can we ask job candidates to follow our scent-free policy at interviews?

A reader writes:

The admin team at the front of our office is very sensitive to strong smells (good or bad). Our company is currently hiring for an off-site position, but the interviews are happening in our office. The last few candidates who have come in for interviews have been bathed in perfume, to the point where the scent lingers for an hour after they’ve left. Our office has a scent-free policy for employees, and I’ve suggested that managers bringing in candidates for interviews include the following statement with with their invitation to the interview: “Our workplace observes a scent-free policy, and we’d appreciate it if you would refrain from wearing any perfume or other scented products for your interview.”

The managers pushed back, stating that they can’t impose an office policy on non-employees. I think that out of respect for those who are impacted by those scents and can’t leave their desks or shut their doors to mitigate the smell, we should make the request to applicants. I would go so far as allowing my admin team to leave their work area for the duration of the visit if the impact is too severe.

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Messaging someone sitting right next to you
  • How do I shut down discussion about my name change?
  • Perks for being on-call

{ 332 comments… read them below }

  1. I just work here*

    I’d say this is a totally reasonable ask, and – as someone with scent sensitivities – would likely not hire anyone who didn’t pay attention to the request and came in bathed in perfume anyway.

    1. My Useless 2 Cents*

      It’s totally reasonable to ask people to refrain from heavy scents when interviewing and I’d definitely question any applicant who disregarded the request.

      I’ve always thought it is a common rule of thumb to refrain from heavy perfumes/colognes/scents when interviewing.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It is. That advice has been given for at least the last 20 years or so that I’ve been working.

      2. Tango Charlie*

        I always say they can buy their own bubble. I. using scented soap, shampoo, deodorant

    2. Artemesia*

      Perfumes and after shave is an easy ask. If the demand is for scent free laundry products, shampoos etc, then no. This is something easy for the candidate to do and considerate to the admin — and send the message to applicants that their personal needs are important to the business.

      1. anon for this*

        I think that’s where the pushback is coming from – the phrasing above definitely struck me as including deodorant, shampoo, and so forth. If I were asked to interview, I’d be extremely stressed out by that request. (Assorted health issues mean that I cannot simply skip said products or switch to something else for the day, assuming I could even find completely unscented/scent-free products within whatever time I had available pre-interview.)

        It’s one thing to ask people to avoid perfume and aftershave, but *all* scented products is unreasonable given how many products are involved and the fact that you’re just asking them for a single interview.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, this. My employer has a scent-free policy but that only extends to not wearing perfume or scented aftershave, not deodorant, shampoo, or laundry detergents. You also can’t use scented hand lotion at your desk. The difference is that unless someone’s extremely sensitive to scent, they shouldn’t be able to smell your shampoo, at least not unless your hair is still wet. The same thing goes for laundry detergents, which tend to have a milder scent here in Finland anyway than in some other countries.

        This policy also applies to job candidates, who are asked not to wear scent to in-person interviews. I would expect that ignoring that request would be a red flag and the candidate would have to be a rockstar to even be considered after that.

        1. I take tea*

          “laundry detergents […] tend to have a milder scent here in Finland anyway than in some other countries.”

          As I sometimes have to hold my breath in the elevator because of a family that uses far, far to much scented laundry detergent or fabric softener, this makes me shudder – there are places where it’s worse? Then I did read about laundry beads, which are meant to intensify the so called “clean smell” in your clothes, so that they don’t lose it too fast. That’s something I’ve never seen here.

          I think of “scent free” as “wear no extra scent”, not “never use anything scented”, if not specified as “really, truly scent free”, for example if you are working with asthmatic people.

          1. Elsewise*

            Someone in my apartment complex uses such heavily scented detergent that I can smell it from all the way down the hall! At least it serves as a pre-warning for me to not use the laundry room that day, because oh god does it linger.

            As far as the request to job applicants goes, I’ve gotten this before somewhere I applied. From what I recall the phrasing was something along the lines of “we are a fragrance-free office, so please do not wear perfume or cologne.” Another time I got to the interview and saw a sign stating that it was a fragrance-free office, and they hadn’t told me beforehand! I usually don’t wear scents, but was trying something out, so I actually was wearing some perfume. I discreetly went to the bathroom and washed it off the best I could. No one commented on it, and I wound up being offered the job, so I guess if they could smell it on me, they didn’t count it against me! (I turned down the job for other reasons.)

            1. The Rural Juror*

              A close friend of mine gave me some sweaters when she was cleaning out her closet. They’re lovely, and I wear them often, but it took THREE washes to get the heavy detergent smell out! That stuff is no joke!

              However, there’s such a wide range of scents and intensities that it would be unreasonable to ask someone to go totally scent-free, especially for an interview. Same with beauty products!

              It was considerate of you to try to wash it away as much as possible once you saw the sign.

          2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            I bought a pair of trousers second hand and the smell as I pulled them out of my scent-free washing machine the first time hit me with a vengeance. This was merely residual product from previous washes! I had forgotten what normal laundry products smell like, I only use a product my friend makes from lavendar water and ash. There’s a delicate scent of lavendar, but my hyperallergic friend who reacts to lavendar oil drops on her pillow doesn’t seem to have a problem with my clothes (we hug a lot too).

          3. IneffableBastard*

            As my high-efficiency machine does not allow for much detergent and I do not use softener, I use the beads, so my clothes smell faintly of washing instead of smelling like nothing or like drawer. The beads are not heavily-scented and are easy to measure, so this family must be going way overboard with their washing.

        2. Princess Sparklepony*

          If someone can smell your shampoo, they are standing too close to you. I’m standing by that.

          The laundry detergent thing is trickier. I do use scent beads because some of my stuff sits in the dresser for a long time between wearing and it makes my sheets smell fresh (I have multiple sets so it’s about a month in the drawer.) So I might be a hazard to the scent sensitive.

          But someone will have to pry my Secret Clinical Strength Stress Response deodorant from my hot sweaty hands!

          1. Kal*

            My partner once tried a shampoo that I could smell from across the room and made my migraines horrible. It was so strong, even when they spent extra time trying to rinse it out more thoroughly.

            I always interpret scent-free rules (and often they explicitly state) that it means to avoid strong scents, so I follow those rules unless they clearly specify that it is absolutely no fragrance. And by strong scent, it means the sort that others will have to smell if they are in a normal, expected distance from you. So my partner’s smelly shampoo would be out, but my shampoo where the scent disappears as soon as its rinsed is fine. Deodorant/antiperspirant should normally be in the latter category – and sweat/BO can itself be a scent hazard so there are cases where a scented deodorant is the less scented option.

            Most times though its a policy meant to address people who wear extremely smelly products – the people leaving clouds of perfume or axe smell everywhere they go. One of those is equal to 50 people whose clothes smell faintly of scented detergent.

      3. sundae funday*

        Agreed, but on the other hand, it could avoid wasting everyone’s time to let candidates know ahead of time if the policy is that strict. Most people aren’t going to be willing to exchange all their products for scent-free versions to work somewhere.

    3. ferrina*

      Yeah, if they are just asking for candidates to not wear perfume/cologne, that’s a really reasonable ask!

    4. I Have RBF*

      I consider it a reasonable ask.

      I have fragrance sensitivities, and perfume, after shave or other non-essential scents on an applicant tend to turn me off (and make me cough.) It’s really hard to interview someone when you can’t breathe well in their presence.

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      And it also gives a heads up to potential interviewees so they don’t make a “bad” first impression without even knowing it. I’d hate to have a great interview and then hear that my perfume knocked me out of the running when I could easily not have worn it!

      1. Bagpuss*

        also allows anyone for whom the policy would be a dealbreaker to decide not to go forward with the interview or their application

    6. tamarack etc.*

      Yeah, me, too. A note about the scent-free policy at the bottom of the invitation email, together with the other logistics (“Please use the entrance marked B, turn left into reception, and check in with the receptionist” or “A guest parking pass in your name will be waiting for you at the guard station of to the parking area” or whatever) would be completely unremarkable to me.

      1. starsaphire*

        Several interviews I’ve had in the last five years have had similar requests. I specifically remember two different interviews that asked me to not wear perfume due to a scent-free policy.

    7. Erin*

      I would be grateful to the person who provided this info to me before the interview. I’m not huge on fragrance in general, but I would be mortified if I inadvertently violated this policy, and someone in the office got sick from something I was wearing.

  2. Chairman of the Bored*

    It is very routine to impose site-specific policies on non-employees.

    Want to come visit our manufacturing area? Doesn’t matter whether you work here or not, you’re wearing safety glasses or you don’t get in.

    1. nm*

      Yeah, I think it’s very normal and reasonable (helpful, even!) to tell interviewees the policies/norms at that stage–if they’re gonna work there they need to know anyway!

      1. Paulina*

        The job itself is offsite, which presumably is why the managers are pushing back — it’s not going to be a requirement of the job. But as said above, it’s common to impose site requirements, because they’re for everyone who comes in the door. If this office had a delivery person coming in who was highly scented, ruining the day of many of the staff, they’d need to make the issue clear there as well.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      My first thought went to safety, too. We can’t force non employees to follow our rules.
      Isn’t that exactly what a drug test is doing? “Our employees can use marijuana.” So we are going make sure you haven’t before you become an employee.
      And a less debatable example:
      If you are a 100% non smoking facility, even outside, you would tell people.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      Same with us. You want into the production plant? You’re putting on full PPE, regardless of whether or not you work here.

      1. münchner kindl*

        But the PPE/ Hard hats are usually provided at the site.

        Going scent-free requires the applicant to use a different product; because it’s not just “I will not put on perfume I’d otherwise use” – the human body has a variety of smells it produces naturally, from the waste products what you ate last evening, part of which are released as gas on your breath and part of which come out on your skin; the pheromones adult bodies produce to attract mates and which differ from person to person; personal medical problems (even if being treated) can lead to smells; and if the weather is hot, just moving around causes the natural reaction of sweating.

        All those natural (non-fragrance) smells are considered unacceptable by society, and it’s required to wear deodorant/ antitranspirant etc. to cover these smells.
        Which then collides with the next problem: human bodies vary a lot, so where one person can use a fragrance-free deodarant and have no problems, another person needs a strong antitranspirant and still smells, because of the pheromones their body produces. Or because they smell from the mouth, and by using mouth wash, they make the problem worse, but don’t know it. (Also the mouthwash has a strong fragrance deliberatly to mask the natural stinky mouth breath….)
        Or it’s what they eat breaking down incorrectly because they have lactose intolerance, but don’t know it, just that sometimes they have stomach aches, but the waste products smell very strong because it’s a different biochemical process.

        So how does an individual applicant who’s not already scent-free navigate that?

        Also excludes people who take public transport or Uber/ Taxis, because you can pick up a smell on your clothes from fellow passengers/ the car.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I strongly disagree with your last point about public transport and taxis.

          Of course it’s possible to pick up a smell on your clothes from fellow passengers… but that is very different from the level of scent left by using a product with fragrance yourself. Just like there is a huge difference between the smell of someone who smokes cigarettes vs someone who happened to sit next to a smoker on the bus this morning.

          And in the rare circumstance where the fragrance is strong/clingy, you can clear that up right away by saying something like “I’m so sorry, I tried to follow your fragrance-free policy but someone on the train was spraying perfume all over the place. How do you want me to proceed?”

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      Agree! There is a Cultural Arts Center where a community theater group I have worked with frequently has rehearsals. They have signs throughout the building asking people to please not eat oranges because someone who works there has an allergy.

      Also, the proposed phrasing the letter is super polite and reasonable and I don’t think it would really even be accurate to say they are “imposing” on non-employees because at the end of the day it’s just a request and it doesn’t sound like they would plan on doing anything to try to enforce a rule or anything.

    5. ferrina*

      I once visited a vendor office who asked me to remove my shoes. It was a universal policy for their office, and they provided slippers as needed. It wasn’t safety related. It felt a little odd, but didn’t impact my experience of their office at all. Same as if there was an unusual art choice on the wall.

      1. Unsafe*

        That would be unsafe for me and for many other people. Ugh for random policies that require people to make medical disclosures.

      2. allathian*

        Some of our offices have a hypoallergenic carpet that helps to absorb sound and eliminate echoes. In those offices you have to change your shoes in a foyer with lockers where employees keep their indoor shoes. In those offices you aren’t allowed to eat at your desk or to drink anything except water, although you can bring your laptop to the breakroom and work there if you want to. Those offices also use hotdesking.

        Visitors are expected to bring their own indoor shoes or use plastic slip-ons like estate agents provide when you’re looking at potential new homes.

        That said, I use indoor shoes anyway although my office doesn’t have a carpet. I dearly wish it did, because we have long corridors due to legislation that requires office employees to be provided with a space with access to daylight, meeting rooms are an exception. You can hear someone wearing dress shoes, particularly high heels, from 50 meters/160 ft away.

        It also helps that I’m from a “no shoes indoors” culture, and have carried indoor slippers/shoes to school from a very young age. I also live in a climate cold enough to require boots rather than shoes for several months of the year, and they really are too hot to wear all day.

    6. MondayMonday*

      Totally!! I just had to sign a contract that I would adhere to the rules of the site I am visiting next week (not my employer). It is in line with Pharmaceuticals so we can’t be coming in acting/dressing the same way we would in a typical office.

  3. MaryMary*

    No perfume, yeah, sure.
    Am I buying new shampoo and deodorant for a job interview? Nope.

      1. Anonym*

        I’m one of those fun, lucky scent-sensitive people (migraines w00t), and in my experience deodorant, laundry detergent and soap are really rarely heavily scented enough to be as problematic as perfume/cologne, but some lotion definitely is, especially in a small space. In that case, you could consider not applying a super scented one right before a situation like this. Time often helps the scent fade.

        Unless you’re one of the other kind of fun people who gives zero craps about other people’s comfort, in which case you don’t want to hear this perspective anyway.

        1. umami*

          True, I am one of those people too, and it’s really floral scents (usually perfume or lotion) that are the strongest scents. Soap, deodorant and hairspray don’t linger the same way; my partner’s deodorant has a very strong scent that I can’t tolerate when he first puts on, but it quickly fades.

          1. My Useless 2 Cents*

            Chiming in as another one. One of my biggest culprits is lavender; and that is put in *everything* nowadays. It is very rare that someone else’s soap, deodorant or hairspray will bother me but recently applied lotions are a definite no-go.

            **Side story: The office cleaning lady (after being asked repeatedly for 15+ years not to) insists on putting floral scented air “fresheners” in the bathroom. I have knocked more than one into the trash by “accident”.

            1. I Have RBF*

              There was one job where I literally could not use the bathroom in the building because of the stinkum machine in there. I asked that they remove it. They said no, people “liked it”, and that trumped my need to breathe in the bathroom, apparently. Their “accommodation” was to “graciously” permit me to use a different bathroom in a different building. I am mobility impaired as well, so this sucked on multiple levels. They definitely put the “dys” in dysfunctional.

            2. hereforthecomments*

              Years ago I had an ongoing battle with the custodians where I worked. They got a new air freshener that automatically squirted every so often. As a person who gets migraines from scents, this was my worst nightmare. I was direct and asked them not to place it near my office as it caused me headaches. It would go away for a while and then be back near my office. I began moving it to the custodians’ storage room. Eventually, someone would find it there and bring it back. Somehow, one fateful day, it ended up in the big trash can where we all emptied our small trash cans and was buried there and went out with the trash.

              1. Just no*

                Those mysteriously end up blocked with toilet paper when they’re in a place I frequent.

            3. Frickityfrack*

              Ooh I hate lavender so much. Florals are a big no for me, but lavender is for sure the worst. Instant splitting headache. I’d fight that cleaning lady.

              The soap dispensers we have in the bathroom are so old the company quit selling refills earlier this year, and apparently facilities decided they weren’t going to deal with it because our new building is under construction, so we’ll be moving soon anyway (yeah, in EIGHTEEN MONTHS). Someone started buying hand soap themselves and it was all so floral. It was awful. I finally asked for facilities’ accounting codes, bought cheap pump dispensers and gallons of unscented liquid soap, and billed it to them, then went to the facilities manager’s boss and told him to fix the issue before I lost it entirely from the constant headaches. We got new dispensers a few days later.

            4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Oh I hate those scented oil plug ins – instant migraine for me regardless of scent. I had a three week “debate” that ultimately involved housing staff in college over them.

              In the end housing moved her to another dorm because she was so insistent on her need for them, and I was the established resident already in that dorm (prior roommate graduated in Dec – this all went down in Jan), and she tried to get me kicked out of the room because I didn’t like her air fresheners. Nope – I have a right to live in my dorm without health hazards. Took three days of fighting with housing – but she did eventually move. New roommate had no problem skipping the scented oils.

          2. Random Biter*

            Holy moly…..floral bathroom sprays are a guaranteed migraine trigger for me. I’ve even been purchasing vanilla-mint Poo Pourri for the bathroom here as I’m okay with anything other than the florals but some people insist on using those flower sprays (and everytime I take them out of the bathroom someone puts them back.) I’m thinking that maybe a display of pain-weeping and vomiting might change that? Yes? No?

            1. Green great dragon*

              People insist on using floral sprays after you’ve told them it causes you problems? that is really not OK. I am appalled on your behalf.

              1. Michelle Smith*

                Someone came into the bathroom once WHILE I WAS ON THE SEAT and started spraying scent until I started audibly choking. They ran out laughing like it was funny.

                I was not doing anything that caused the smell, it was there before I got there, so I don’t think they were specifically trying to harm me. But man, I had to go home wheezing that day. Not fun. I hate those sprays with a passion now.

          3. Cj*

            yep, me too. it gives me migraines. Gain is the only laundry soap that gives me issues, and that’s more of a stuffy nose type allergy reaction than a migraine. Irish Spring is the bath soap I can think of that is extremely scented and sticks around. I’m sure there are others, but generally it is perfume cologne and lotion that bothers me.

        2. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

          Reminds me of a colleague at an old firm a few years ago. I have a perfume allergy that mostly causes sneezing, except at the height of hayfever season when the double whammy causes severe reactions. I was at my desk, trying to power through the intense discomfort and get on with my work while I wheezed and snotted away and rubbed my itching eyes. Colleague at the next (open plan) desk pipes up, “Oh, dear, it’s probably my perfume that’s doing that to you.” A pause. And then, self righteously: “But it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop wearing it.”

          1. My Useless 2 Cents*

            I had a co-worker who insisted on plugging in a certain scented air “freshener” that sent my home ill on 3 separate occasions. After being asked not to use it repeatedly. They tried to use a 4th time and her “Oh, I didn’t realize it was a problem” didn’t go over well as three other coworkers went into her office and reamed her out while I sat at my desk trying not to throw up.

        3. Ellen N.*

          Laundry soap and dryer sheets are easily as bad as perfume for me.

          We use unscented laundry soap and don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets.

          I even find the smell overwhelming when our neighbor is drying his clothes.

          Recently our dryer broke, During the couple of weeks it took to get it repaired we used the laundromat to dry our clothes. The smell of the laundry soap, fabric softener and dryer sheets was awful.

          Every night when I got in bed I was horribly itchy. My husband changed the bedding to linens that had been washed and dried before our dryer broke. He didn’t tell me to avoid confirmation bias. I didn’t itch that night.

          1. Captain Vegetable ( Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

            I live down the street from a laundromat. I’ve lived here for 20+ years, but in the last few years, the odor has become noticeable and intolerable. I now, unfortunately, have to move if I want to spend time outside.

          2. Rara Avis*

            I had to stop using dryer sheets because of the itch. Luckily dryer balls work really well for me. My worst problem with laundry soap odor is at the gym — as people get warm and sweaty, their clothes start to exude more of the scents that set me off.

          3. HotSauce*

            I can’t even walk down the laundry aisle at Costco, I have to send my husband to get our unscented detergent so I don’t have an asthma attack.

            1. La Triviata*

              I gave up fabric softener and dryer sheets some time ago. I saw something from a washer repairperson that vinegar worked well at removing soap scum – the scent doesn’t seem to stick to my laundry and my clothes seem softer.

              1. NeedRain47*

                I was recently reading up on this- you’re not supposed to use vinegar if you have a front loader washer ’cause it can corrode the seal (? idk, I don’t have a front loader). I’ve tried it a few times and things do feel softer, but it smells strongly of vinegar when the wash is running! Which is probably fine if your utility room isn’t practically in the living room like mine is.

              2. Lucien Nova*

                This is also how you remove fabric softener residue from towels! A cup of vinegar in the wash.

          4. I Have RBF*

            My neighbors are an apartment complex, across two driveways from my bedroom. They leave the door to their laundry area open. I can react to the stuff while in my bedroom with the windows closed. I swear they use the cheapest, stinkiest soap powder they can find. In the summer it can be hell.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              I have no idea if this would work for you. I have carbon filters on my windows so that I can leave them open in the winter (necessary given the fact that I can’t adjust the radiator which heats my place up to 80+ degrees) without being bothered by my next-door neighbor’s prolific weed smoke.

              I don’t know how you’d use them in a closed window, but maybe some kind of air filter or purifier right at the window could make it more bearable?

              1. I Have RBF*

                That’s an interesting idea. I will admit that my house is an older Victorian that leaks air, but having a filter in the window might help.

          5. Lizcase*

            I hate dryer sheets. I feel there’s a special place in hell for whoever’s invented the long-lasting scented dryer sheets.
            I often have to wear a mask for an evening walk around the neighbourhood (pandemic converted me from scarfs/tubes to masks). I had a manager who gave me a migraine if we were having a meeting in his office with the door closed (we used the big conference room, and I still had to sit back a couple meters). If my child brings her friend home, I have to leave the room.
            It’s frustrating because most people don’t realize how much their clothes smell.

          6. I take tea*

            We have a laundromat chain here where you are not allowed to use your own laundry powder, it automatically dispenses the amount needed of scent free alternative. It’s heaven, because I can use it for washing our bedding, that won’t fit into our home machine. I could never do that in a place that let people use their own, there’s always a lot of residue.

        4. Nobby Nobbs*

          Oh man, lotion. I’m not at all scent sensitive, but one of our client sites has this lotion sitting by the sink in the Nice Bathroom that I tried once, apologized to my coworkers, and have never touched again. Judging by how long it’s been there, I think everybody must’ve tried it once, apologized to their coworkers, and never touched it again.

        5. Dear Mr Bezos*

          I’ve had problems with laundry product smells before but even that can be solved by just doing an extra rinse and not using fabric softener. Nobody needs to be buying new products.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Same! I have sensitive skin & fine hair, so it’s not as easy to find things that are both unscented & won’t cause a rash or make my hair look limp & greasy.

      If I were hired, I would work to find those kinds of products.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I already use unscented laundry detergent, which to me is the strongest personal-use scent after perfume & cologne.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          When they started marketing extended release strong scent detergents/softeners I was like, why???!!!?

          1. Quill*

            Because some people apparently cannot stand a world where there is a second they go without an artificial fragrance. Personally, I don’t know how their noses (and brains) don’t get tired…

            1. Venus*

              They probably do get tired, and that’s why they need stronger ones because they no longer notice faint ones.

            2. Michael G*

              My mother in law doubles up on the fabric softener so everything smells “extra fresh”.

            3. Kayem*

              My mom uses a ridiculous amount of ultra scented products, so bad it’s become a running joke among the rest of us. I have to bring my own hand soap when I visit, otherwise I can’t sleep from the floral fumes emanating from my hands. I refuse to use her washing machine because she gets the stinkiest detergent that lingers in the machine and pollutes my clothes, even if I bring my own unscented detergent. And my sensitivity to scents is no worse than a little sneezing and stuffy nose. But with the stuff she gets, it’s constant sneezing, they’re so overpowering.

              Whenever she visits, she makes a point of buying plug in air fresheners that are so awful, I can’t even go into the room. And she tells me she does this because (direct quote) “as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to scents.”

              HOW? In bob’s name, HOW does this work?

              She said this to me (on more than one occasion) after she had plugged an air freshener into my bathroom because she found the minty scent of my shampoo overpowering. My unscented shampoo that had three drops of peppermint oil in the entire bottle. Which hadn’t been used that day.

              I unplugged the air freshener and it took three days for the smell to dissipate enough that I stopped sneezing whenever I needed to go pee,

            4. Teaching teacher*

              my daughter is like that and has every possible scented product you could think of. She also appears not have a really sensitive nose, she can smell things that other people can’t. I think her choices in life are to smell fake flower scent or a conglomerate of everyone’s armpits and feet and bad breath that most people wouldn’t notice unless they were closer to you.

              I personally find it awful to smell her mix and match laundry soap, in wash scent booster, shampoo, deodorant, body spray, room spray, car air freshener all mixed together.

          2. Charlotte Lucas*

            My sister says she likes her clothes to “smell clean.” I pointed out that clean clothes should smell… like clothes.

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                Exactly. It smells like–clean. Not an entire pine forest or lavender field holding you down and pummeling you.

            1. The Nose Knows*

              And I would point out that this is called “personal preference,” and that your sister’s preference for scented detergent is no more right or wrong than your preference for unscented detergent.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                You’ve never met my sister, because I guarantee she doesn’t see it that way.

                1. Michael G*

                  My mother in law has been known to rewash my clothes because I “forgot” fabric softener despite conversation after conversation about how I refuse to use it. Sometimes I can’t prevent her helpfulness.

            2. Elle*

              This drives me insane because most of the time, really long lasting scents are not possible without a boatload of pretty harmful chemicals. So, yeah, “smells clean,” but also contains literal carcinogens.

            3. I Have RBF*

              IMO, if something smells, of anything, it’s not clean. It has stinkum and soap residue in it. But you can never convince these people that have been brainwashed by advertising that smelling soap residue and perfume isn’t “a clean, fresh scent”. It makes it hard to exist in the world.

              1. Kayem*

                One of the local thrift stores uses some kind of ultrascented detergent that won’t wash out. One shirt can even infect all other clothes when in the same wash load. I don’t know what sorcery it is, but after five washes, including two in Synthrapol, I gave up trying and sent those clothes to someone else. I couldn’t get over the crawly feeling there was something they were trying to mask.

              2. metadata minion*

                To me at least, cloth does have a smell, depending on what kind of fabric it is. I love the smell of clean cotton and wool.

          3. Polaris*

            I’m about to figure out which of the gents I work with is suddenly sporting “eau du stinky laundry scent” and request that they just not. Because you can TASTE it in the conference room right now. Just no.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      The LW did specify “strong scents”, though, and most of those things are not overpoweringly scented.

      1. Lottie Snowflake*

        The language that OP suggests doesn’t say no strong scents. It says “no perfume or other scented products.” And it describes the office as having a “scent-free policy.” I would worry even my Eucerin hand lotion which has only a very mild scent would be too much.

        1. EngineerMom*

          I’ve worked in a scent-free office before.

          Eucerine lotion would be fine. I personally prefer unscented products in general, especially hand soap or lotion (can’t stand trying to eat and getting a whiff of floral hand soap/lotion that affects the flavor of my sandwich or salad! Ick.) Eucerine doesn’t bother me at all, though I usually prefer unscented Vaseline lotion.

      2. Or your typical admin*

        One of the issues though is that once you get used to unscented, even mildly scented products have a stronger smell.

        1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

          I’ve used non-scented laundry products for years and am pretty sensitive to laundry smells now. Occasionally, I’ll go to the laundromat and the person who used the machine before me has used the scent beads or heavily scented detergent. My clothes smell like their soap/beads until I do the next batch and it weirds me out. Not that I have a reaction or it’s horrible- but if it is strong enough to go through two washes (mine and theirs) and I can still smell it, makes me think they’re pretty strong.

          1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            My stepchild used to knock me out with the smell of his clothes when he came back from his Mom’s. It took me forever to figure out what it was but it turned out to be deodorant in the gym bag he used. I washed all of his clothes three times and dried them in the sun to get them to a point where they were acceptable.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                Oh I hate that stuff. I was in college when it first went on shelves, and they gave out so many cases of free samples to college housing………Axe spray wars in dorm hallways……they are vommit inducing.

              2. Chirpy*

                Nothing says “middle school boy who hasn’t figured out you just need to take a shower occasionally” like Axe, ugh

          2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            Oh yes. I use all unscented because I don’t want to break out and when I smell something from my mom’s house I nearly physically itch

            1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

              P&G has Unstoppables and there are a bunch of other brands at this point. You put them in the washer with your clothes (as well as your detergent? I’m not sure) and they make EVERYTHING smell very strongly.

    3. LinkedIn Ghost*

      Agreed. And if that’s an expectation at the job they should outline it in the job description so people don’t waste time with interviews if it’s not something they want to follow.

    4. Smithy*

      Yeah, I think this is a case where being really clear in your language about refraining from use of perfumes, body sprays, and other clearly identified scented products (i.e. scented oils) makes a lot sense. However, I’d stay away from vague language around “scented products”.

      For those who have generically scented detergent, deodorant, and hair products – they can ask questions if they have to replace all those products if hired during the interview but presumably will carry a level of scent similar to many external visitors to the office. And those who feel the need to either disregard the request or follow the letter but not spirit of the request (i.e. deodorants like aerosol Axe sprays applied very heavily) will disqualify themselves.

      I think sticking with language such as “scented products” – particularly if you’re not asking people to truly go scent-free around detergents/deodorant and hair products – risks having some candidates reject you prematurely.

      1. Anonym*

        Agreed! Clarity is extremely important. The ask can take on very different scales depending on how you phrase it.

        1. On Fire*

          Exactly. I think the interview invitation should be explicit: “Please refrain from wearing perfume/cologne/body spray or scented lotion during the interview.”

          I saw this done in an obit once. Alongside the funeral arrangements, it said something like, “Many members of the family suffer from severe allergies, so please do not wear perfume or cologne to the services.”

          1. Smithy*

            That’s so well phrased and precise. And again, I think speaks to the broader ask where the company is interviewing the candidate and the candidate is interviewing the company.

            I have family who work in hospitals, and so when I hear “scent free” – I do immediately go to that standard of needing new hair products, detergent, etc. And others will read “no body spray”, figure that doesn’t apply to aerosol deodorant and still spray that heavily. So this notion of what you can assume others will assume only goes so far. But at least my bias would be to not want to have the candidate pool that rules themselves out be the overly cautious and thorough readers.

            1. Dog momma*

              I’ve always worked in health care and for much of my career we’ve been scent free. Mom always used Tide for laundry but by the time I was an adult, I broke out in hives from it. so laundry detergent and hand/ body lotion have always been scent free. I can’t wear perfume any more & have asked Dog papa to dial down on his cologne st severe headache. . Hyacinth and lilies give me a bad h/ a too & nothing will touch it. I’d want people interviewing not to wear scent. bc if that’s the company rule, they’d have to follow it if hired. Better to know up front.

      2. umami*

        True on specificity. People will always take such requests to an illogical extreme (i.e. pretending they mean absolutely nothing that has any type of scent whatsoever), when it’s generally known that the issue is with heavy scents applied recently (i.e. dousing yourself with perfume in the car before walking into the building).

        1. AceInPlainSight*

          It may be that I am too rule-bound, but that isn’t general knowledge to me- I have a very mild scent sensitivity, but use scented deodorant and shampoo, so I never know what level of product people are talking about!

        2. Stinky Pete*

          I dunno, “nothing that has any scent whatsoever” was what the no-scents rule meant at a place I briefly worked at as a contractor, and my scented deodorant (the only brand I’ve found that works for me) was an issue. I had to structure my schedule around the person who was allergic. Not much of a problem because it was 8-10 hours/week for four weeks, but it’s what I’d assume anyone else meant by a no-scents rule and it would probably be a dealbreaker just on the grounds that I don’t want to have to choose between smelling bad and causing other people physical pain.

        3. Mycelia R Kool*

          We’ve had several people comment that they actually work in industry where scent-fee means no scented products whatsoever, including laundry powder. So it is not an illogical extreme at all.

          Also, like. One always has to question the things that “everybody knows.” To quote the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett: ‘Everybody knows trolls eat people and spit them out. Everybody knows dwarfs cut off your legs. But at the same time everybody knows that what everybody knows is wrong.’ (Unseen Academicals)

        4. sundae funday*

          I really don’t think it’s illogical to assume “don’t use scented products” means “don’t use scented products.”

      3. AnonInCanada*

        Axe spray/wash/deodorant (aka horny teenage boy scent) should disqualify its wearer from being allowed outside his hermetically sealed room until either 1) he suffocates, or 2) 100% of that smell completely disappears. *cough gasp ack!*

        1. Panicked*

          My friend is a middle school teacher and she always says that her favorite part of summer break is not having to smell B.O. and Axe body spray for three months. I couldn’t handle it!

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            When I was in high school back in the Paleolithic, it was Polo–remember that reek?

            1. somehow*

              I was just thinking Polo when I read your comment. Total, hard agree. Awful; just awful.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        Clarity is something that eliminates a lot of regrets and confusion down the line, for sure.

      5. sundae funday*

        Yeah I have curly hair and it has taken me years and years to get a routine down. The products that work for me have scents. I really can’t imagine a job good enough that I would forego my entire hair care routine and give up on ever looking nice, lol.

        But if you just mean perfume and scented lotion, that’s totally reasonable.

        1. lucanus cervus*

          Yeah, I use very specific hair stuff and a specific antiperspirant, and if taking a job meant giving up either of those, I would probably nope out (or at least I would have to REALLY want the job). But I’m completely unbothered about perfume and scented lotion, and I can leave those off every working day of my life without issue.

    5. L-squared*

      Yeah, this is what I was coming to comment.

      Some people are super sensitive to smells. While I may be happy to not put on cologne, I’m not switching my soap, deodorant, etc for an interview. I think how far they are taking that mandate may play a factor in the answer

      1. anonymousfortoday*

        Same. I’m also not switching my laundry detergent for a job, because I’m not scent-sensitive from fragrances but my skin does break out in hives from almost all detergents and the occasional random body wash, so I can’t always easily switch. My deodorant choice is based on what actually works for me, and it is not always unscented. A management team that would instruct me on what products I’m allowed to use for someone else’s comfort that sacrifices my own would not be a good fit for me.

    6. CityMouse*

      I agree 100%. Asking someone not to wear cologne and perfume for an interview is fine, Asking they wear unscented deodorant and change their laundry detergent is not. Basically, you can ask for subtraction but not additions, it shouldn’t be costing an interviewee money.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        Well put, re: subtraction vs addition and costing money. That is the line I would draw as well. Skipping the perfume, fine. Potentially needing to buy new laundry soap and personal products? Not for an interview.

        If this office needs people to adhere to the latter, I’d explain the policy and offer a video interview if the candidate would prefer.

    7. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      People can often go without using soap, deodorant and lotion (and lotion is both prone to being especially offensive in scent and especially unnecessary). Showering with just water (other than hair face and hands) will get you as clean as soap (and is thought to be better for your skin).

      1. Eliot Waugh*

        Asking people to change their shower routine is too much to ask. There are specific products that work best for my skin and hair. I’m not switching to just water or different products.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          OK, just because that’s true for you doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone or most people. If your skin would change radically because you didn’t use your soap for one single day, then keep using it. I do doubt the effect of that would be as bad as having a migraine for an afternoon, let alone the several days that migraines typically last.

          1. Eliot Waugh*

            The same applies to people’s reaction to using just soap, even for a day. Asking people not to add additional scents is reasonable, asking people to change their entire shower routine simply isn’t. It sucks that that can cause issues for others but so can many of the things we do and we, as human beings, cannot make our existence completely invisible or non-inpactful to everyone in the world.

          2. Gwen Do*

            I am not avoiding shampoo and soap in my shower before I go to an interview – showing up sweaty, smelly and greasy-haired does not constitute a professional appearance.

            If you can smell clean without soap you are remarkable indeed. More likely, you smell to everyone around you, you just don’t notice.

          3. Dona Florinda*

            I have severe atopic dermatitis and need to use lotion every single day. Last week I skipped it once and my skin was actually bleeding the next day, so even though I’m sympathetic to people who have migraines, I can’t change my entire routine for a job interview.

          4. sundae funday*

            My skin wouldn’t dramatically change but if I went without soap in the shower and went without deodorant, I would absolutely stink at my job interview….

        2. UKDancer*

          This so much. I am not changing all my products for an interview because I use the ones I enjoy and that work for my skin and hair. I think there’s a limit to what you can ask people to do / change for a job interview (or even in a workplace).

      2. CommanderBanana*

        As someone who commutes on the subway in a very humid, muggy East Coast city, please disregard the advice given above not to wear deodorant. Please.

      3. BookMom*

        Just as people can become noseblind to the scent of their own usual grooming products, people can become noseblind to their natural body odor. It’s quite unlikely that an adult doesn’t need to wash their armpits, groin, and possibly other areas with some kind of soap on the regular.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Thanks, Alison! Your little note cracked me up. I am quite sure
            I don’t want to know what was in the posts you removed, so I’m glad they’re gone! X-D

        1. sundae funday*

          These comments are making me feel better because after I read the comment that people get just as clean washing with water, I wondered if I’m a particularly gross and smelly person or something!

      4. Shan*

        Okay, I’m sorry, but this seems like it’s veering to the ridiculous. I cannot imagine going to an interview without antiperspirant/deodorant – I certainly wouldn’t!

        1. LTR FTW*

          Especially when you’re likely wearing a jacket AND at a higher than usual stress level. Those pits are WORKING.

        2. HahaLala*

          Let alone all the hand shaking that comes with an interview and not using soap to wash your hands! ugh!

        3. Turquoisecow*

          Especially in the summer, and especially if you use public transportation to get there! The bus or train might have AC but the walk from there to the interview does not.

      5. Just Another Zebra*

        The problem with asking people to change their personal grooming habits is that they are just that – personal. I have DIFFICULT hair, and finally found shampoo/conditioner that work for me. There is no unscented option. They do offer “fragrance free”, but it contains a product that I am extremely allergic to.

        You’ll also end up tiptoeing lines of the “clean professional appearance” bit that appears in the majority of dress codes. Certain groups and races are already perceived negatively just for having, for example, a different hair texture. Many of their hair products are scented. Asking them to use something different could definitely lead a company to a discrimination issue.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I’ve read too many stories about POC children sent home because of their “stinky” hair products (that is, products designed especially for curly/kinky hair) to disregard that coded language. It starts early, early, early.

        2. TransmascJourno*

          Yup! Jewish person here; I’ve always dressed professionally in work environments, but the number of times I have been told in past toxic workplaces that my well-maintained, clean, curly hair (which had minimal frizz due to the right combination of hair products I’ve found after years of trial and error) was “unprofessional” is flabbergasting.

          1. Former_Employee*

            Interesting that what passes for criticism of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is that she has “weird hair”.

            1. TransmascJourno*

              To wit, many of the comments I received were before I socially and medically transitioned (i.e., when I still had long hair, and after I made the decision that I wanted to cut it to align with my personal gender presentation), but yes, exactly. Luckily, the place I work for now and have for the past few years is a lot more inclusive than my past employers. But even now, outside of work, I get comments on my “ethnic hair” and “ethnic look.” It’s absolutely wild, and obviously coded. Whenever my mother worked for non-Jewish non-profits, she experienced the same thing I did. So, yeah.

      6. Dog momma*

        You must not live in the South or SW, where its HOT, & at least in the South, we sweat once we open the door to go out. I’m not going out in public after having washed in just water when its 98° with 94% humidity.

        1. sundae funday*

          Yeah I live in the South and with the heat index, it’s 100 every day. Maybe I’m just extra gross and most people are fine washing with water… but I will still smell.

      7. alienor*

        Showering with just water will get you clean in the sense of rinsing dirt and sweat off your skin, but it won’t remove body odor. Many a parent of a kid in late elementary/middle school has discovered their child isn’t using soap or shampoo when they take an hour-long shower and come out still smelly and greasy.

      8. Distracted Librarian*

        I can assure you that people around me would notice if I didn’t use deodorant–especially for an interview, when I’d be wearing a blazer and might be a little nervous.

      9. Art Soplo*

        “Showering with just water (other than hair face and hands) will get you as clean as soap (and is thought to be better for your skin).”

        Jesus Christ, no to all of this. If “cleaning” with just water got you as clean as soap,there wouldn’t have been any pandemics in the history of humanity.
        Who let Jared Leto into the chat?

        1. Alder*

          The place where I go to for medical imaging has a no scent policy that specifies no deodorant. It’s stressful and shirtless and I often sweat (then have to tuck my elbow behind my head so they can check my lymph nodes). I follow the policy because I believe them when they say it’s important.

      10. M*

        My hands will crack open and bleed in the winter without lotion, and my face will be dry and itchy without it. In the winter I moisturize my hands probably 3x a day, with a mild but not entirely odorless lotion (it smells like oats and hospital).

        And I just don’t have it in me to go out in public without deodorant, especially so if I had only rinsed my body without soap. This would be a deal breaker for me! Too much of a hit to my quality of life. You really can’t please everyone with a scent policy. I’d be fine turning down an interview if that’s what their policy was though, nice to know deal breakers in advance.

      11. Dancing Otter*

        I’m so glad for you that your skin does not crack and bleed from dryness in the absence of lotion. Not everyone is so fortunate.
        Sure, I can go unscented if necessary, but don’t tell me the skin routine that prevents actual pain is “especially unnecessary.”

      12. ItsNotThatEasy*

        My dermatologist would hard disagree with you. I am practically allergic to soap but I still use it. I guarantee if it were optional I wouldn’t be. I use very specific products when I shower and very specific after shower products that my dermatologist and I have worked out as “best we can do” and I am not changing them without a long discussion with him first and I am not going to an interview without showering.

      13. sundae funday*

        Maybe I’m just a gross person lol but washing with water only definitely does not get me as clean as soap, especially if I’ve been sweating. Where I live it’s like 100 degrees every day (with the heat index), so showering at least once a day with soap is an absolute must for me or I’ll stink. I’m happy for other people who don’t have to use soap and I wish I was one… but I guess I’m gross.

    8. Miss Chanandler Bong*

      I have very severe asthma and I react to scents.

      Shampoo and deodorant is not an issue. It’s always the perfumes, which people tend to bathe in.

    9. Nina*

      I use fragrance-free nearly everything anyway (fun fragrance allergy, eventually I found a combination of meds and cleaning products that worked and now I don’t feel like I’m dying every day) and even at its worst, I never had a problem with a coworker’s deodorant or body wash or shampoo or laundry soap as long as we maintained normal professional personal space bubbles.

    1. Lottie Snowflake*

      This doesn’t say no strong scents; it says no scents. What about my shampoo? It’s not heavily perfumed but it’s not unscented. I use Dove body wash, that’s not unscented. I used baby powder scented deodorant. None of these things would be noticed by most people and my overall scent would be described as “must have showered this morning” but I wouldn’t want to ask if it was okay to wear my deodorant to a job interview. And if I found out it was not, I would be skipping that interview.

      1. Babanon5*

        I think it could make sense to clarify. For folks that have worked in a scent free office before this will be pretty straightforward. For folks who haven’t it may make sense to clarify “no strong scents such as…”

      2. umami*

        It’s certainly implied, though? It’s a bit extreme to say that an employer would intend someone to think ‘you must not wear anything that carries any scent whatsoever’ when logic says the issue tends to lie with strongly scented perfumes and lotions people like to use. I think your rule of thumb on what would be noticed ‘by most people’ is what the expectation should be, not that you have to forego deodorant.

        1. Allonge*

          It’s maybe implied when you are used to the thought of scent-free / scenta llerhies. But AAM was the first place I heard/read about either, and I know I am not the only one. So, no, implied is not good enough – be specific.

            1. umami*

              LOL I was trying to figure that out! I did think it was pretty universally known that people who are putting perfume on or using heavily scented products while at the workplace, or otherwise overdosing on those scents immediately before arriving, are what they are generally referencing. Not regular scented shampoo or deodorant, which rarely lingers and isn’t designed to smell for a long period of time. While I have sensitivities to many fragrances, I also understand that ‘fragrance-free’ is not really reasonable, and smelling scents is simply going to happen. But it’s hard to be specific when a lot of ‘what aboutism’ is occurring that includes literally anything that has a scent. On the plus side, my husband is off the hook on sending me flowers because I can’t tolerate them too close to me!

              1. Allonge*

                But it’s hard to be specific when a lot of ‘what aboutism’ is occurring that includes literally anything that has a scent.

                I am sorry that people are being a pain about this!

                I would say a company needs to be specific (to say ‘no perfume / scented lotion, deodorant ok, do the best you can with everything else without buying anything new please’) precisely so that people know what to do and what to avoid.

                Then it’s not a negotiation, it’s like saying ‘our parking is limited, consider the one across the street’.

              2. metadata minion*

                I’ve seen scent-free policies that really do mean “do not wear anything with fragrance”. Depending on “common sense” when a phrase can legitimately mean several things is a bad idea, especially when this one can so easily be specified.

                1. KTurtle*

                  Off topic, but I love your name. One of the profs in my MLIS program called us metadata minions.

              3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

                I don’t think it is whataboutism. I think it is that some people genuinely aren’t sure how much is included in a “no scent” policy. They’re not common for everyone and there’s lots of different interpretations. It is worth giving a definition for clarity on the specifics.

        2. sundae funday*

          See, to me, it’s common sense not to wear heavy perfume to the office or to interviews (although I know that tons of people do those things anyway). So if someone says “don’t use scented products,” I’m going to assume that means all scented products, not just perfume. And I’m unwilling to change my hair products after spending years getting my curly hair to actually look good, so I’d just not work there.

      3. Turquoisecow*

        There was a letter where someone complained about a coworker’s shampoo, so I would not assume hair products were not included in “scents.”

        I don’t wear perfume or strongly scented deodorant anyway (and I would be fine wearing I scented deodorant for the interview), but I’m not willing to forego my usual soap or hair products for a job.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I remember telling this to a room full of students before some internships were about to happen, and the pushback was huge. One young woman said that without her perfume she would not “smell nice” and it was vital to her confidence. You would have thought I was saying they couldn’t wash or use anti perspirant. I told her that if she could easily smell people in the work environment then either she was too close or they were too scented. I think I wrapped it up by saying essentially they should keep their scents for their dates or other people who were more able to opt in or out to the fragrance on offer.

      1. Rick Tq*

        Did anyone explain to Chanel that if she could smell herself at work the rest of the room was gagging?

  4. learnedthehardway*

    Yes – I think you absolutely SHOULD ask candidates to refrain from using scented products before they come to your workplace. A) your current employees are more important than potential employees, and you have to maintain a safe workplace for them, B) it’s a standard of the office, and if candidates have a problem with it, better they know now so they can opt out of consideration, and C) you’ll get a sense of whether candidates are willing to comply with the policy before they are hired, and that’s good to know – both in the sense of knowing whether they follow directions/company policies generally and whether they are considerate of coworkers.

    Of course, you may have candidates who have residual scent from prior applications – eg. on outerwear. I would cut them some slack, because it can take time for scents to dissipate. And people get so used to their own perfume/colognes that they don’t notice them, so I wouldn’t take it as a negative if they didn’t apologize for residual scents. But it should be fairly obvious if someone has a faint scent from previous days on their winter coat vs. someone who ignores the request that they refrain from using scented products the day of the interview.

    1. Rick Tq*

      And if a candidate comes in absolutely reeking you can simply turn them away at the lobby. They demonstrated just how little they care for the wellbeing of others in the office.

      1. Anonym*

        It would be fair to bring it to their attention. They may have missed it, and while not ideal, it’s not as egregious as seeing and ignoring the request.

        1. Rick Tq*

          They showed two things by showing up that way:
          – They don’t pay attention to details
          – Their routine and preferences are more important to them than following directions.

          Neither are characteristics of a good employee.

    2. Schnapps*

      Yes, absolutely. The policy applies to the work location, not the individual.

      As someone who was conducting an interview for a position once and literally couldn’t complete it in person because of the perfume/cologne/deoderant of the interviewee, I agree with this. It’s not great to have your potential future supervisor sneezing and crying (watering eyes) through your interview.

      After that, we asked people to not use strongly scented perfumes/sprays/lotions, and to apply other products well before the interview,

  5. NorthBayTeky*

    I used to have to do standby with a phone. The extra perks were that we got paid a few dollars an hour for the 9 hours we had the phone. (Saturdays only) It didn’t count towards our 40 hours and any call was considered call back. Getting calls were handled according to how long it took to resolve. If you spent 6 hours, that would be considered OT and you still get 3 hours of standby time. If it only took 10 minutes, you get the minimum 3 hours OT and 6 hours of standby time.

  6. kiki*

    For the scent-free interview letter, I think the phrasing LW landed on is good and reasonable. The only thing I’d want to make sure of is that expectations are tempered about how scent-free job candidates . Refraining from perfume or cologne is simple enough and so is avoiding lotions that are especially scented, like those from bath and body works. But there have been some letters in the past where the expectation seemed to be that folks would change their shampoo, hair products, and detergents. That’s not reasonable to ask for an interview, especially since it’s already a lot to ask for employees.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      I go to a couple doctor’s offices that are scent-free, and I think for an interview I’d probably follow the same routine I follow for those. I don’t have separate laundry detergent and shampoo that I use for those days, but I don’t use perfume or heavily-scented products like lotions. That seems fairly reasonable to me.

      1. uncivil servant*

        I can’t remember the last time I worked in an office that wasn’t officially scent-free, and that’s how I’ve always interpreted it. No one who works with you should be able to smell you, but no one should be so close to you that they could smell normal drugstore shampoos or laundry detergents.

        If there were someone in the building that truly could get sick from smelling Dove shampoo or Tide detergent that someone used hours previously from across the room, then I’d expect a much more explicit warning and would think carefully before working there.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          No one who works with you should be able to smell you, but no one should be so close to you that they could smell normal drugstore shampoos or laundry detergents.

          This is perfect framing. Thank you!

  7. Goldenrod*

    LW #2 – I love Alison’s answer here! This is exactly why I love email but dislike Teams.

    I know that sometimes Teams is useful (when you do really need to grab someone’s attention for an emergent event), but in general, I dislike it, especially when it’s something that is not time-sensitive. To me, it feels like someone tapping me on the shoulder, trying to get my attention. And obviously, someone ACTUALLY tapping me on the shoulder is just as (or more) annoying! Email feels more civilized, because you can time shift.

    1. Gumby*

      You can time shift on Teams too. At least for the chat part. I do it all the time. Usually not on purpose. But I turned off notifications for messages so sometimes I don’t realize that there is anything there right away. It hasn’t been an issue so far. (I also have notifications off for incoming emails. And anything else that would notify me but lets me tell it to not. Except calls via either Teams or WebEx.)

  8. Dust Bunny*

    I knew someone who changed her name for personal reasons. I vaguely know what those were and they could also have been described as “dark”, although even if I didn’t know I cannot imagine why I would think it was any of my business–people do all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who keeps pestering you after you say, “It’s personal,” has forfeited their right to further polite response. “I’ve told you it’s personal; don’t ask me again,” seems very reasonable.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I changed my first name. People often, when they find that out, ask “What did it used to be?” I smile and answer “I changed it for personal reasons.” and try to pivot to a different topic.

      The few times someone has pressed beyond that, I stop smiling and answer “I said, I changed it for personal reasons. How about that obvious subject change we just missed?”

      1. Aphrodite*

        I also changed my name but it was all three parts, first, middle and last. I would say it was for personal reasons but I enjoy talking about the how, when and why if anyone wants to know. I’m not out to bore people, however, so they have to ask if they are interested.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I have changed all the other parts too, in various configurations, and I don’t mind talking about those if people ask. It’s just the “what was your name before you changed it” that chaps my tailfeathers. (I think total, I’m up to six rounds of name changing total, in which my first name was changed once, my middle name(s) twice, and my last name(s) 5 times.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            the “what was your *first* name before you changed it” I mean.

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        “What was your name before?”

        “Different than it is now.”

      3. Some words*

        I’d be tempted to use the opportunity to create all sorts of outlandish former names, just for these questions.

        Of course “I’ve forgotten it now” would also work.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      I’d just go with repeating “It’s personal” to any question in a chillier tone of voice until I hit single digit Kelvin.

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      100%. I would also add that anyone who keeps pushing after you’ve said “it’s personal” has forfeited their right not to be lied to, should you feel comfortable doing so. In case a lie makes it easier or even a very silly, obviously false lie which can, in the right situation, make people hear how rude they’re being and shut up.

  9. MngConsltnt78*

    I find it interesting that the managers are pushing back that you can’t apply office policy on non-employees. If this were a manufacturing plant or a construction site, you could surely apply policies to non-employees like hard hats and high-vis vests!

      1. Everything Bagel*

        If I were invited for an interview somewhere with a no-scent policy, I’d probably wear my regular deodorant and clothing, but would not use any perfume or scented lotions, or hairspray. I would hope for a one-time visit that would be acceptable.

      2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        They aren’t asking people to change deodorant or laundry cleaner. They are talking about people who were drenched in perfume.

      3. ScruffyInternHerder*

        You’d think. I’ve seen some utter temper tantrums over what safety equipment had to be worn where (site specific, it was a little over the top, but know what? It was part of the site labor agreement).

        Heck, I’ve seen people who should know better try to do things without proper footwear on jobsites.

    1. Deb*

      Generally in that case the worksite supplies the hard hats and high-vis vests though. I’ve never been sent laundry detergent and shampoo by a hiring company.

      1. goducks*

        Closed shoes are another common safety requirement, and the worksite wouldn’t provide those for an interview. The interviewee would have to figure it out for themselves. I see the LW request to refrain from perfumes or heavy scents to be similar.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        You’re missing the point which is not “should the company provide this PPE?” but rather “can we impose this policy on non-employees?”. And the answer is yes, of course we can. And the reason is not that we are expecting you to wear something, but that we are expecting you to not wear something.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      The follow up questions are begging to be asked of these managers! Do they just not think it’s a reasonable thing to ask people to do? Or is it more that they know somebody is definitely not going to comply, and then they have to enforce/break the news that the interviewee’s smell is unacceptable? If they don’t want to be in the position of turning people away point blank, they could offer to take them to a coffee shop for face-saving purposes. However if it cuts down on the number of people arriving perfumed, surely it’s worth a try? I find it interesting they don’t seem to think it’s worth protecting existing staff.

    3. RagingADHD*

      And those are policies that only involve their actions after they show up onsite, and that end when they leave.

      If you were asking candidates to supply their own safety gear, and wear it all day before the interview, that would be unreasonable. Ridiculous, actually.

    4. Ahnon4Thisss*

      Surely you can see the difference in that though, right? Comparing safety gear that can protect people from maiming/death is not the same as scented lotions and perfumes.

      Hi-vis gear, hard hats, and safety glasses can be taken on/off at the site and can be supplied by the company when you arrive as well. Having those things on site are required by OSHA laws in the states, so yes of course they HAVE to require them.

      It is an unfair comparison, even to me who leans towards the side of “please don’t wear heavy perfumes in the office.”

  10. AnonNow*

    This is also going to be a problem for people flying in for an interview. You can ask people not to wear perfume or cologne, but otherwise it’s a lot to ask. The receptionist should wear an N95 and have an air purifier.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      No. You’re just being ridiculous. The policy is perfectly reasonable, and people don’t douse themselves with cologne before leaving for the airport.

      Besides ridiculous, you’re also being rude.

      1. Eliot Waugh*

        I agree that it’s reasonable to ask people not to use perfume/cologne or heavily scented products, it’s your response here that’s rude.

      2. I take tea*

        Unfortunately there certainly are people who “douse themselves with cologne before leaving for the airport” :-( I have sometimes had severe problems on airplanes. Please, just skip the perfume/ cologne when travelling. Scented deodorant is not a problem, usually. Do wear it.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      If someone thinks it’s okay to wear strong perfume on a PLANE I don’t want to work with them, lol

      1. Artemesia*

        I once sat next to a stranger on a plane who suddenly went ‘nooooo’ as the woman in the seat in front of us took out an atomizer and started spraying herself with perfume. My seat mate had an asthma attack right there and EMTs had to be called.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah an airplane is the worst place in the world to be heavily scented! If they’ve just come from the airport, then they just need to continue the same baseline consideration they had of the passengers before boarding.

      3. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I’ve been trapped in a plane with a woman so covered in perfume that I just sat, coughed, and quietly cried from DC to Logan, the flight attendant looked for another seat for me, but the flight was booked.

        I like perfume, I wear perfume, this was some next level parfumerie.

  11. Good Enough For Government Work*

    I’m someone who does like wearing perfume on occasion – and particularly for things I’m stressed about or want a confidence boost, like a job interview. (Basically, if it’s an occasion where I feel like putting makeup on, I’ll put perfume on too!) This is a perfectly reasonable ask, and it’s something I would definitely want to know about before attending an interview. Not only is it basic decency, upsetting existing staff is no way to make a good first impression!

      1. Feral Humanist*

        All right, but some people do. That’s not a crime. What was the point of this comment?

      2. Isben Takes Tea*

        Okay? And many people do. Are you implying that nobody should wear perfume ever, because they might encounter someone who doesn’t like it?

      3. Good Enough For Government Work*

        And in that case they should not wear it!

        I wear perfume for the same reason I wear makeup — because *I* like it. I like the added confidence boost it gives me. I don’t bathe myself in perfume, but a dot to each wrist once a day is unlikely to effect most people.

        1. Good Enough For Government Work*

          (And to note, I wear perfume about as often as I wear makeup — maybe twice a month or so.)

    1. Sara without an H*

      Agreed. If I interviewed somewhere and found that I’d made the receptionist ill, I’d be mortified. (I’d also be upset that the interviewer didn’t warn me.) I thought Alison’s script was fine, and I’m puzzled why the other managers were pushing back.

      Asking candidates to completely redo their shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. would be too much, of course, but just giving candidates a head’s up about the no-scent policy seems reasonable.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, I’m fragrance reactive, and unless the person is too close to me, most laundry soap and personal cleaning products are fine. But scented after shave, perfume, or lotion are likely to trigger me into coughing and gasping. I should not be able to smell the person three feet away, IMO.

        I enjoy a few essential oil fragrances, because I don’t react to them, but I still don’t wear them in an office environment. I know that some folks are allergic to essential oil scents, just like I’m allergic to artificial fragrances, lavender and musk.

  12. Sad Desk Salad*

    If I found out after the fact that a scent I wore gave someone onsite a reaction, I would be terribly embarrassed. Typically I default to low or no scents and don’t wear perfume to work, but scents creep in everywhere, and I would prefer knowing ahead of time that I have to be extra-careful to only use unscented products when I’m onsite. It’s easy to default to a lightly-scented bodywash, knowing the scent will wash away with the product, but if I knew it might bother someone, I’d switch to something else for the day.

    1. Scent free is the way to be*

      Anyone who has worn perfume or cologne in public at any point has given someone a reaction. People just tend not to say anything because it’s awkward, but it’s a safe assumption for any scent-wearer to make.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        I honestly think that artificial fragrances are dangerous and those of us who react to them are the canary in the coalmine. There is some science to support this, also.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Me too.

          I used to work at an environmental consulting firm specializing in air quality. One guy thought I was exaggerating about my allergy to artificial scents, which are largely made up of aldehydes and ketones. Then one day we were up on a manlift sampling a smokestack (for aldehydes – which I hadn’t known), and after he opened the sampling port I was doubled over coughing and unable to breathe. He had to bring the manlift down to the ground so I could breathe. I though I was going to pass out. He never doubted me again.

          My boss used to call me a canary in a coal mine because of my sensitivity.

          1. Lexi Lynn*

            I hope that society decides that wearing perfume in public is as unacceptable as forcing cigarette smoke on people. Someone’s desire to smell shouldn’t outweigh others ability to breathe. If I can tell you are wearing a scent, its too strong.

            1. I Have RBF*

              When I first developed the fragrance sensitivity, it was the mid 80s. There was maybe one brand of soap that didn’t have fragrance, one weird type of deodorant, no shampoo, and one (expensive) laundry detergent. Scented laundry soap caused me a painful rash in tender places, so it took visit to several stores to find a fragrance free one, and even the so-called “unscented” ones had a “masking scent”.

              Until I found something truly fragrance free, I literally had to wash my clothes twice (in a coin op apartment laundry), with the second wash being nothing but water. I also had to hang dry my underwear because sometimes the dryer was contaminated with scented dryer sheets.

              I actually made my own soap in the 90s because it was so hard to find stuff without artificial fragrance in it that actually cleaned my body.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      To be honest, there are enough smells in a hospital already. If you can reduce that a little bit, that’s a good thing!

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I would definitely expect a hospital to be as scent-neutral as possible since people are already there because there’s something going on with their health and many of them can’t just leave.

      1. Purple Halo*

        I’d expect some areas of a hospital to use strong scents to mask what they have to deal with. It’s a common technique.

  13. MisterForkbeard*

    With regards to the intern and using mail/IMs: I actually address this directly with all my direct reports. In person conversations are good: they’re fast, don’t have to be scheduled, and can be very efficient.

    But written communications matter and are important – if I’m writing you about something, there’s a good reason for it. And frequently it’s that a response in writing is useful, protective, or good for archival reasons.

    If I send you a deadline, having a written “Got it – I’ll have it on the 15th” is really useful to me. Likewise, a written response of “That’s not a reasonable timeline, we need to push it back a week” is extremely useful for the employee, since it’s written documentation. And if it’s in e-mail, it’s searchable and can be used for review purposes later or to revisit a topic a few months later.

    Everyone seems to get this once it’s explained and I haven’t had trouble with it.

  14. Warrior Princess Xena*

    Personally as an interviewee I would be happy to get a copy of office expectations (we normally have business casual, this is a manufacturing environment so please wear close-toed shoes, we have a scent-free policy so please avoid perfume and lotions) but that’s me! I like having more information up front. I can see how others would be irritated. I’d also agree that there is a line between perfume/strongly scented lotion (which are almost always optional – I have not yet run into a medicated lotion with a very strong scent though I’m sure there’s some out there) and body care products like deodorant or shampoo. The first is reasonable, the second is not, but the second is also not likely to cause a lingering scent for hours (yech).

    1. goducks*

      Yes, places that share that information up front with interviewees do them a courtesy. It’s really crappy when places have expectations for such things and think that candidates should just somehow intuit them.

  15. don't like scents myself*

    At least some of my local schools have a no-scent policy, posted at the entry. I don’t know how it is enforced, but they clearly expect the public including students, parents, etc to arrive without perfume and so forth. I think if a school can do it a business can too, especially for people invited to interviews.

  16. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Telling people not to wear perfume or cologne to an interview is such a minor thing. It’s not a huge ask. its like telling someone you don’t validate parking in the building parking garage. The interviewees need to know so they can be prepared.

    It’s also as noted above, for your current employee who you already have a duty to reasonably accomodate.

    1. Feral Humanist*

      I would argue that it’s far less annoying than being told you can’t get your parking validated!

  17. JAM*

    I’m a big fan of email/chat just for having something written to refer back to. In our office it’s even common for people to send emails while talking to someone so they have it for future reference.

    1. MisterForkbeard*

      Yep. I do this after verbal discussions on important topics when I can – “Here are my notes on what we discussed today, let me know if any of it is wrong.”

      Very useful for documentation reasons and in some cases for HR, if something needs to be brought up later.

      1. Camellia*

        As my coworker says, put it in writing because it’s too easy for people to ‘get amnesia’.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      We email and Teams each other all the time even though we’re literally right next door to each other. Everyone is busy with their own stuff and I don’t want to interrupt them unless I absolutely have to.

    3. Seal*

      Same – having something in writing saves so many headaches down the road. My now-former boss didn’t do that, to everyone’s consternation. She once screamed at me for sending an email asking to reschedule a meeting because she was “right there”. I had just accepted another meeting invitation that conflicted with the original meeting and immediately emailed her to reschedule before I forgot. This was a few weeks after she screamed at me for emailing her on the weekend. She had left early on a Friday and I sent her an email during regular business hours since I was still in the office. The minute I walked in the door on the following Monday I got pulled aside and screamed at for daring to interrupt her weekend with something that wasn’t urgent. The kicker is that her boss would regularly send non-urgent emails on evenings and weekends, as did the university we worked for. I eventually left that place in disgust, but until I did every email I got on evenings and weekends that I knew she was copied on made me laugh.

      1. MisterForkbeard*

        Wow. E-mail is asynchronous – if she’s mad that you mailed her on a weekend, that’s nuts. She doesn’t have to read it until Monday.

        The only exception might be a early monday morning meeting or something really urgent, in which case e-mail isn’t the appropriate contact method anyway

  18. umami*

    I like the idea of having a statement about scents. Rarely is the issue with normal hygiene products, it’s the use/overuse of perfumes and lotions, especially if applied directly before going somewhere, that tends to be problematic for those of us who suffer from scent-triggered issues. It’s not an undue burden to ask that people refrain from applying heavily scented products for an interview.

    1. Ink*

      It also doesn’t seem… super professional to me to have extreme amounts of scent. Some people are going to refrain from using a dab of perfume, which is fine! But the people you most want complying are the ones who just DOUSE themselves, sometimes to the point of making people who DON’T usually have problems with scents ill. And that latter group (in a non-scent-free office) seems rude in the same way that playing music at your desk without headphones is. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not great.

      1. umami*

        I will add that for decades, I didn’t really know fragrance sensitivity was a ‘thing’, I just thought something was wrong with my olfactory receptors. So it’s been validating over the last decade or so that people recognize it exists and that it’s worth helping to accommodate in a reasonable manner. Notably, people who don’t understand (or care) how others perceive certain scents tend to be more militant about why they shouldn’t have to accommodate someone who feels physically ill from them, so I’m glad there are forums where this is discussed.

  19. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    #2 I sometiems will tell my coworker who sits next to me that I CCd them on an email. Usually its something we have discussed before but other times it’s not. Conversation is usually “hey Amanda I just sent an email to Bob and Martha. It’s about that weird Llma enclosure issue. In case they stop by while I’m at Lunch.”

  20. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    darn it hit submit too soon!
    For the on call folx, my landlord has on call maintenance for weekends and evenings for emergencies. Whoever has it on the weekend/evening gets to come in late the next day. That way if they get called out at 2 am for a broken pipe they can sleep in a bit in the morning and not have to be in the office at 7am.

  21. Miss Scarlett*

    Slightly off topic, but I once had an interview with an HR person whose perfume was so strong I had tears streaming down my face. She was from a different site than where I was interviewing and had mentioned that she was borrowing an office.
    I said that it seemed like I was allergic to something in the borrowed office and asked if we could move to another place to continue our conversation.
    She apologized, said of course — and then we moved to an even smaller office!

    1. CommanderBanana*


      I had a tech at one of my previous jobs who was a lovely person, but he absolutely STEEPED himself in cologne. I literally could not stay in my office if he came by to do something to my computer without getting a searing headache, sneezing, running nose and watering eyes.
      And I wear perfume sometimes myself! It was almost like he was soaking his clothing in it, that’s how strong the scent was.

  22. Coverage Associate*

    I agree that it’s generally reasonable to ask candidates to avoid “perfume, cologne, after shave or similar products,” but I don’t like “perfume or other scented products” because people are reasonably interpreting that to extend to shampoo, etc. I think it’s too much to ask for applicants to use special shampoo etc for an interview.

    1. UKDancer*

      Agree with you on the wording to use. I struggle to find shampoo that works to control my dandruff. The one I use has a slight menthol scent but you’d probably need to be sniffing my hair closely to pick it up. I would not want to change that before an interview.

      I would be quite happy not to wear perfume in contrast.

      1. Dahlia*

        I rotate between like 3 different topical pain medications to manage my chronic pain and all three of them have a different scent. One is a fairly strong menthol. Non-scented ones either don’t exist, are more expensive, or don’t work as well.

        If it bothers people, that sucks, truly, but I still need them.

        1. MedicalScents*

          Yep. And many common skin medications have noticeable scents. And people with certain skin conditions often have to use heavy lotions or creams. Lots of medical reasons for scents.

  23. H3llifIknow*

    So, my daughter’s job requires her to be on call and within 3 hours of the operating location at all times, unless she is physically on vacation and has a backfill in place. The on call time doesn’t go towards her ’40’ (and she’s salaried, anyway) but IF she gets called in, THAT time she spends working on bringing the system back up or whatever, DOES.

    1. Babanon5*

      This feels intense. I work in IT and when on call I can’t drink. If you are basically always on call this seems…hard.

      1. Always On The Company Dime*

        We are going through this at work right now. The new contract says on call means being able to physically get to the office within an hour, no drinking or other inebriants etc. Which is fine for most staff but for three of us software/operations people we’re always on call. We technically rotate the on call status, but each of us have things that only we can do*… in practice we are always on. But we all have laptops and can link our phones to get internet access to connect to the VPN to make hotfixes. We do this now! One of us was on their laptop on a chairlift not so long ago.

        The contract negotiations are proving extremely painful because the company doesn’t want to make an exception for three staff.

        * we have a bus plan but it’s “someone gets authorised to access the servers and do this job while we train a replacement” because we’re a small company and can’t justify duplicate staff.

    2. Keyboard Cowboy*

      When I was on an engineering oncall rotation at a former employer, it was much the same. If I got paged at 2am and spent 3 hours mitigating the issue, the norm was that I should give the team a heads up (and quick summary of what happened, so they can address the root cause if necessary) and then sleep in an extra 3 hours and roll in to the office at 12 instead of 9. That seems like the least you can do, if you don’t have some kind of “follow-the-sun” oncall handoff (which my company now does).

  24. ThursdaysGeek*

    I worked at a place that had a sign posted at the entrance that it was a scent free building. And it’s only polite to mention to interviewees that policy ahead of time.

  25. Ginger Cat Lady*

    Imposing and asking are separate things, and the way you’ve phrased this is a request. And a reasonable one.

  26. Dork-e-ness*

    #4 – On-Call: Worked in operations in IT and after many tries, local government decided to pay for the time your worked while on-call AND gave you four hours of comp time to take on Friday afternoon of the week your on-call time ended. Note that it was a very small agency and we were required to stay within 30 minutes of the office at all times. It worked pretty well until we lost enough staffers that the same people kept getting stuck with holiday weekends all year. Then when we were back to the drawing board.

  27. Juicebox Hero*

    I’m one of the lucky really sensitive to scent people :( Floral and artificial fruit smells set me off the worst. My eyes go bloodshot, my throat gets tight, and I wheeze within minutes. I think the suggested in #1 is wonderful and wish it could be a thing in every public space because I’ve had to leave stores and restaurants because someone 15 feet away used perfume like they were using Raid to kill roaches.

    Ordinary use of scented shampoo, deodorant, laundry detergent etc. doesn’t bother me because if I can smell those things, I’m waaaaay too close to you and those scents dissipate quickly.

    I don’t know when the letter was originally written, but since it’s the middle of July and it’s been beastly hot in most of the northern hemisphere I’m climbing up on my soapbox anyway.

    In my experience the “doused in perfume” seems to be worse during the summer. I think people are worried about being smelly so they load up on stinkpretty to cover up any potential BO. However, the hotter and sweatier you are, the more scent is released. Also, in humid weather, smells smell smellier due to partial pressures of volatile compounds – put another way, in dry air the molecules have plenty of room to spread out, but in the same volume of humid air the water vapor leaves them less volume to spread out in.

    So to the fragrance lovers out there, please be aware that at certain times you might stink more than you think :D

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. Another thing is that you get noseblind to your own scent, and if you wear the same scent for months or years, you shouldn’t be able to smell it yourself for more than about 10 minutes after applying it. If you can smell it, you’re wearing too much.

  28. Anne*

    As a potential employee who does feel strongly about her raspberry-scented body lotion (and other scented products), I would definitely want to know about any scent-free policies so I can self-select out of the interview pool. This is especially true if it’s one of those super strict environments where they try to ban the use of scented laundry products or soaps/shampoos. It just seems like a complete overreach.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      Yeah, I agree with this.

      I know I’m a minority on this site, but I love perfume. I have quite the collection, and wear something basically every day. In my work environment this is totally acceptable. If the job were PERFECT, I would go to the interview sans-perfume, but would ask how their scent-free policy extends. Is it just perfume/cologne? Does it include lotions? What about my basic grooming products like soaps and shampoos? Do I need to change my laundry soap?

      And what is their smoking policy, because the smell of cigarettes is possibly the worst thing on the planet, and I’ve yet to see companies enforce smoking bans.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Not sure what you mean by “enforcing smoking bans”? Lots of offices were smoke-free even before it was a legal requirement. (I know it’s a requirement in my state; don’t know about other states.)

        1. Kayem*

          Even if there’s a smoking ban at work, the smell can linger and be transferred from clothes to furniture and upholstery. And it can persist, especially if it’s something used daily. When I visit my dad, the stink of smoke transfers from his sofa to my clothes, which then transfers to my car upholstery, which takes a few days to air out. I usually get home and immediately toss my clothes in the wash and myself in the shower because the smell is on my skin. And this is despite his caregiver cleaning his house top to bottom once a week and that my dad only smokes outside.

      2. Former_Employee*

        “And what is their smoking policy, because the smell of cigarettes is possibly the worst thing on the planet, and I’ve yet to see companies enforce smoking bans.”

        At this time only about a dozen states do not ban smoking in the workplace.

        I doubt that companies in all of the other states are allowing their employees to smoke in hopes that they don’t get caught and fined for breaking the law.

        1. Always On The Company Dime*

          It’s not smoking in the office, it’s the stench of smokers in the office. They come back from smoking and the reek spreads far and wide, just like any other strong scent.

          I’ve worked for people that would not employ smokers at all for this reason. I’ve also mentioned it as a factor in me leaving a job. I had a manager who smoked and liked to lean over my shoulder when I was working… I’d rather they stayed as far away as possible (so I found a job 100km away).

      3. metadata minion*

        Are you in the US? I’ve had problems with people not obeying “don’t smoke within X feet of the building” signs (I’ve seen people smoking right in front of the “this is a &#$*ing children’s hospital; do not smoke anywhere on the grounds” sign :-/), but I’ve never seen a business not enforce a ban on smoking indoors.

    2. Juicebox Hero*

      To those of us who can end up having asthma attacks, migraines, pounding headaches, nausea, hives, and red swollen eyes due to fragrances, it’s not an overreach at all. By not doing one small thing, people can make life a million times easier for us whereas we’re kind of screwed if we’re stuck someplace with someone wearing a lot of fragrance and there’s no escape, like at work.

      1. Anne*

        I also have some fragrance sensitivities (primarily floral scents) that cause some of the symptoms you mention (pounding headaches, red swollen eyes). But it would still be a complete overreach to go up to someone, even a coworker who I have to be around often, and tell them they cannot use the scented products they prefer (or cannot have flowers in their office, or cannot smoke because I’m sensitive to that as well). Managing my symptoms is my responsibility, not theirs.

        1. anonymousfortoday*

          Thank you for saying this, as the overreach you described has happened to me. I reluctantly stopped wearing perfume and lotion, but this coworker insisted my hair products and deodorant — which I lightly applied at home, not in the workplace — triggered her headaches from across the room, twenty feet away. I had to tell our mutual supervisor that no, I wasn’t going to stop putting on deodorant or switch products, I use what works for me. Considering several other people worked in the same area, I’m not even convinced (as she was) that I was the source of the problem!

          Maybe someone who is that hyper-sensitive to any scent on anyone, anywhere in the building, could be given their own office or allowed WFH privileges when possible? Like a disability accommodation, sorta. Cubicle farms are definitely part of the problem, because no one should be that close to their coworker to know whether or not they used deodorant.

        2. allathian*

          Perhaps, but I’d be mortified to learn that a product I was using because I liked the scent made my coworker sick. It gets trickier if I’m not using the product for pleasure but because it happens to be the only one that works for me for whatever reason, but even then a compromise can usually be reached with a bit of goodwill and compassion that goes both ways.

      2. Purple Halo*

        Disabilities suck. But personally I sit at the point where accommodations should be actions taken to support the PWD not imposition on their colleagues. So I’d definitely support air purifiers, and I’m filled with restricting perfumes (and similar) where they are purely for fun, but for the most part “no-scent” feels a massive overreach.

        There has to be a limit to what a workplace can require of employees. And unless you are laundering my clothes – you don’t get to tell me what detergent I can use. You definitely don’t get to tell me I can’t use sun lotion, or wash my hair, or use soap or deodorant that I can purchase cheaply from my local store. I don’t actually favor strongly scented products, but everything I use likely had some scent that somebody will react to.

        If there was a specific scent easily avoided I’d avoid it – but I’m not spending a lot of time & energy (or money) otherwise.

        I fully understand how horrible and life limiting this is for people with severe allergies and sensitivities. I’m just being really honest that I, and I believe many others, are not willing to do that much for others – and I think different workplace solutions are needed.

    3. allathian*

      I’m happy with the policy we have where employees are requested not to wear perfume, aftershave and cologne. Other products that you use or apply at home are fine, such as laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. But employees are also requested not to apply scented hand lotion at their desk at work. I have a topical medical cream that has a fairly strong scent, and if I need to use it at the office, I do so in one of our single-user toilets after washing my hands. The smell doesn’t linger for long thanks to effective ventilation in our toilets and there are other toilets that those who react to the smell can use.

      But yeah, clear communication about any and all terms of employment is vital because you never know what might turn out to be the dealbreaker for a particular person.

      For my part, I think that if I can smell you, you’re standing too close to me. For some people, that distance might be 3 ft, for others, I wouldn’t voluntarily stay in the same room with them. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often, because at my office people respect the scent-free policy.

    4. Mf*

      Yeah, I understand why some places need to be scent-free, but I wouldn’t want to work there because I love perfume. I would also self-select out if. Job that required closed toe
      shoes or long pants every day because I’m a shoe and fashion lover. To each their own!

  29. Medium Sized Manager*

    LW2: I also encourage you to use this as an opportunity to discuss office norms. It sounds like your intern may be really eager to show that they are paying attention and being diligent without realizing they are making a faux pas.

  30. Ink*

    Scent-free seems more a rule of the building than a rule of the job. You might require different uniforms/dress codes for different roles, and depending on specificity it might be SUPER weird to ask candidates to comply, but no one in the building, regardless of role or hierarchy or whether they’re a visitor, is allowed to smoke indoors. You can’t bring (non-service) dogs into most offices. You have to wear shoes. Scent-free is less universal than those, but I think it’s the same category of request.

    1. OfficeOrBuilding*

      Not to be pedantic, but you mean office not building, right? Unless they own the whole building no company is going to be able to impose a building-wide ban. In most places I’ve worked they wouldn’t have control over the bathroom products either and even if they don’t use scented products by default, people working for other companies will most likely use them there.

  31. nonprofit writer*

    Name change: Just be as boring and repetitive in your answers as possible. I’m sorry that people have been pushing you on it after you’ve made it clear it’s personal. My own name change wasn’t dark at all, but it took me a while to muster up the will to do it because I spent too much time worrying about what others would think. I had changed my last name to my husband’s, and realized pretty much instantly that this was the wrong decision for me. I kept it for years (sometimes in combination with my own, with or without a hyphen in ways that became increasingly comical, as when the health insurance company made it into one long 17-letter word) because it seemed too complicated to explain that no, we weren’t getting divorced. Then I realized I didn’t need to explain that. I talked a bit more about it with friends, but with others, I just said blandly, “I’m returning to my birth name.” Or, “I got tired of having two last names and decided to stick with the one I was born with.” For official paperwork etc, if someone asked if I was getting divorced, I simply said, “No.”

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Simply answering yes or not when it makes sense (and frankly even sometimes when it kind of doesn’t) is a brilliant solution.

  32. Thomas*

    For #4, if the pay is fair for the role including the on-call aspect, I’d want to dig into why it’s a “pain point”? Do people get paid or time off in lieu when they actually get a call, and if so is there a minimum time paid for even if the call is very short? Is the rota inequitable? Are there so many calls that it really needs a full rotating shift staff? Is the required response time and nature of response so short that someone can’t even go shopping or have a shower?

    As a bare minimum, actually receiving a call after X time must excuse the recipient from coming to the office the next morning/day. And yes, there are a lot of companies that demand that somebody who was up all night responding to a call should work the following day anyway.

    1. Llamama*

      I’d think it’s a pain point because being on call limits what you can do even during the time you are not actually dealing with an issue. I used have to take call once a month at a place where we were allowed to keep all of the fees we billed if we got called in (a deal made to sweeten the pot because we all wanted to get rid of on call work). I once earned an ‘on call’ check that was larger than my regular paycheck. In all practical ways it was a very sweet deal, and I still haaaated it.

    2. Purple Halo*

      I do want to agree with how life limiting on call roles can be for some people. It also depends on the nature of the on call. But some things you may not be able to do if you need to turn up somewhere
      – sole care for your children (or anyone else)
      – consume any alcohol
      – share a car with friends/family to go somewhere
      – use public transport
      – do any activity you cannot immediately leave (eg a tour, shows)
      – outdoor exercise (run, walk, kayak, surf etc)
      – travel anywhere for any reason that takes you out of response time (clubs, church/mosque/temple services, grocery shopping, visiting friends/family, sport etc)

      If you “just” need to answer phone calls you can’t go anywhere without reception. You might be limited
      – visiting friends and family
      – outdoor hobbies

      I’d see if your on call allowance is properly compensating then. If it only pays for times while responding, then they aren’t being compensated properly. Counting it towards their work week would be amazing – but potentially impractical.

      I used to be on call 1 week at a time. That’s 168 hours of on call per stint. Each week on call would be more than 4 weeks of work. Even a single day is more than half the work week. Maybe something like 1 weekend/week = 1 day/2 days + hours responding on top + financial payment?

  33. Thatoneoverthere*

    I have interviewed places that have asked this. I am not a big perfume or scented lotion person so I avoid them anyway.

    I have a doctor that requests no perfume, cologne or scented lotion be worn during the appointment. I think its a totally fine ask.

  34. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    Reading some of the comments makes me think that we need to change the phrasing from scent free to fragrance-free (or synthetic scent-free.) because there is a difference. Most everything has a scent. Strawberries have a scent. Roses have a scent. bread has a scent. Just because something smells doesn’t mean its something that can be controlled. even medical lotions can have a scent. However, they are not fragrances, which are usually synthetic or use essential oils.

    Sometimes people think Scent Free = no scents even ones that naturally occur. I think it should be this is a fragrance-free workplace, which includes perfumes, lotions, etc both synthetic and natural and essential oils.

    1. Deb*

      Hard agree.

      In addition, according to some, fragrance-free means “no fragrances” while unscented means “fragrances carefully balanced to smell as inoffensive as possible” which makes fragrance-free better.

      I really don’t know whether there’s any truth to that.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I’m not sure if it’s always the case, but yes, sometimes “unscented” does mean “fragrances balanced to be inoffensive and easy to overlook.” The difference matters because there are people who are allergic to those supposedly-neutral “masking fragrances,” or for whom they are migraine triggers.

    2. Cheshire Cat*

      According to the FDA or whichever US government agency controls the definitions: “Unscented” means a masking fragrance has been added so that the pruduct scent is neutral.

      “Fragrance free” means no scents have been added to the product. It may still carry the natural scents of the ingredients used. I.e., if strawberries or roses are ingredients, the final product may smell like roses. There is a brand of skin-sensitive products that uses oatmeal in its soaps, lotions, etc., and they all smell like oatmeal.

  35. No Scent No Problem*

    I wouldn’t even blink at a no scent policy emailed to me with my interview schedule- it’s such a benign request. Plus, if anyone does have an issue with it they would have the opportunity to weed themselves out of the running fore the job before wasting too much time (both the interviewer’s and the interviewee’s)

  36. The Ghost of Cable Street*

    I was allergy tested for a skin condition which turn out to an allergy to nickel but I’m also sensitive to “perfume” which explains why liquid hand soaps made my cracked hands worse. I’m male and don’t use aftershave or like anything heavily scented so while there’s no contact with my skin, I’d definitely play this card.

  37. TX_trucker*

    If this is a policy for existing employees, I think it’s smart to mention it prior to an interview. As a candidate, I would appreciate knowing this about the company. It would be a big plus for me, but others may decline the interview.

  38. Blue Eagle*

    Why all the angst about what to tell people about a name change. And telling them it’s for “personal reasons” just makes them curious about the reason.

    Just say that “My new name fits me better and makes me happy”. It also has the added benefit of being true.

  39. Keymaster of Gozer*

    There’s nothing wrong with asking that candidates do not apply perfume/cologne the day of the interview due to sensitivity among staff. It is a small request in the grand scheme of things.

    Where it oversteps and becomes unreasonable is if the candidates will not be able to attain basic hygiene (clean clothes, washed hair, body washed) without buying unscented products. Them you’d probably get a lot of people just deciding to cancel their job application.

    I’m happy to not put on my favourite de-stressing scent (Armani Code for those interested) but my hair products (a lot of black almond oil) and body washes (same) I won’t change. I also burn incense at home and trust me you do not want me showing up reeking of that! Hence why a good shower before going to work is a must.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      You remind me: There was the original Armani Mania that had notes of saffron and incense in it. I LOVED THE HECK out of that perfume, even though it was a little heavy (I applied very lightly and infrequently). That one was discontinued and replaced with a different formulation, and I was so sad.

  40. Biff*

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people to keep scents to a minimum, but the truth is, even unscented products can be quite smelly, it just depends on what the product is and who is smelling it. For instance, if you use a mild lemon and vinegar wash for your clothes, that’s not a scented product, but it will smell. Another example is my “unscented” deodorant has a distinct odor (that I don’t like, I’m just waiting for it to be done.) I understand asking people not to use heavy perfumes or colognes, but the idea of ‘scent free’ is ludicrous.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I hate to say it, but (in the US) “unscented” is a scent, in the sense that it’s a chemical that is added for no reason except to add a scent. For US products, the packaging says “fragrance-free” if it truly has no added fragrance. Yes, regular ingredients have odors but some ingredients are ONLY added for their scent, and they tend to be synthetic chemicals that are hard on some people’s systems.

      In my family, I disliked artificially scented items but it’s “merely” a dislike. My wife gets migraine headaches from them, which is a legit medical issue.

  41. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I think it’s entirely reasonable, and kind, to inform the interviewee that it’s a scent-free office, and to avoid using scented products on the day of the interview. If it works out and the company hires the person, they’re going to have to end up using unscented products anyway, so it’s a good preview for them. If the interviewee is unwilling at that stage, then they may be unwilling going forward so it’s just not going to be a good fit for anyone. I think most people would want to be sensitive to others’ needs if they know what they are.

    1. ScentFreeCanBeProblematic*

      Or they have to disclose a medical issue they shouldn’t have to disclose until after being hired. Which likely means they won’t be hired and may mean the candidate assumes it’s for illegal reasons which puts the company in a bad spot.

  42. Ollie*

    Company I used to work for paid us a stipend to be on call plus overtime for any hours actually worked. They switched to a comp time model and we were not happy. When we got paid people would volunteer to be on call then they anymore.

  43. Raida*

    I’d say the heads-up would be a good option.

    Firstly, you get to see if the applicants can follow a simple instruction. Then you can see if they are so wrapped up in themselves they’re offended at the suggestion they do something for the sake of someone else’s quality of life.

    Also it tells them perfume is going to be seen as a *negative* in this interview, so you’ll see if they are canny enough to figure out they’ll be seen in a positive light by following the instruction.

    But mostly, it’s best for the staff.

  44. SB*

    I always loved having the on-call phone before covid as we got paid a flat $100 per day to have the phone but if we actually had to do any work we logged the time we spent on it & were paid over time rates for the time. If we had to go into the facility for anything during our on-call weekend we were paid the overtime rate for a minimum four hours even if it only took 20 minutes, but this was quite rare. As I am not much of a drinker & my family all live close by, having the phone did not change anything about my weekends so I was essentially being paid to live my life & take a very occasional call.

    Unfortunately, once covid hit, having the on-call phone basically meant you could expect to get no sleep & have to spend at least six hours on site due to multiple people calling in & not being able to replace them which generally meant a 12 day week.

  45. Not Janet*

    I once went to have a mammogram during a work break. For those of you who have had one before you will know you are not able to wear deodorant. So when I came back to the office I looked around for some to apply and all I had in my drawer was the body lotion that came with my perfume. I thought I only put a little on but it was so heavily scented my nearest colleague said “it smells like a department store in here!”
    So embarrassing. Never wore it again

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I have to remember that next time. Last time I went I worked remotely so it wasn’t an issue.

  46. HorribleIdea*

    No. Just no.

    People who use prescription skin medication, special regimens for medical reasons, need to mask unpleasant natural odors caused by medical conditions, etc. should not have to disclose and/or self conscious during a job interview.

    I would also note that a receptionist is, by definition, someone who should be able to deal with non-employees who are not constrained by company policies about anything. How do you handle their scents? Why should they get more deference than job seekers.

  47. Bookworm*

    I think this is a reasonable ask. It can be important to see how the candidate handles the issue. It may be off-site/remote but I presume that there will likely be some sort of in-person meet-up some day where this could become an issue then.

    Do you have an accommodation policy? Might be worth thinking about also having the option of remote/video interviews if there’s a reason why candidates can’t comply with this.

  48. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    On the letter about asking the intern to message to pop round, the LW rightly expresses concern about teaching personal preferences as business norms. That in itself can be a useful lesson!

    I love Alison’s answer but you could also add an explicit comment to say “of course, you’ll work with people who have all sorts of different preferences about these things so it will depend on the person, the office culture, the nature of the work etc.”

  49. morethantired*

    If someone regularly wears perfume or scented products, it can sometimes be really difficult to be totally fragrance-free. I know a few of my jackets/coats and such smell like perfume just from previous wears and not because I applied perfume recently. Make sure candidates have enough notice that they can get their interview clothes dry-cleaned if needed.

    Also, keep in mind that because you work in a fragrance-free office, you also may now be more sensitive to fragrance, so please give these candidates the benefit of the doubt that they’re not “bathed” in perfume. They may just have used a lot of hairspray or spray-on deodorant or Febreze-d their blazer to try to make a good impression. When you aren’t used to smelling those things, you can forget how strong they are.

  50. Joe*

    Spent 8 years in an on-call rotation for a large public university with 8,000 live-on students. We were on call from 5pm-9am for 7 days, typically 6-8 times per year, in addition to our other responsibilities, and had to be within 30 minutes of campus during those hours of that week (we were all provided with on-campus apartments as part of our employment–not just during on-call times, but year-round)

    We were encouraged, during those weeks, to schedule no meetings before 11am or noon, and if we were having a challenging night, to send a message to the person who had convened a standing meeting before 11am with the note of “on call this week, may not make it” in advance. Generally we only received comp time for being on call during a holiday–Thanksgiving, Xmas, New Year, MLK, etc, but definitely expectations for our in-office work were substantially lowered for the person on-call that week.

    It was a total crapshoot–I once made it an entire week without being woken up, and I also had a week where I became effectively nocturnal for 4 days because I was getting constant calls between 9pm-4am (drugs, alcohol, transformer hit by a water main break, you name it).

  51. Post Script*

    Regarding “Perks for being on-call” – I’ve been on a team where the on-call person
    1. gets to take off any time actually spent responding to a call outside of business hours, at time and a half, within the next week or so, and
    2. gets the day after an on-call shift off but it counts as time worked. Week-long shifts went from Thursday to Thursday so it’d be a Friday off.
    This went a loooong way to make people not mind being on call!

  52. LB*

    Not only does this seem like a reasonable ask, but it would come across to me as an applicant that they are thoughtful about the needs of their current employees. I would actually think it was a green flag.

  53. Owlet101*

    If your office or work environment has a specific restriction I would want to know that as a job candidate. This is so I can make an informed decision on if the environment is a good fit for me.

    If someone absolutely loves wearing perfume or chalone then this workplace is not the right one for them.

  54. no name*

    If you can ask applicants to not smoke during an interview or in the office, you can ask them to not wear perfume or aftershave.

  55. Teach*

    Oof, I have a lot of sympathy for the person changing their name. When I first started at my current job, apparently another teacher had just changed his first and last name the previous year (nothing to do with gender confirmation or marriage). there was SO much gossip and speculation about whether he had changed it because of his poor performance and complaints about him under his old name. I never worked directly with him, so I can’t speak to his performance, but the gossip just seemed really unkind. he ended up quitting that year, and I never knew how much of it was performance issues versus people spreading rumors about him. I try to give people some space and the benefit of the doubt when possible .

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