’t take me seriously. And I blanket avoid a bunch of different cuisines because the foods I’m sensitive to are so prevalent in them (sadly, Indian is one of them, although I don’t think I’m at the point of inhalational sensitivity.)

        3. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          The thing is, people who lie about allergies tend to /strongly dislike/ a taste/texture/something, and so they DO avoid it – but it won’t physically hurt them if they eat it. I have definitely run across “allergic to” meaning “it’s icky” – which, it may well be, but it’s not /the same/.

          I have allergies AND sensitivities to foods, some individually and some only when combined or past a certain amount or ….. thankfully, almost all of it is only an issue if eaten in enough quantity.

          BUT! even though “in theory” peanut oil does not have the allergen protein that causes anaphalactic shock, anything I eat that has peanut oil in it will make me incredibly miserable. I’ll survive – grudgingly! Also, hereditary, my father had the same problem and I think my brother does. And the smell of peanut butter will absolutely turn my stomach – again, won’t kill me, will make me wish it would and get it over with.

          Mushrooms just creep me out. The texture is weird, they’re weird, icky ew, do not want. If I’m asked about things I don’t eat, I will include them. If I’m asked about allergens, I will not. I WILL include peanut oil in any non-medical situation as an allergy, because people don’t get /sensitivity/ to mean /do not include or I will be horribly miserable/.

          When I was little, my teachers seemed to think “allergy” meant “picky eater” and kept trying to get me to eat stuff I knew I shouldn’t. They never did understand that I Did Not Care what they threatened me with, they could not make me more miserable than eating the disallowed food would! and yeah, they didn’t see the reaction – it wasn’t immediate, and it was in places clothing covered (rash). didn’t mean I was fine!

          Allergies are weird, yo. as are bodies. etc. thankfully I’ve outgrown almost all my childhood allergies – only strawberries are forbidden now. and my body tastes them AS poison, so I miss nothing!

          1. Filosofickle*

            I have a bunch of food allergies as well as a bunch of texture issues. I never say a texture issue is an allergy, but I kinda dread having non-family cook for me because I do not want to be THAT guest.

            Agree that “dislike” is often misrepresented “allergy”. However, in my case I loathed eggs from infancy and I was DELIGHTED to discover I was in fact allergic at age 12. I suspect that very early on my body connected feeling terrible with eggs and my aversion developed from that. To this day, my biggest texture issue is stuff that is springy / squishy like eggs. Shudder. I don’t think that’s the case for many, but in my case it came true.

            1. Lucien Nova*

              That’s a definite possibility. Some allergies are mild enough they aren’t diagnosed till much later/till they get worse, if at all, because all anyone knows is that the person (usually a child) has a strong aversion to the food but there’s seemingly no reason why. There’s a history of this in my family, it’s interesting stuff to look into.

              I also have texture issues on top of numerous allergies, so I sympathize there!

      2. Batgirl*

        If someone tells me they might die, I take that seriously enough to not bother dwelling on the possibility of lying. Yes people lie, but they also die of allergies. Better safe than sorry.

    14. cheeky*

      Fenugreek is not used widely outside of Indian food, and it’s VERY common in Indian food. It can also cause allergic reactions. I can buy that.

    15. JSPA*

      Methi/Fenugreek? Asfoetida? Cardamom?
      Fenugreek allergy is reported to overlap with chickpea allergy. Link to follow.

      1. JSPA*

        Fenugreek: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9087156
        (used as leaves and seeds, thus two ingredients from the same plant)

        Moringa / Drumstick: https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/46/suppl_59/PA1147
        (eaten as seeds, pods, leaves, and thus “multiple ingredients” from the same plant)

        There are multiple legume-family food items in Indian cooking that are rarer in other cuisines; some of the dals, drumstick, Fenugreek. And of course, they’re of great use as nitrogen-fixing plants, in a country that’s had intensive farming for…forever.

    16. Katastrophreak*

      I have an acquaintance that is allergic to clove. Found out when we went out to an Indian restaurant. The chef came out and asked because it’s unusual. She ended up getting a yogurt and cucumber dish.

    17. Naveen*

      Yeah I mean they won’t go far in life being allergic to garlic ginger onion and turmeric which is used in many cuisines lol

      1. Peach*

        Yeah, it would stink to be put in serious physical danger or distress by ingredients that are ubiquitous in many cuisines, wouldn’t it?

        I hope, if you develop an allergy to one or all of those things someday, people take it more seriously and don’t brush you off like this. The consequences of being skeptical about allergy claims can be fatal.

    18. Sana*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who found that to be suspect. If I had to guess, I’d say this was someone who cried “allergy” when they meant “preference”, and it all went too far and they’ve never backed down.

  2. wino*

    Wineries have strict no fragrance policies, and no eating fragrant foods near the tasting area. You also can’t smell like cigarettes of any kind. I imagine other businesses that engage in sensory evaluations have the same issues. I disclose in the interview.

  3. HBJ*

    I know people are super harsh over fish in offices, and it’s so surprising to me that banning it is not seen as racist, especially since it tends to be just disliking the smell and not an allergy. There are parts of the country where fish is a large part of subsistence diets for Native American people (I’m thinking specifically of Alaska Natives) and rural-living people. Telling them not to have that at work is not only telling them to cut out a significant part of their diet but also probably increasing their food budget as fish is essentially free.

    1. Granath*

      Banning a certain meat isn’t racist (that term is so overused these days). And I’ve never seen fish banned anyway and never heard of a tuna fish sandwich being verboten.

      I have seen where fish can’t be reheated because it does stink up the office and that’s a major problem.

      1. remizidae*

        Yeah, I’ve heard advice to not heat up fish in the microwave, but you can always eat it cold.

    2. Claire*

      I think there’s a difference there because the fish is not necessarily a racial/ethnic thing, but a location thing. I live in a city where I don’t think you could fish if you wanted to. The fact that Native Americans and other people in rural Alaska subside on fish doesn’t have any effect on me in my part of the country, because our office isn’t there. Also, from what I understand, few offices have a problem with cold fish, and of the offices that have a problem with heating fish in the microwave, few actually ban it.

      1. A Silver Spork*

        One of my former jobs didn’t outright *ban* cold fish, but I was *strongly encouraged* not to bring tuna/salmon salad to work by a manager even if I had no intention of heating it up. Which was a problem, because I was dealing with pretty bad malnutrition at the time due to an illness and a couple types of fish was all the protein I could really stomach at the time. I made a habit of eating in a different, nearly-abandoned breakroom at that point.

    3. Fikly*

      It’s a massive stretch to say banning reheating fish is racist. Many many many different groups eat fish. And eating fish is typically a reflection of either geography or, today, personal preference.

      Is there possibly a person out there who may have complained about someone reheating fish because all that person did was reheat fish every day? Sure, but it’s highly likely that complaint was directed at that person, not their culture. And even if it was, that rare exception doesn’t make the entire issue racist. It just makes reheated fish stinky. And pervasive.

      Also, in no way is the fish essentially free. They are spending their time plus materials in getting that fish, and for anyone living a subsistence life, time is incredibly valuable.

    4. Koala dreams*

      Fish is definitely more common among some ethnicities than others. Just like peanuts. It’s funny how people perceive the food of “others”, to have a strong smell, and the food they eat themselves to be neutral.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        The common bias against fish is only against reheating it in a microwave – and even people I know who love fish and eat it all the time will admit that reheating it in a microwave will create a smell.

        1. Koala dreams*

          Well, everything that is reheated in the microwave creates a smell. I don’t feel that fish is more smelly than other food, it has a very mild smell actually. Just one of those cultural differences!

          1. MK*

            Is it? Do other people of your culture agree that fish has a mild smell? Because I can think of no one I even met, from whatever culture, that thought that. Granted that people from island communities e.g. weren’t as bothered by it, but even they didn’t think it was amild smell.

            1. Koala dreams*

              Some people in my culture are very against fish, but most people find it rather mild. Much milder than peanuts, that’s for sure. It’s one of those things where people are very black-and-white, like with cilantro. The people who don’t like fish smells typically think raw fish is worse than re-heated fish, and fermented fish is the worst. Some types of fermented fish really is the worst, honestly, but then people generally don’t put it in the microwave either. (Luckily!)

              Anyway, I didn’t mean to go on about my culture, my point is merely that what one considers a strong smell or a mild smell is so dependent on the food culture where you live and where you grew up. There aren’t any universally smelly or not smelly foods.

            2. Clisby*

              I don’t think fish has a strong smell at all. It certainly doesn’t compare to, say, the smell of lamb, or the smell of cabbage. Unless, of course, the fish has been left out too long and is going off. (Southern American here.)

              1. A Silver Spork*

                Russian here, and I can barely smell fish at all. I could tell when my mother was making my favorite fish salad by the smell of the onion instead.

                On the other hand, I can smell roast beef from the opposite side of the room, and every time I do, I ask if it’s gone off, but apparently that’s just the normal smell.

            3. Myrin*

              I’m always fascinated by the “microwaved fish” discussions.

              We’ve never had a microwave at home, so I’d never encountered microwaved fish before I started working in a kitchen. There, my boss regularly thaws frozen fish in the microwave and it doesn’t smell of anything at all.

              So I can’t tell if that’s because it’s raw fish and it’s only prepared-in-whatever-way fish which smells (bad) or if AAM is playing an elaborate prank on me in particular or if the weird things I sometimes have going on with my sense of smell extend to microwaved fish specifically or if either microwaves or fish are made/prepared differently here compared to other parts of the world which makes the fish magically unsmelly.

              1. Koala dreams*

                It’s possible it never gets hot enough to smell from a distance. In the microwave, typically the foods start smelling after they have gotten hot. (All foods, not only fish, of course.) If you are going to slice the meat or the fish, it’s usually better to not thaw it completely, but leave it a little bit frozen.

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                As an American who grew up on the seashore, then moved Inland, and has also traveled overseas oh, I will suggest that a lot of fish in American grocery stores is just not as fresh as it could be. I’m thinking of my Icelandic and Greek friends who I think it’s sad we have to buy fish already cut up, so that we can’t see the eyes to know it is fresh enough to eat.

                1. iantrovert (they/them)*

                  Yes, this! Fish that’s been frozen after a while, transported commercially anywhere from down the road to across the continent, thawed, sat on a cold shelf for a few days, transported to a home, sat in a home fridge prior to cooking, cooked, sat in the fridge/a lunchbox, and then reheated is not so much fresh anymore.
                  It’s a bit different from the affordable seafood joint in the town where I work, that got its fish freshly delivered that morning from a place 20mi down the coast. The texture and scent are *noticeably* different.

              3. CC*

                I rarely have leftovers of my protein so I hadn’t microwaved fish until recently, when I made a nice big congee with some white fish filets cooked in it.

                Reheating that the next few days… it was a bit smelly :) Didn’t stop me from doing it again, because it was tasty, but I kept it at home.

            4. Perpal*

              I doubt it’s culture, it’s probably individual sensitivity more than environmental famliarity (which, admittedly, may be genetically related and which in turn could pool in some ethnic populations, I guess).
              I think microwaved fish smells just fine/yummy/not worse than anything else that is microwaved. Very few smells offend me; maybe durian fruit and certain cheeses.

              1. wanda*

                Yeah, I was so confused when I first heard people talk about reheating fish. My mother cooked all sorts of fish for us when I was little, and we heated it in the microwave all the time, and I never noticed any smell. Definitely, reheating vegetables or anything with soy sauce has a stronger smell to me, although not an unpleasant one. Maybe it’s because people are thinking of canned tuna as being synonymous with “fish”? Does anyone think reheating salmon causes smells?

                1. Qwerty*

                  Food smells are less noticeable when you are the person who gets to enjoy the meal. I never used to notice the fish smell until I went for a walk after a microwaved fish meal and got hit by the scent when I returned home. It also depends on how hot the fish gets – if it starts cooking, that’s when the lingering smell really kicks in. I’ve switched to only reheating it to room temp because I don’t like it cold, and that avoids the smell (at home – I don’t do this at work)

                2. Jamie*

                  Reheating salmon, or cod, tilapia, etc. absolutely smell when reheated in a microwave and the smell lingers.

                  It’s not just canned tuna by any stretch.

                3. Avasarala*

                  I have reheated salmon/fish in the microwave and didn’t think it smelled that strongly/badly. But my country eats a lot of fresh fish so maybe the fish in the US isn’t that fresh? I don’t know what people are talking about.

                4. JSPA*

                  People mentioning the freshness factor have a point, IMO. Also, fish and shellfish from areas with more anaerobic or sulfur-metabolizing organisms in their food chain have a much stronger smell (compare east coast bay shellfish and Pacific Northwest–even when it’s the same breed of clam or especially oyster, the taste and texture is shockingly different). To my nose, much of our supermarket fish is tainted (by age, contact or proximity) with the “fishy” smell of a fishmarket gutter.

              2. MCMonkeyBean*

                It’s not that it smells *bad* it’s that it often smells *for a really long time.* With some foods the smells just linger longer. The biggest offenders I’ve noticed are fish, broccoli and popcorn that gets even a tiny bit burnt. I like all of those things and will happily microwave them in my own house, but the lingering smell would drive me crazy in an office.

              3. sb51*

                Yep, people are weird. I don’t think durian smells that bad, and actually enjoy eating it, but vinegar? Ewww eww eww eww eww. To me, it’s several times stronger than most “strong-smelling” things, completely gross, and baffling to me that other people think it tastes/smells “sour” when to me it smells like something died and rotted. And it’s everywhere! I also understand that it must be my nose, and don’t complain about people eating vinegar-based food at work.

                (And tuna salad smells pretty bad to me, but that’s literally more due to the vinegar in the mayonnaise-based dressing; potato salad is almost as nasty to me; canned tuna just smells like cat food and thus weird for humans to be eating, but that’s more because no one in my household growing up ate canned fish products except the cats…)

              4. Helena1*

                Definitely depends on the fish. There’s a lot of smoked haddock (Finney) eaten in my culture, and it reeks. Literally stinks the house out. I grew up with my mother cooking it on a weekly basis, and I thought it stank as a child. It’s not lack of familiarity, it is just a particularly stinky fish.

                My Indian and Sri Lankan colleagues warming up fish curries? No issue at all, the fish smell is masked by the smell of the spices. And they tend to use tilapia which is less smelly anyway.

          2. mark132*

            I agree, I actually love the smell of salmon for instance. Smelling it being reheating makes me angry because I want some too. ;-)

            1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*


              OMG TAPIOCA. I worked with a vet who reheated it – and it smelled SO BAD that it made the mopheads that had somehow been skipped for 3 days and were basically hair-raisingly concentrated dog-pee bad smell almost pleasant. It was awful, and the man got the Stank Eye of Death for the rest of his lunch from the entire staff, like SERIOUSLY? Take that outside.

              I think it was whatever it was seasoned with + the fish itself, because he’d regularly eat hot fish of other types and it never caused that level of NOPE DON’T EAT THAT HERE.

          3. Temperance*

            It has a very, very strong smell when reheated in the microwave. I worked with a woman who ate some sort of microwaved fish for breakfast every day. The smell was frankly pungent, and people would comment on it when they walked in to the office.

          4. Arctic*

            Fish absolutely has a stronger smell than most foods in the microwave. How can you suggest otherwise seriously?
            Lots of offices ban popcorn too.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              I love popcorn but am pro office popcorn ban. The risk of burning is too high, and even in my own house if I burn it I immediately take it out to the garage but usually find it’s too late and my house smells like burnt popcorn for hours lol.

          5. D'Arcy*

            This, absolutely. Reheating fish in the microwave is *mildly* smelly at best, it’s just a scent that some people have a tremendously exaggerated dislike for.

            1. biobotb*

              Oh wow, microwave reheated fish is absolutely pungent, not mild at all. The reason people dislike it is because it reeks, not because they’re exaggerating anything.

              1. JSPA*

                I’ve smelled gag-inducing microwaved fish, but “it be fish” wasn’t the problem. And I can say this because I’ve lived places where the same sort of fish wasn’t stinky.

            2. Sister Michael*

              Do you mean that some people are simply much more bothered by fish smell than others, or do you mean that you think people who say they are very bothered by the smell of fish are exaggerating for effect?

              I actually had never considered until this thread that the smell of fish wasn’t equally noticeable to most people. I just assumed other people could smell it like I do, but didn’t mind it. Different tastes, and all.
              Having read through the responses here, I’m revising my opinion to, “people notice smells to varying degrees, probably influenced by local diet as well as personal preference”, which is fine.

              Definitely not exaggerating about how deeply the smell of fish bothers me, though, and that would be an unkind and sort of odd thing to believe. What on earth would I gain from it?

              Thinking about the question of smells and how non-allergic people differ so widely in what they can take strikes me as a good argument for an available break room outside the office area, so that people can take their various food smells elsewhere if they want to or if their co-workers need them to. Allergies may require more coordination, of course.

      2. Lorna*

        Most of the cultures on the planet don’t like peanut butter. Outside of North America and someone Southeast Asia, it’s not a think.

        Most of my older European friends find it disgusting.

        That being said, if you are as old as I am, you might remember the “peanuts on planes” and in schools wars that occurred when peanut allergies increased/were better known.

        This isn’t the first time this type of issue has come up. I fear that we are no better at dealing with it than we were with the peanut allergies decades ago.

        1. Koala dreams*

          I feel it’s quite different if you ban “smelly” food, defined based on the majority ethnicity cuisine, and banning foods such as peanuts, fish or eggs based on allergies. I frequently read articles about schools banning those three ingredients, and hopefully workplaces will follow their lead. Allergies are important to accomodate, but ensuring that the majority people only smell familiar foods in the office lunch room is another kettle of fish.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Unfortunately, it’s possible to be disgusted by a smell that’s very “familiar” to you. I frequently curse my luck that oranges are generally considered to smell good in US culture (only to myself, obviously — I’m not trying to ban them from my workplace or anything).

            1. veggiewolf*

              Oranges smell like an incoming migraine to me. My cube-mates at work warn me ahead of time when they peel one to prevent me from worrying.

              Not an allergy, so the stand-up works fine.

        2. allathian*

          Oh, this! I’m usually not a fussy eater, but the one time I tried peanut butter I nearly threw up. Just the idea of a peanut butter and jam sandwich makes me gag… Although I don’t know. I was 12 when I tried it, and at that time I wouldn’t touch a Snickers bar. These days I enjoy them…

      3. Eukomos*

        Peanuts do have a really strong smell, though. And I say that as someone born and raised in the US, surrounded by peanutbutter and peanut M&Ms, so you can hardly blame that on cultural unfamiliarity. I once saw someone with a lethal nut allergy have to ask a person sitting three feet away from her to stop eating peanut M&Ms because the smell alone was enough to make her throat itch (and she was also American). They’re just really powerful.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Depending on the ventilation system, I can detect if someone pretty far away from me in the same room is eating my allergen, since particles get in the air and thus into my lungs. I can’t “smell” it particularly further away than anyone else in terms of knowing what scent it has, but I can tell that my eyes are watering and my throat is on fire, therefore the logical deduction is that x is present in the air near me. (I really, really hate catered lunch meetings since my allergen is common on both sub sandwiches and pizza.)

      4. B*

        The pungent smell of microwaved fish is not a perception – there have literally been studies done on it because it is so above and beyond.

    5. professor*

      Fish is such a staple in parts of Southeast Asia that it is served on planes…yup, heated up, the whole plane smells of it the whole trip. Us foreigners are probably the only ones who notice/care.

      It’s a cultural thing for sure, and I can see banning heating fish to come off as racist since it excludes non-white cultures foods.

        1. D'Arcy*

          The difference would be that it’s a lot more of a *staple* food for many non-white cultures. There is very little in Vietnamese cuisine that doesn’t contain either fish or fish sauce.

    6. Bubbles*

      I don’t see how it is racist… it’s fish. Everyone all over the world eats fish. Even land-locked countries have fish in rivers and lakes. It makes zero sense to instantly declare someone as racist for not liking the smell of fish.

      I understand your point that in certain areas, it could be used to limit the choices available to certain populations, but even that seems very flimsy. Poor people eat rice and beans in whatever form their culture has taught them… does that mean of an office has a person allergic to airborne pinto beans the office is suddenly racist?

      That’s not how it works.

      1. Bubbles*

        Let me please clarify that the “rice and beans” comment is meant to be a stereotype of multiple if not all cultures and cane primarily from the fact that I had someone share a Dave Ramsey post elsewhere a few minutes ago and I thought of his stupid “eat rice and beans, beans and rice” mantra.

      2. Clisby*

        And plenty of nowhere-near-poor people eat rice and beans. Rice and beans taste good.

    7. Mediamaven*

      It’s because banning a certain meat is not racist and I think what you are describing is a rare situation in an office environment. And I bet in Alaska it’s not banned. Let’s save racism for actual cases of racism so it’s doesn’t start to lose it’s true significance.

    8. LunaLena*

      As someone who comes from a culture that is known for eating lots of fish and other stinky foods (whole anchovies is a common side dish, for example, and my mom used to pack it in my lunch box all the time), I fail to see how banning fish in the office is racist. It’s not like the ban is specifically to punish minorities or somehow drive them out, it’s just a courtesy thing, like abstaining from eating tuna sandwiches because just the smell of tuna can make a co-worker queasy (my husband used to work with someone like that). By the same token, even when I bring my Korean food leftovers to work for lunch, I try not to bring kimchi unless I know the weather will be nice and I can sit outside, simply because I know it’s very pungent and the smell tends to linger.

      So unless such a ban is implemented specifically AT a certain person or persons, I’m not sure how a blanket ban on fish can be seen as racially-motivated. I frankly love the smell of many “stinky” foods that others hate (like garlic, fish, and onion), but I still totally understand why such things would not be desirable in an office or other group setting.

      Also, for those who don’t think fish is that stinky, I invite you to investigate the extreme end of this and look up surstromming opening videos on Youtube. :D I have yet to smell it myself (but am conspiring to obtain some just for this purpose), but apparently it’s so bad a UK judge ruled that it was grounds for eviction when a tenant wouldn’t stop opening it in his apartment building.

      1. 1qtkat*

        I second with kimchi. I love it smell and all, but I know a lot of non-korean people can’t handle it. So I’m considerate and only really eat it at home

      2. CheeseHater*

        I think they mean it’s one of those things that can unintentionally exclude a bunch of people. Like there are certain cheeses that are common in the U.S. to eat with salads that are very uncommon in other countries. If there are a few Americans working in that office who eat those salads regularly and then there’s a ban on cheese because of the pungent smell (only typically eaten by anyone except the American folks), then yeah. It’s pretty much targeted at them. But in offices in the U.S., these cheeses are one of the many found in the salad bar in the cafeteria. So it’s culture dependent but definitely can be exclusionary to certain types of people. Things can be racist without *intending* to be racist.

        Am I arguing that banning fish is a super racist act? Definitely not. But can policies like that inadvertently only affect certain kinds of people? Sure.

        Also, surstromming is a very specific example. Not typical of the smell of fish. But a lot of people who grow up eating fish because that’s integral to their culture would not notice the smell of reheated fish at all. Would they find the smell of feta cheese or roast beef or whatever else is considered a typical lunch in the U.S. to be nauseating? Sure. But they suck it up because it’s someone’s lunch, rather than make a really big deal about someone heating up a food that they don’t like. That’s all.

    9. Annie*

      Do many of these Alaskan Native subsistence livers who live extremely rurally work in busy offices?

      1. JSPA*

        Yes, people can hunt and fish for food, and also work in an office. Why, in the age of the internet, is this surprising? You can have connectivity without having, say, roads. Or a supermarket within a few hundred miles.

        For that matter, Anchorage is a city. Population’s over 250,000. It has offices where people work. And fishing. And people of Native heritage who do both of those things.

        Beyond fishing, and beyond Alaska:

        Approx 5% of the US population hunt. Of those, ~40% hunt primarily for meat (not trophies or recreation). In areas where fishing for the pan is legal and practiced, it’s more common than hunting.

        For 2013, hunters (hunting license holders) as percentage of state population ranged as high as 37% of people age 15 or 0ver (south dakota); 20-29.9% (Montana, Wyoming, N. Dakota, Idaho); 10-19.9% (PA, WI, MN, TN, AL, MO, OK, AR, KS, WV, NE, ME, AK, VT) with only a few states below 2% (HI, FL, MA, RI, NJ). And that doesn’t even include fishing (or HI and FL would rank higher.)

        Basically, if it’s never occurred to you that some of your coworkers’ families may hunt or fish, consider the possibility. Assumptions about who does or does not potentially cover some significant portion of their protein or calorie budget via hunting or fishing does nobody any good. Especially if coupled with assumptions regarding whether people whose families hunt or fish are likely to engage in office work. Or assumptions about where offices can or cannot be located.

        1. Annie Moose*

          Having a fishing or hunting license does not make you a subsistence fisher/hunter, people who live in Anchorage are generally not subsistence fishers/hunters any more than any other citydwellers are subsistence fishers/hunters, and being Alaskan Native does not automatically make you a subsistence fisher/hunter.

  4. Count Boochie Flagrante*

    In general, if there’s anything even slightly out of the ordinary about your office, it’s good to disclose it up front! As the employer, you’re at a lot more liberty to disclose things than your interviewee is, and so if it’s a choice between, say, you disclosing that you’re a dog-friendly office versus the interviewee disclosing that they’re allergic to dogs, it’s a lot easier on everyone involved if you go first and just admit it.

    1. Claire*

      Also, as an interviewee, I might not know what’s relevant to disclose. It just wouldn’t occur to me to say, “The majority of the lunches I plan to bring to work are leftover Indian meals, is there anyone who has a deathly allergy to cumin in your office?” or “I’m allergic to dogs, will that be a problem at this software company?” The number of things that I do or need that would be fine in the vast majority of offices but might cause problems in some unusual cases is extremely high, and of course I’m not going to list them all when the interviewer asks if I have any questions for them.

      1. Autistic AF*

        Even then, employers don’t always seem to understand what’s a disclosure. I mentioned in an interview that I have trouble blocking out outside sounds, but this is easily rectified with headphones… Cut to my first day, I asked if I could wear headphones (having had a great experience so far) and was told no. It was entirely feasible – it was a back office role, I had my own headphones and was fine talking to people if they needed to do so – but they were super entrenched in their status quo.

      2. Quill*

        Right, I’m mildly intolerant to red 40 and it’s just… never a problem. I know better than to drink fruit punch, red koolaid, or mountain dew code red. (And it is really mild, in that it truly does not come up in anything red that isn’t either a sugary drink or a gummy candy.)

        But if I ended up in a situation where all meetings involved drinking red koolaid, it would both be weird enough to mention as an interviewer and also a thing that I would not be doing at your company.

    2. Clisby*

      Yes, just disclose up front. It’s not just because of allergies, either. If an ad said the job was in a dog-friendly office, I wouldn’t even consider applying – and I have no allergy to dogs. I’m just not going to be around them if I can help it.

      1. hayling*

        Considering all the AAM horror stories about bad dog office behavior, I don’t blame you.

  5. AndersonDarling*

    If I was applying for a position with unusual and detailed policies, I’d hope to see them in writing before my first in person interview. I’d like to receive them with my invitation paperwork so I have a chance to really consider them before I spend the effort taking time off work for an interview.
    My worry is that a company will brush over them in a phone call (“Oh, we have a unique food policy, but all our employees were able to make changes and it isn’t a big deal”) so that it doesn’t become a deal breaker. But they should acknowledge that it could be a deal breaker. Something as simple as a manager bringing a dog to the office could be a deal breaker.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      Agree. Especially if the scent-free policy goes beyond “don’t wear your cologne” into “never use a scented product at home” territory. No cologne and no peanuts are not my life preferences, but I can certainly comply with that. If it gets more complicated/extensive than that, I’d need to know as early as possible.

  6. OP here*

    Hey everyone, this is the original poster. So this story was told to me second hand by my colleague who worked in the office with this policy. To clarify some stuff, Indian food was not banned, but the spices that were banned were prominently used in Indian food apparently and as such had basically created a ban on Indian food. I do not know what the specific spice banned was. Sorry. What this lead to was a discussion about what things banned would lead to us turning down or quitting a job and what would we expect to be told during the interview process.

    1. Myrin*

      For what it’s worth, OP, I think this is a highly fascinating and interesting question – I had to read the headline and your opening paragraph three times before I got it, always reading “employer” as “employee”, and once I finally got it, I was astounded because I had honestly never even thought of that before (to be fair, I’m not hiring anyone so I didn’t have to). That really goes to show that we don’t know what we don’t know!

    2. Jack Be Nimble*

      Thanks for the clarification! I’m glad to hear that the actual policy implementation was more specific than “no Indian food!”

    3. J.B.*

      I think that if the previous employer had been more flexible, that if your colleague had been safe to come in and say “hey that’s pretty difficult for me and can we come up with other ideas” she might have a better feeling for the office. If she didn’t feel safe saying that, maybe there were other cultural issues stopping her.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        The letter says the other employee had a potentially fatal allergy that was triggered by airborne particles. I don’t know if there’s a lot of flexibility there.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m going to disagree with Alison a bit on the advice. You never want to waste anyone’s time (including yours) so I would say to disclose any bans up front. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to let them know before a quick phone screen, but if you’re moving forward to any type of extensive phone/skype/in-person interview, you should let them know beforehand. A fragrance ban may not affect a potential candidate negatively, but they may decide that their right to wear perfume is more important than the job. And while a food ban (like no tree nuts) may not seem like a game changer, if someone is already restricted on what they can eat (because of allergies, disease, etc.) and the one thing that’s banned is their primary food source, it’s better to let them know as soon as there’s any chance of moving forward to a potential offer.

      1. leapingLemur*

        I would put this type of thing in the advertising for the position and mention it in the first interview. Might as well save everyone some time.

  7. Senseless*

    Workplaces with scent restrictions are always a minor worry for me. I have anosmia (limited sense of smell) so I simply don’t know if any of my products are heavily scented and would fall foul of such restrictions. I thought I was using a scent less soap for ages until my aunt told me it actually had a very distinctive scent. I would like to be told of any such restrictions as soon as possible so I could assess if it was something I could reasonably accommodate on my own part and decide whether to continue the interview process.

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      +10000 . I also have anosmia and I am absolutely terrified of being in “No Fragrance” environments because of it. I also appreciated what Allison said about clarifying what the ban means. I once went to conference that said they were “No Fragrance” and I didn’t know what that meant so went out and bought all new detergent, soap, etc… Turned out really expensive and I never felt comfortable because I had no idea if I smelled or not.

      And on the flip side – I could never work in a place that banned nuts. Nuts are one of the only few safe snacks for me to eat. I’d rather know before I ever even applied if I wasn’t allowed to have them, so I could self-select out.

      1. Senseless*

        Yep. Add in the fact that I know that the products I currently use (soap, shampoo, laundry detergent etc) don’t leave me smelling bad and they themselves dont have unpleasant or clashing scents. But this was achieved through trial and error and a few slightly awkward conversations with trusted friends. What would happen to me if I did go into this job and it turns out my new face cream had a fragrance I didnt know about? Would it harm someone, would I be fired? Unless it was a once in a lifetime opportunity then I’d probably drop out of the interview process, anxiety about fragrance isnt something I want to deal with more than I have to

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Same with shampoo — if I had to follow a strict no-fragrance policy, it might take me a while to find one that I could still use and have my hair be halfway professionally presentable. (If I developed a scent allergy myself, I might just shave my head, but that seems a little extreme for a workplace policy.)

          1. Xarcady*

            Frangrance-free shampoo is hard. I use unscented products just as a personal preference. There are no unscented shampoos/conditioners in the stores around here. Twice I’ve ordered some online and both times they left my hair feeling and looking like straw. The stuff I use now is very lightly scented and I don’t smell it even when washing my hair, but I don’t know what I’d do if I had to find completely fragrance-free shampoo.

        2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          I’m scent sensitive and I’d have a hard time complying with a fragrance-free policy. I’ve spent a lot of time picking out products that don’t trigger a migraine/asthma attack/rash. There aren’t many truly fragrance-free products out there, so I make do with the unscented or very very very mildly scented products that are easily available in regular stores.

          Incidentally, my whole family is scent-sensitive due to asthma/allergies and migraines, and we can’t even agree on “safe” scents between us.

    2. Bilateralrope*

      I think that if I’m ever in a fragrance free workplace, I would ask the employer for a list of recommended soaps and deodorants. Then I’d pick something from their list that works with my budget.

      1. JSPA*

        This! Or ask the sensitive person what works for them and their family.

        Anosmia is also a recognized issue, and something “to be accommodated.” That means, no firing for doing the best you can (including active searching for suggestions and for feedback).

    3. CommanderBanana*

      My fear too! I’ve had extensive sinus surgery and a rhinoplasty as a result and have very little sense of smell.

  8. wayward*

    If an employer’s scent-free product was strict enough to cover essential stuff like deodorant and laundry detergent, can they be expected to provide products for employees to use that do meet their standards?

    1. Aquawoman*

      I’d rather wear sweatpants and my employer doesn’t let me, should they pay for my work slacks?

    2. YouwantmetodoWHAT?!*

      Scent free cleaning products are not unusual and no longer cost xx more than the scented ones. So, no, I don’t think that they should have to, or maybe only on a one time basis.
      Personally, I wish that clothing detergents/softeners never came scented – the smell builds up, and I get respitory problems in a snap. Like someone who uses them/has build up walks past me & I can’t breathe. Ya, that fast. Fortunately it passes quickly. But blarg!

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        You can make your own laundry detergent from easy to get products (baking powder, Fels-Naptha, borax, washing soda). It’s scent-free and far cheaper than scent-free or even regular laundry detergent. And vinegar for softener. I found this to be the best way to avoid scents in laundry detergents while saving money.

        1. Quill*

          I’ve got a mason jar of vinegar with some orange peels steeping in it for spot-cleaning stuff around the kitchen. Originally started because there were ants getting in the back door and I didn’t want to put anything else near where the dog’s food bowl was, but I discovered that drowning the sliding door track in lemony vinegar does, in fact, lead to a temporary reduction in ants! (They aren’t smelling their scent trails over it but one comes in surveying eventually and leads the rest.)

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            Oh! I’ve never heard of that before. I have plenty of vinegar (thank you, Costco!) and lots of citrus. Definitely going to try this.

            FWIW, I’ve also had good luck using lemon to encourage spiders to move along, but used furniture polish. I think this natural solution is much better, and probably much more efficacious.

            1. Quill*

              I mean, if you have ants, the trick is to scrub away their scent trails. So you want dissolving (vinegar) and smell (both!)

        2. Agnes*

          If working somewhere is going to require making my own laundry detergent, I definitely want to know that before I take the job.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            I probably wouldn’t work there, but I switched to this when I found out the reason that I itched all the time was the soap I was using. After making my own, the itching completely went away.

            1. JSPA*

              Borax and orange peel are both on my “itch like a MoFo” list. Glad it works for you, of course, but sadly, this isn’t a “one fix fits all” thing. (Soapnuts and exactly one of the free/clear national detergent brands are both fine for me, luckily.)

            2. Third or Nothing!*

              I started making my own when my doctor told me I should avoid all sulfates due to an allergic reaction to a sulfate based antibiotic. SLS free stuff is so freaking expensive but man my skin has never been happier.

          2. Elitist Semicolon*

            Oh hell yes. For me, the line between “minor adjustment to ensure the safety of a co-worker” and “change 98% of products you use at home to ensure the safety of a co-worker” is pronounced enough that I’d be declining politely and sending out other applications.

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              (Not to suggest I wish ill upon co-workers or would deny them safety! Just that if I have to work harder outside of work to be able to work while at work, then I’m going to pursue other options.)

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I have been making my own laundry soap for a little over a decade now – and yes it is very low scent. I use washing soda, borax, ivory soap, and water.

      2. Bilateralrope*

        I recently switched to a scentless clothes washing liquid because I noticed that it was cheaper per wash than other brands. Not because it was cheaper per ml, but because its instructions said to use less of it per wash.

    3. ExcelJedi*

      Do you mean expected to provide a list of acceptable products? A good employer might give some examples, but that’s dangerously close to overbearing.

      Could you imagine getting called into HR to explain your brand choice? “What deodorant are you wearing today?”…”There aren’t any Dove products on our recommended list. Why did you think it would be a good substitution for the unscented Secret we suggested?”

      1. B*

        Sadly there are people in the comments here arguing that yes, that is apparently ok.

        Definitely not for me!

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Unscented Secret is an ironic example, because that product apparently uses a masking fragrance that triggers my migraines. Or maybe it’s the underlying product itself…all I know is I started getting my migraines under control the year I forgot to pack deodorant on a trip and ended up with Tom’s of Maine.
        Go figure…allergies are weird.

    4. Anonariffic*

      I think that’s the point at which the accommodation starts being unreasonable and they need to look into giving the scent sensitive employee work from home setup or a private office with its own little wall of HEPA filters around it or something – it’s one thing to tell people not to use perfume or cologne or Axe bodyspray (which should be banned as a chemical weapon under the Geneva Convention anyway) before they come to work, but strictly controlling everyone’s home brands of shampoo and deodorant and detergent is going too far. Like the office that tried to accommodate an employee with OCD by ordering everyone to take off their wedding rings and alternate male and female when they were waiting outside for the bus after work.

      1. Eukomos*

        I would agree. It’s hard to find unscented hair products, and it’s hard to find ones that work well with my curly hair even when I’m not limited by a rule like that! And I’m white, I shudder to think of the implications of an employer trying to tell curly-haired POC what hair products they can and cannot use.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, especially if you’re using products (like cocoa butter) where the smell isn’t an added fragrance, it’s just part of the product naturally.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          I have a fragrance allergy, so I definitely feel you there. There have been points in my life that I just gave up on not having an itchy scalp full-time.

          1. Eukomos*

            It’s crazy that hair products in particular are so hard to find unscented. Seems like a real gap in the market, someone could make money advertising their brand as the one for fragrance-sensitive people.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Thank the internet, I’ve finally founded a no-fragrance-added hair gel. I’m trying to get one of my local shops to carry it!

            2. Amethystmoon*

              Right, and even as someone with hives, it’s hard to find something unscented. Sometimes I might have to buy the organic one with coconut oil that doesn’t trigger hives, but is technically not unscented.

      2. UKDancer*

        Agreed. I think a lot of people would be willing to abide by a policy of “no perfume at work.” I think far fewer would be willing to use entirely different shampoo, laundry products etc.

        It’s quite difficult to find shampoos that actually work for my hair and deal with my dandruff effectively without making my hair look awful. None of the things I use on my hair smell very strongly, but I’d be very annoyed if an employer tried to restrict the hair products I could use.

      3. allathian*

        Agreed! My office is scent-free, as in no perfume, aftershave or cologne. I’m fine with that, but I wouldn’t be fine with a ban on scented shampoo.
        I’m mildly sensitive to scents, although Fahrenheit and Chanel n:o 5 give me an instant migraine.

    5. B*

      This was the exact questions I posed to my first employer when they extended their ‘fragrance-free in the workplace’ policy to include, prior to going to work, the use of any scented products (shampoo/lotion/deodorant – anything within two hours of coming into the office). They took back the amendment fairly quickly and instead set the employee up to work from home.

    6. Jdc*

      I think the point he is making is that just to interview perhaps or at least start I now have to spend possibly hundreds or dollars on products that meet their standards because I didn’t use them before. In theory this could be every facial product I use, shampoo, soap, laundry soap, etc. Sorry but I already bought those things and my budget doesn’t allow me to buy them all over again.

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    For fragrance free policies, you absolutely have to say it in the job ad and also when you set up the interview. It’s important because you’re inviting someone to your office and presumably have someone who’s sensitive on staff, you don’t want someone swanning into the lobby doused in their favorite aftershave or perfume.

    If we had a policy about food bans, I’d bring it up when I was talking about our company and our general culture. We always introduce ourselves and the company over view, it fits in perfectly there.

    If it’s going to impact someone’s daily life, like that, you have to be up front about it. no reason to hide it! I’d rather someone say “I actually can only eat cumin and therefore cannot work somewhere I cannot shake it directly into my mouth on the hourly basis.” than to have them start and get the place collectively gasping when they reach for their spice shaker for lunch, you know.

    Transparency when it comes to the company is important to both of you. It’s different on the employer side, I’m trying to not scare you away but I’m also not trying to get you into the office and surprise you with rules and regs you didn’t see coming.

    1. Ann Onny Muss*

      You make an excellent point about transparency, and when it is appropriate to state bans on different allergens. (I also laughed at the mental image of someone dumping a bottle of cumin in their mouth and the horrified looks of bystanders.)

  10. ynotlot*

    After that unforgettable thread on here where the person was deathly allergic to dogs and interviewed or got a job at a dog-friendly office, I ALWAYS talk about dogs in interviews, even though we literally have dogs in the office maybe twice a quarter.
    I say: “By the way, we occasionally have dogs in the office. Is that something you feel comfortable with?”
    If it was a scent-free office, I would probably say something similar, or simply drop a note in the job ad or interview confirmation email saying that the office is scent-free and explaining what that meant.
    I have never yet felt the need to say, “We really cannot have people heating up fish in the microwave because more than one person works here” in an interview. At my old job though, I did put a sign on the microwave asking people to consider others and listing a few foods that have very strong smells and don’t belong on an open shared work floor. (I listed fish, kale, and popcorn. The main offenders felt called-out and were cranky, but come on, we had a whole ‘nother microwave in the kitchen. You don’t need to burn your popcorn in the middle of everyone’s desks.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes that note though would be an overstep in many offices. I agree with asking people to be mindful but I’ve literally asked everyone in our shared space if popcorn bothered them and they all say “no it reminds me of the movies and it just makes me want some.”

      But I don’t know these heathens who burn their popcorn. I can’t eat even a slightly burnt piece without vomiting, lol.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I love burnt popcorn. But I’m entirely WFH, so I only offend my cat.

        1. Alton*

          Me too! I love the smell and taste of it and would purposely burn my popcorn more often if I wasn’t afraid of starting a fire in my microwave. (Wouldn’t do it at work, though).

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        Popcorn does, however, have a strong smell and, importantly, like with microwaved fish, the smell tends to linger. So if smells tend to escape from the room where you’re microwaving it, and once escaped tends to creep into people’s offices, it’s good to check in with people. Ynotlot mentioned that they had a microwave in the kitchen, so it’s not like the note on the microwave is banning people from eating or popping microwave, just asking people to be mindful of others in an open floor plan. It’s nice that you have checked with your coworkers, and as someone with a corn allergy who gets a headache from the smell of cooking popcorn (not sure if it’s the allergy or something else), i have to say that’s very considerate of you.

      3. Quill*

        Honestly burnt popcorn smells like mandatory 3 AM college fire drills to me, complete with bunny slippered sorority girls from the floor below trying to find the culprit.

      4. Elizabeth Proctor*

        It sounds like ynotlot’s office had two microwaves and one was in a more contained, food specific space. I don’t think it’s an overstep to ask people to use the kitchen microwave instead of maybe the open office wall coffee bar one for food that have a particularly strong and/or lingering smell.

      5. voluptuousfire*

        At an old job, a woman would make microwave popcorn every day at 4 pm and every day she would burn it. The smell would linger. You didn’t even need to look at the clock, just the smell told you it was 4 pm.

    2. Oof*

      Oh thank you – I HATE the smell of popcorn when I am really focused. Because I love popcorn, and it breaks my work mind completely up. It’s fine if I know it’s coming, and mentally shift to oh boy they are going to give me popcorn now. And then I can do something else until it passes. Oh I love popcorn. THANKS YNOTLOT! I just wanted break from work and now I just want popcorn! You shouldn’t have microwaved the popcorn in your comment! LOL

    3. closely, closely to the floor*

      Yeah, the letter from the person who was allergic to dogs and then discovered that the office had an exceptionally “open” dog policy … yeesh, that was a nightmare. Did they ever figure out a ‘solution’ other than quitting and finding another job?

        1. Blueberry*

          Did you read the letter? The person was interviewed in a side meeting room that was somewhat separate from the main seating area, and had no idea the office was dog friendly until she arrived for her first day and was brought into the main seating area full of dogs. I remember this detail because I was so struck by how unexpected and unforeseeable it was.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          They wouldn’t have, but they weren’t warned. That’s the point.

      1. Blueberry*

        IIRC, no. In fact, her manager and others turned against her, but fortunately she found another job and could leave.

    4. tetris replay*

      Ha, my office experience with popcorn has been “you’d better have enough to share!”

    5. Iris Eyes*

      And some brands of microwave popcorn smell like Parmesan (aka stinky feet).

      Where I work we have an air popper, doesn’t really ever get used but it does exist. I think most people either buy prepopped or just do without.

  11. LGC*

    Whatever you do, LW, if your job ever decides to implement hugs for scent checks…1) please don’t and 2) if you do, at least have the decency to mention it in the job listing so people know your company is banana crackers.

    But yeah – I feel like this is something that’s uncommon enough that I feel like it might be a once in a lifetime thing? Although I did once take a business trip with someone who was allergic to allium plants (so garlic and onions, if I have that right). And I know this isn’t part of the question at all, but it feels like that’s a fairly broad policy, although it also depends on the workspace. (Like, there might not BE another microwave. But also, I hate the idea of policing what people eat. But also, I hate the idea of someone going into anaphylactic shock over chicken vindaloo.)

    Personally speaking – as a dude who is not Indian but does enjoy Indian food on occasion – I’d definitely like to know about any food restrictions as soon as possible. I’d be able to comply fairly easily, but I would probably have a couple of reservations.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      hugs for scent checks

      What? Is that an actual thing somewhere? That’s just bizarre, and especially these days, dangerous.

      1. Myrin*

        It’s a reference to a previous AAM letter (and it’s actually linked in the “you might also like” section below this letter).

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        you must have missed it! It was a letter on AAM!!!! It’s a thing that happened :”(

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        I remember there was a letter to Alison about an office that had that policy! It was creepy af.

        (Also, if the smell is so faint that you literally have to hug someone to detect it, is it actually going to bother anyone?)

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The update (updates?) were interesting. .. the scent- sensitive person was exaggerating things and generally being a glass bowl. It reflected badly on allergic people in general. Seriously ticked me off.

  12. Rexish*

    I think some of these could be mentioned in the listing
    “We are a scent-free/dog friendly/nut(job)free” office etc.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, especially the nut one – peanut allergies can be severe enough to send someone to the hospital if a person ate a peanuts and granola bar in their car before an interview and had to sit in the same room as the Allergy sufferer for an interview.

    2. Christmas Carol*

      I would take a major pay cut to work in a nut-job free workplace, but would need to see an official certification first.

  13. Hiring Mgr*

    My father used to work with the late Burl Ives on some freelance projects, and according to my dad Mr Ives wasn’t allergic to anything in particular, but didn’t like cold cuts so they often had to find other lunch choices.

    1. Marthooh*

      Well, when you’re pals with Santa Claus, I guess you can get away with random food bans.

  14. Karia*

    Word go. It’s a different thing but I found out two weeks after accepting a job that we were expected to keep our phones locked away and weren’t allowed headphones. We’re also only allowed to get coffee at certain times. I’m an introvert and an adult.

    If I’d known ahead of time I’d have never taken the job. As it is it’s caused huge resentment and I am constantly on the lookout for better positions.

  15. Ruth (UK)*

    As a job candidate I would definitely want to know if an office was, for example, nut-free or something. I’d have to change my eating pattern in terms of what sort of snacks I could bring and have, and I’m someone who struggles to eat enough in the day.

    It’s not something I’d necessarily leave a job I already have over (if my office went nut-free tomorrow, I wouldn’t necessarily job search over that alone) but it’s also something that would make me consider not actively switching to taking a job there, if I knew in advance, and I’d like to be able to know things that might affect my decision on whether I wanted the job.

  16. tetris replay*

    Yes, strict rules around foods allowed in the office need to be disclosed ahead of the offer! A lot of people have dietary restrictions, allergies and eating disorders of their own that make it disruptive or unhealthy to change their own diets, and that might make a job an untenable fit for them. See competing access needs: a set of accommodations that are necessary for different people but are hard to meet at the same time.

    1. Nanani*

      Yep this. When the thing one person is allergic to is the main staple for someone else who has a different set of medical needs, you need to get that knowledge out there.

      1. Jdc*

        I recall someone mentioned they are autistic and changing their patterns even with brands they buy is very disruptive for them.

  17. A*

    Please put it in the job ad. I know it might seem like an over reaction to some, but I figure it’s easy enough to include at the bottom and there’s really no harm in including it, but potentially lots to gain.

    Personally these kinds of things make a big difference when I’m job hunting or entertaining a recruitment effort. I completely respect an employer’s choice (or in the case of ADA requirements, need) to put such measures in place, but I personally do not feel comfortable being asked by my employer to make accommodations that extend outside the workplace. I.E. more than reasonable to ask employees not to apply perfume before walking into the office / use fragrance-free products on the property, but I don’t agree with requirements that employees use fragrance-free shampoo/lotion/deodorant etc). I am uninterested in making that level of accommodation, and it also serves as a red flag to me that it is not a good match as they have shown signs of over reaching based on my personal definitions. I tend to stick with the belief that reasonable accommodations by an employer end where they impede on the lives of their employees outside of work. Food accommodations that can be reasonably expected to have a larger impact fall under this category for me as well (i.e. common spices which would require someone to change how they cook at home or require them to no longer bring leftovers, versus eating a jelly sandwich instead of a PB&J).

    I put a lot of thought and time into my applications and cover letters, leveraging networking contacts etc. and would be irritated to find out it was for nothing because of a deal breaker like this that could be easily and quickly communicated prior to applying.

    I want to be clear, I have nothing against these accommodations and am not saying they shouldn’t exist. I just know those environments are not the right fit for me, nor I for them. Which is totally ok. Why waste time?

    1. mf*

      “I tend to stick with the belief that reasonable accommodations by an employer end where they impede on the lives of their employees outside of work.”

      Totally with you on this. I would resent an employer whose accommodations restricted what kind of shampoo I use or what spices I eat in my leftovers at lunch. That just means I’m not the right person to apply for a job or work at a place like this.

        1. allathian*

          If an employee needs their coworkers to change how they live outside the office, it’s no longer reasonable. The severely allergic employee needs to work from home. I sincerely hope that one consequence of the current pandemic is that in ordinary office jobs at least, people will be directed to WFH more frequently. A no-perfume policy is fine and dandy, but a no scented shampoo policy would have me looking for another job.

        2. Blueberry*

          Resentment is an emotion. What matters with regard to other coworkers are actions. One action is to cut out all recommended products, foods, etc, to prevent triggering the coworker’s allergies. Another action is to choose not to take a job where one would have to cut out all of these items from one’s own life. Both of these actions result in not exposing the allergic worker, which is the ultimate goal, right?

          (This is not, by the way, an endorsement of being sulky/insulting/snide/disbelieving to someone with allergies. Such rudenesses are *also* actions, ones which should not be undertaken. But I think people are allowed to say to themselves, “that is too much for me to do” and to choose to go elsewhere instead.)

  18. nnn*

    Another benefit of disclosing a fragrance-free policy before the interview is you get to see at the interview how the person presents themselves when they’re attempting to be fragrance-free (or, at least, when they’ve been told to be fragrance-free).

    If candidates are given the instruction to be fragrance-free and, for whatever reason, a fragrance-sensitive employee breaks out in hives when a candidate walks past (whether it’s because the candidate doused themselves in perfume or because of the residual scent of their laundry detergent) that’s useful information to have.

    1. Julia*

      That seems kind of unfair to the candidate. If called in for an interview, would you go out and buy a new detergent and rewash all your interview clothes? I know my suit is dry cleaning only, how would that work? I would not use perfume that day (which I usually don’t anyway for job interviews), but a lot of people changing jobs won’t have the time to redo their laundry and research fragrance-free everything before an interview if they are already working.

      1. Mookie*

        I would think it’s possible to wash already clean clothes in a detergent-free cycle with no ill effect. Few interviews take place the same day they were offered, so washing a single outfit for an interview planned a few days later will not be onerous for most people.

        1. Julia*

          Does the detergent-free cycle remove the scent? What about having to re-iron or press the clothes?

          1. Cheshire Cat*

            It depends on how heavily scented the detergent is. If it has a light scent, running through a full cycle might remove it. Adding vinegar instead of fabric softener will help remove it, too.

        2. Jojo*

          What about people who have to use the laundry mat? Doing laundry at the laundry mat can 2 hours between waiting on a machine and dryer. Plus travel time. Doing a special trip after work to wash an interview outfit might not always work.

  19. KayEss*

    I definitely dodged a bullet once thanks to a company being self-aware enough to disclose during interviews that they had a strict suit-and-tie/skirts-with-hose dress code in an industry where that was unusual. I got the distinct feeling from the way they said it that they’d had some rapid turnover issues due to people taking jobs not knowing about that policy.

    On the other hand, I worked for a while in a department where it turned out that one of the managers had a phobia of… gelatin. Someone innocently brought in a Jello cup with their lunch and she freaked out and had to remove herself from the room. The weird part was that the other managers/long-time employees all acted as if “no Jello in the office” was somehow common knowledge and the Jello-bringer had been irresponsible, while all of us who had been hired in the past 3 years (including the Jello-bringer) were like “???” at it.

    1. Ann O.*

      Now I will always wonder if her phobia is logical enough that it wouldn’t trigger if the person with the Jello cup was someone the manager knew would have a gelatin-free version (i.e. they were strictly vegetarian or kosher keeping)

      1. KayEss*

        It was related to the wiggly, jiggly texture, not the ingredients. I don’t remember if pudding was also an issue, but it may have been.

    2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      I get that this seems crazy, but I feel similarly about eggs. Not only can I not eat them without getting super sick, the smell makes me nauseous and even looking at them is difficult. My mom and her brother are the same way. I only ask my husband not to cook them at home though, as hard as it is being in a small room with someone eating eggs during a meeting, I try to breathe through my mouth and plow through. I wish I wasn’t like this.

    1. D'Arcy*

      Given how broad the range of interpretations of “scent free” is, I’d find it panic inducing.

  20. Potato Girl*

    Definitely put it in the job ad. If I get called for an interview, I’d have to scramble to find a fragrance-free hair wax that works identically to the one I already use.

    1. Potato Girl*

      Which sounds ridiculous and petty and vain, but I have the same hair I came out of the womb with, and I wear it in a pixie cut. so it absolutely needs product to look professional.

      1. D'Arcy*

        Considering how stringently the appearance of women in the workplace is judged, I don’t think it’s petty or vain at all to worry about maintaining your professional look under arbitrarily interpreted restrictions.

  21. Rockin Takin*

    My last job was working in clean ISO rooms and at our facility you could not wear any makeup, jewelry, nail polish, hair products like hairspray, or perfume. During interviews we mentioned that quickly because for some people that’s a deal breaker.
    My current job requires full face respirators and I’ve had men turn down the position because they do not want to shave their beards (respirators require a clean shaven face for correct seal).

    It’s best to be upfront and if possible mention it before the in person interview so you don’t waste people’s time.

  22. Sun Tzu*

    I would also be very wary about that particular employee who quit the job for a food ban.
    Employer: – From now on, you cannot bring food with spice XYZ to work because someone is allergic to it.
    Me: – Eh, fair enough. I’ll bring something else to eat then.
    That employee: – I resign immediately!

    1. Jenny*

      I think you should read some of the comments earlier in the thread about how some spices are ubiquitous in some kinds of cooking, and how such a policy might disproportionately affect someone from a culture than uses that uses that spice. (Nothing wrong with the policy itself, but it’s not an insane thing to job search over).

    2. Anonariffic*

      The equivalent here isn’t that the employer told you that you can’t have a ham sandwich tomorrow so you bring a turkey one instead. It’s that you usually bring in sandwiches, muffins, pasta, or bagels for lunch but your employer has told you that the entire office is now gluten free and *everything* that you routinely eat is off limits.

      This employee’s options are either changing everything they cook to exclude spice X so that their leftovers are permitted (and if they don’t live alone, that means the entire family’s dinner now has to comply with the new rules) or spending more money to buy an entirely separate set of X-free foods and then spending more time to make lunches rather than just tossing last night’s tupperware in their bag. It’s a pretty significant disruption.

  23. CommanderBanana*

    I can’t think of any spices that are found ONLY in Indian food and nowhere else, so banning an entire cuisine seems…..suspicious to me.

    1. somanyquestions*

      They didn’t ban Indian food, they banned a couple spices that are very common in Indian food.
      It was a reasonable thing to do, they just should be much more up-front about the whole thing so people know before take the job.

    2. Rainy*

      I can’t eat any Southeast Asian cuisines due to my turmeric, chicken, shrimp, bean, banana, and brassica allergies. Thai, Indian, Malaysian, everything–it’s all off limits. I also can’t eat some regional varieties of Mexican food because even if I can find something without beans, the sauces have chicken stock, and the more proudly authentic ones sometimes have insects in them, and my shellfish allergy means that trying insects is a bad idea. This is a real thing that some of us struggle with.

  24. E*

    I was hoping to see elsewhere in the comments but didn’t see anyone talking about it… what would people DO if they got a notification that an interview was scent-free? All of my detergents/lotions/hair products are lightly scented, and as much as I might buy special options for a job I really want, I certainly can’t for an interview. Other than going in with ashy skin, unstyled hair, and dirty clothes, what are people meant to do when suddenly confronted by an obscure non-food allergy?

    1. DataSci*

      Ask for clarification? It could be that “fragrance free” in their case means “no perfumes or colognes” (for some people, the carriers used in perfumes are the actual trigger rather than the scent itself), or that for an interview where you won’t be directly interacting with the allergic person a lightly scented shampoo or lotion is fine. I’d tell the person who informed you of the policy exactly what you said here about your products, and ask for clarification on what the policy means.

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