updates: the fragrance-free office, the meeting monopolizer, and more

Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Is it reasonable for our office to go so fragrance-free that we have to change every product we use at home?

On the basis of your advice, I did raise the issue with my immediate supervisor, who felt that the guidance was clearly advisory rather than mandatory, and declined to raise the issue with the executive who had initially shared it. In the end, people settled into three or four groups. Most people, myself included, made some amount effort to accommodate the request, mostly in the form of leaving the cologne and scented lotions off for the day. I’m not sure that anyone went to the extreme end of compliance and actually changed out any products they use – if they did, I didn’t hear about it. Ohers ignored the guidance entirely.

Unfortunately, several people concluded that the best approach was for them to be absent from the event, and this is where the most harm happened. Those who felt excluded were exclusively minorities. They were all women, they were all people of color, and your mention of “it’s the only lotion that works for their eczema” turned out to be particularly prescient, although in this case it was the only detergent that works for her eczema.

Ultimately, there it rested, with the worst of both worlds. We’re still remote and haven’t had another major in-person event since. If another event happens, and the guidance is shared again, I now have the confidence and the data to push back harder. And until then, a cautionary note for us all: professionally and personally, when accommodating one person, make sure you don’t accidentally exclude another.

2. Rambling coworker is monopolizing our trainings (#2 at the link)

I appreciated your suggestion, especially since this is my first “real” full-time office job. I did end up following your advice, and our trainers tried (at least for a while) to manage the situation by asking us to hold our questions until a break or submit them in writing for the end of a session. Ultimately, that wasn’t sustainable. Partly because our trainers didn’t have any supervisory authority — they were just employees in similar roles who had been there for a number of years. In the end, I made it through training and am on a completely different team from the rambler. It was good advice, but I have come to learn that a large government organization is not very good at implementing any kind of change quickly or sensibly. I’m still here a year later, though!

3. I desperately need breaks between my back-to-back meetings

My update is pretty simple in that I found a new job where the culture fits my needs much better. One of the issues that led to my letter was that many of these meetings included the same people. For example, the 8-8:30 meeting was me, Nev, Max, and Kamie; the 8:30-10:30 was the four of us along with five other people, and the 10:30-12:30 was just me and Kamie. It made it really hard to be the one to push back when we were all dealing with the same situation and they had been rolling with it for 10+ years with no complaints that I ever heard.

Anyway, my new job has much more asynchronous work; in a typical week I probably spend as much time in meetings as I used to spend in a single day. This is freeing me up to actually get work done and leads to me being much more engaged in the meetings that I do have since I’m not doing panicked multitasking to try to stay on top of things. I felt a little ashamed to leave that job after only eight months but this was only the tip of the issues iceberg, and my new role is with an organization that rarely has openings so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Thank you for the advice; it was certainly helpful! I wasn’t able to engage much with the commentariat but I did read the suggestions and appreciate the empathy and assistance.

4. Propping my foot on my desk (for medical reasons) (#3 at the link)

My foot is no longer swelling so I don’t need to elevate it during the day but I’m still dealing with ongoing issues. I have a follow up with my podiatrist and orthopedic surgeon later this month. I never got any comments about my foot up on the desk, but I did strategically mention the situation to HR and a couple coworkers.

Our offices are still fishbowls despite many people requesting partial frosting or blinds.

I’m still painfully socially awkward which is why I was freaking out about the optics of this situation but I’m working on that too.

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. blah*

    #4: Sorry to hear about how the office is still set up, but I’m glad you were able to mention something to HR!

    1. Free Meerkats*

      Honestly, I’d just get some self-adhesive frosting and put it up. See what happens, I see it going one of two ways; someone really gets their knickers in a knot or others start doing it.

      1. dawbs*

        I opened the comments, got distracted by life, came back and had forgotten what the letters were.
        I was thoroughly confused at the idea of putting icing on the walls.

        1. Quill*

          I mean, a good buttercream would take care of it, facilities would just hate you a lot more…

  2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    1 is an absolutely terrible outcome. Not on you OP on the organization. Someone assuming its only guidance instead of shutting down led to more problems. Plus the person who needed the accomodation might have been Appalled at this outcome. Remember the hug everyone to check for fragrance letter?

    #3 — yeah constant meetings with the same people is bad. You need to actually have time to work on the stuff that is raised in the meetings. Glad you are in a better place.

    1. mreasy*

      Wow I had blocked out hug for fragrance completely! Agreed, worst case scenario due a short-sighted and/or lazy org leadership.

    2. Miss Chanandler Bong*

      #1 As someone who definitely would need the accomodation, I would have been horrified as well. I have really bad asthma and just need people to shower with water and not cologne. I use scented deodorant and hair products (they only have a very light fragrance). That was so over the top.

      1. Tiger Snake*

        I have to use the unscented stuff – any type of scent diffusing agent that all these products use gives me debilitating migraines. I can put up with hair product and laundry because its not the smell its that the smell is designed to diffuse into the air. Unfortunately, that makes people wearing scented deodorant that’s also been a difficult grey area. In theory, if it’s not on me scented deodorant should be fine. In practice, people apply way too much of it. It’s like they’re trying to compensate for the lack of perfume or cologne, and they don’t even realise it.

        “Don’t use it at all” isn’t a compromise or solution here. I know that and I don’t expect them to. I know how expensive my products are. But I do wish we could normalise the idea that people don’t need to have any sort of smell, because I don’t think people realise they’ve internalised that they need to mask their scent.

        1. Bryce*

          Interestingly, shower and laundry stuff are the ones I have the worst issue with because they tend to be very *intense* with their scents so that things “smell clean” all day. But that also means they’re worst at the initial point of contact — my own use.

          What’s fun is that my mother and I are both sensitive to fragrances but can stand different things. I have a separate set of items I use when visiting her because we can both deal with them well enough. My usual “unscented” body wash has a chemical odor that I don’t mind and drives her up the wall.

        2. fidget spinner*

          Some of us wear a lot of deodorant because we get stinky without it and haven’t found an unscented version that works. :(

          (actually I did once find an unscented version that worked but it gave me an underarm rash so that was a no-go).

          1. TheNoseKnows*

            So, recent thing I started using because I hate smelling bad. Hibicleans is a medical grade antibacterial soap that kills all the bacteria in your skin that makes the smell! I’ve been using it for 2 weeks and have noticed a difference. Saw it on TikTok lol.

        3. Hot Flash Gordon*

          I don’t get why laundry products have to be so intensely perfumed. I’m sensitive to scented laundry soap and shampoo (makes me itchy) and have worked in a scent free office for decades so any fragrance is potentially annoying to me, but the new softening products and detergents are almost agressive in their obnoxiousness. It was especially bad when I quit smoking and my nose started working like it should. I didn’t realize how much the world stinks, lol!

        4. Coffee Protein Drink*

          I got out of the habit of wearing cologne when I worked for a hospital. Now I live in a bigger city where I’m constantly on subway cars or buses and I work on the 14th floor of a building. I wear as little scent as possible. When you’re sharing space, you need to.

          That said, I find it challenging to find unscented deodorant at my CVS or Walgreen’s.

  3. Betty Beep Boop*

    Ugh. The scented one is so HARD, and yeah, that’s the worst possible outcome.

    I mean, I tried to tough out a lunch to have an important conversation with someone last month despite the restaurant having a wedding reception full of people dressed — and scented — to the nines, and the poor person I was meeting ended up having to drive me home because I was in the grip of the kind of migraine where you can’t be allowed out unsupervised. Let’s just say that now I know why they call it “Axe”.

    And yet I’d never want someone else to miss something important on my account, either.

    I feel like the only accommodation that has the potential to work for everyone is to try to schedule at least the social things where there’s food and drink so you can’t just wear a mask with a good filter during seasons when you can do them outdoors. Or hold them somewhere with really amazing ventilation.

    1. HannahS*

      I think that in most situations, it is sufficient to ask people to leave off scented products. I work in a fragrance-free workplace (hospital) and it’s adhered to pretty well. The expectation is that we avoid strongly-scented products and don’t wear fragrance to work. There is no requirement that people switch out their laundry detergent or shampoo. I’ve found that in general, when there’s an issue with scent, it’s usually that someone just decided to wear essential oils or perfumes, or (as in your case) it was a setting where people were wearing a lot of scented products.

      1. Filosofickle*

        Usually yes, though I swear they are trying to weaponize laundry products. When I see those ads about scent so powerful your clothes still smell like it a week later I despair.

        1. LCH*

          haha, yeah, those are basically anti-ads for me.

          the comments on the original letter are interesting. someone asked if there were actually studies about the health impacts of fragrance so i went looking. yes, there are! mainly focusing on endocrine disrupters.

          1. Random Dice*

            EWG dot org – the Environmental Working Group – has a database of products and the specific health issues with each ingredient. Some companies give EWG a deeper dive into ingredient specifics so they can verify their data.

            For those of us with strong scent allergies, it’s a godsend.

          2. Artemesia*

            I’m not that super sensitive to scent but strong perfumes, and certain perfumes give me a bad headache. I can imagine for the people with migraines it is excruciating. We once had a middle Easter professional working with us for a few months whose habit was to drench in some sort of cologne — it was like the teen kids and Axe. As a woman I didn’t want to address it with him and the guys were not willing to do so. The entire floor smelled like it. Luckily I had an office with a door and could hole up for the months he was with us — but it would have been grim if it had been a permanent employee. My colleagues felt it was a cultural issue/custom as well as the awkwardness of gender issues — We didn’t want him to feel discriminated against but OMG it was awful.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              Noooooooooooooo we had a temporary IT professional who did the same thing. He was very nice, but I literally could not be in the same room with him, and I am someone who uses perfume and scented products! It was that bad! I would have to leave my office when he came into it to do anything to my computer.

        2. Jay (no, the other one)*

          Yes, and when I walk around the neighborhood and can tell who is doing laundry because the fabric softener scent is noticeable 100 feet away. Ugh ugh ugh.

          My husband doesn’t tolerate scented products and so our house is fragrance-free. A lot of people don’t realize that “unscented” is not the same as “fragrance free.” Unscented products can still have a scent from the ingredients, especially herbal ingredients, and often have something called “masking fragrance” which hubs can smell. I’m not allergic to anything, but I’ve lived in a fragrance-free home for decades and now I notice even subtle scents and have trouble tolerating strong scents, especially artificial ones. The only person I’ve ever had to ask to modify their personal use is my brother, who favors a musky cologne or aftershave, and he’s never worn it around us again.

          We also have a “no strong scents” policy for choir. And even with all that it would never occur to me to ask anyone to change the products they use at home. As long as they avoid the cologne and perfume, the shampoo and deodorant aren’t a problem unless we’re getting much more up close and personal than a work event would require.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Something I find fascinating is how often romantic prospects have told me I smell especially good. And yet I wear no perfume and use mainly no-fragrance products — when there is a scent in my house it’s extremely light and likely citrus-y, never floral. In a world that is so hyper-scented, my lack of perfume evidently is a relief to many!

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I feel like the main tip they should have included was this difference between fragrance free and unscented. Like, I’m sure lots of eczema-appropriate detergents have ingredients which qualify as a scent, but it’s highly unlikely to be a clothes coating of ultra-lasting perfume. The scent sensitive and skin sensitive have a common enemy in that one.

            1. gmg22*

              I had a related question about the LW’s specifics (detergents that are good for eczema-prone skin are very unlikely, by design, to have scent added to them) that made me wonder whether the details were being slightly changed for privacy reasons.

              1. Pig Snout*

                I don’t know. I tried a whole bunch of unscented and eczema focused detergents for my son and all of those made him worse. I randomly tried the Simple Truth Eucalyptus scented detergent and that was what cured it. Skin is just weird.

              2. LW#1*

                LW#1 here – I don’t know the details myself, only that my colleague mentioned that its the only detergent she’s found that works for her, and that it didn’t meet the definition of fragrance free that had been shared.

              3. Hot Flash Gordon*

                Not sure if it’s eczema friendly, but I know people who love Dreft for their sensitive skin and I think it smells atrocious. Same with Woolite.

              4. Coffee Protein Drink*

                As someone who deals with eczema, I wondered the same thing until I read Pig Snout’s comment.

                I’m lucky in that I don’t need anything special, I can use detergents labeled Free & Clear or somesuch. Or the detergent sheets from Last Object are pretty spiffy.

            2. Random Dice*

              Yes! I can’t handle any “parfum” or “perfume” but Mad Hippies Antioxidant Face Oil is naturally lightly scented from the oils, without making my wildly sensitive scent allergies and rosacea flare (the opposite!). For me it seems largely to be related to parfum / perfume (which – fun fact, can contain almost anything, without the ingredients reflecting which fake chemicals are in there). Obviously that’s not a universal exception, but for sure parfum is a problem for most scent allergists.

              1. Cinn*

                I’m sure I read somewhere recently that perfumes can contain formaldehyde. Which boggled the mind because if we handled anything containing that in our lab you can betcha we’d be expected to have read the safety data sheet before handling.

              2. watermelon fruitcake*

                On the flip side, more people respond poorly to “essential oils” which are well known to be volatile, reactive, and/or allergenic. “Parfum” is the French word for perfume and not an actual, singular ingredient, any more than “perfume” or “fragrance” is.

                The fact that there are people who are anti-“fragrance” but pro-essential oil on the basis of “fake chemicals” speaks to psychosomatosis, yet we are all expected to adjust our personal hygiene habits and household budgets to accommodate them.

                1. Cinn*

                  I was trying desperately not to make any comment on the “anti chemical” movement. XD I could easily detail the conversation doing that.

                2. I Have RBF*

                  That’s a weird take, sort of like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

                  Artificial fragrances use a lot of aldehydes and ketones as carriers for the scent. Most essential oils don’t. That’s not “psychosomatosis”, it literally a different chemical composition!

                  Quite frankly, there is a lot of quality variance in essential oils, and some of the extraction processes use the same problematic aldehydes and ketones, which in turn cause the same reaction.

                  Source: I used to be an environmental chemist with a focus on indoor air quality.

                3. MeepMeep123*

                  I dunno. Most artificial fragrances contain phthalates to make the scent last longer – usually, when “parfum” or “fragrance” is used on a label, it is a proprietary scent formulation, so the exact composition is not disclosed, but more than 70% of these contain phthalates according to the EWG. Phthalate exposure can lead to multiple illnesses and prenatal phthalate exposure can lead to birth defects – if you look at PubMed and search for “phthalate”, you’ll find all sorts of articles documenting the adverse health effects of these chemicals.

                  The “everything is a chemical and you hippies are crazy” argument is not based in good science.

                4. Cinn*

                  Sorry, MeepMeep123, I can’t reply to you directly. I don’t think the “The “everything is a chemical and you hippies are crazy” argument is not based in good science.” was aimed at me, but just in case it is I wanna clarify that my stance against people who claim to be “no/anti chemicals” isnt that all synthetic/natural chemicals are interchangeable, but more on the basis that the term is so broad to be meaningless/misused and often deliberately so.

              3. I Have RBF*


                The way I put it is that I am allergic to every artificial scent, including “masking scent”, that I’ve encountered. I am also allergic to some natural scents, like lavender. The worst ones are the ones that are heavily composed of aldehydes and ketones. I am allergic to those chemicals too, although most people aren’t.

                When I first developed a skin reaction in the 80s, there were not many fragrance free products that I could use on my body, and those that did exist didn’t actually get me clean. For a number of years in the 90s I made my own soap, just so I could have something to wash with.

          3. UKDancer*

            I think most people are happy not to wear perfume / cologne if asked. That’s not a major thing because it’s a thing you add. Where people tend to take exception is when they’re asked to change shampoo / laundry products and incur additional expense or not use things that work.

            I have one shampoo that works well for my dandruff and it has a slight scent of mint. You’d probably only notice it if you sniffed my hair. Likewise I have one make of washing powder that doesn’t make me itch but it does have a slight smell to it. I would be extremely annoyed to be asked to change my shampoo and / or washing powder because I prefer not to be a dandruffy / itchy person.

          4. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            Cologne, perfume, and scented lotion. Scented lotions can have a stronger smell than perfume, because people use so much more of them.

          5. Bryce*

            A pox on whoever decided “clear” was a type of scent instead of meaning fragrance-free. Some brands have clean and understandable labeling, some seem to be obfuscating it on purpose.

            1. KTurtle*

              I noticed that, too! Dawn free and clear is free and clear of dyes but has a “light pear scent” (or something to that effect). I was so annoyed when I saw that because if I weren’t in the habit of reading labels, I would have wasted my money on it. And really, how weird is it that we smear perfume on our dishes, anyway?

        3. MigraineMonth*

          There are a bunch of ads for “detergent that smells so great, randos will sniff your shirt in public”, and I have no idea how this is supposed to be an enticement to buy the product.

          1. BikeWalkBarb*

            For real!

            I won’t walk down the detergent aisle in a grocery store any more. I have zero allergies but the scents are all so strong and clashing that I find it horrible. I buy a “free & clear” laundry detergent and dish soap and don’t use any dryer sheets, which seem especially chemical-y to me.

            Our workplace policy (public agency) asks us not to wear scented products to work as a fragrance-free workplace. And yet some of our buildings have some kind of strong deodorizing smell in the bathrooms that I’ve wanted to ask about. I may not knock you out with perfume but the bathroom scent will.

            1. Random Dice*

              My gym has hand soap so scented that I have to wash my hands three times with the Fomin unscented soap sheets I carry with me. (But I keep them in my coat pocket, so too often at the gym restroom I have to decide between washing in fake allergy perfume or not washing at all, or washing in perfume and then returning and re-washing three times with my soap sheets.)

              I asked the gym if I could give them $300 to buy unscented soap, and they said no. :*(

              But I have to say, there is no more romantic gift from the partner of a scent allergist than a sleeve of unscented hand soap papers. <3 It still melts my heart every time I pull it out.

              1. Artemesia*

                My workplace used a liquid soap with a weird scent that just drove me nuts. Usually I can live with scented soaps, this one just got to me. I carried hand sanitizer which is not as good as soap but I could not bear to use this stuff and have the scent cling to me.

              2. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

                The soap in my library was so scented that multiple employees would keep a bar of soap in their desk to take the bathrooms. Eventually, they had enough complaints that the custodians added a second soap dispenser in each bathroom with fragrance-free soap.

              3. Hot Flash Gordon*

                The soap at my work is usually unscented, but sometimes they’ll order this Rose scented soap that makes me insane. Rose is my nemesis and gives me such a headache and itchy eyes. So many of us complained that they finally stopped ordering it. The other soap I hate finding is the antiseptic soap that smells like band-aids…ugh.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            Unless you are an adorable Golden Retriever, I don’t want you sniffing me!

        4. Betty Beep Boop*

          Yep. Laundry products aren’t an individual problem and don’t have a lot of individual solutions. And they’re getting worse as they discover more and more ways to make the scent last.

          I KNOW my sense of smell is significantly affected by the allergies and yet I genuinely can’t understand how anyone can stand to wear clothing washed and dried with that stuff. Especially when the detergent is scented, the stain remover is scented, the dryer sheets are scented and they’re all different scents.

          I mean obviously it doesn’t bother most people, I’m not judging. I’m genuinely curious: are the scents actually mild enough to be pleasant to most people or is it just something you don’t notice anymore?

          1. Betsy*

            When I walk the dog in the evening, I’ve started to get allergy attacks. It’s possible something blooms at night, but I have noticed that a lot of people do their laundry in the evening because I can smell the dryer vent smells, and I’m pretty sure that’s what’s setting off my allergies.

            On the other side of the scent issue, I was visiting my folks for a month last November, and I got caught up in the really strong smelling and long lasting scent stuff that goes in the washer. My dad has caregivers who take care of him, and they need to do laundry pretty often, and some of my clothes were put in with my dad’s. When I got home and unzipped my suitcase, I immediately had a full on allergy attack. All of my clothes were marinating in the scent of some of the clothes, and it was so strong that some of my clothes still have the smell. I can put something on and know, yup, this pair of pants went with me to Mom & Dad’s!

            1. Dahlia*

              If you wash them with some vinegar, that’ll help strip the scent out. I’ve had to do that with things I’ve bought thrifted because the fabric softener smell was SO strong.

          2. LCH*

            my sense of smell is also enhanced by allergies. i have a slight dog allergy, usually don’t notice it at all. except it makes a lot of dogs very smelly to me. smells that other people can’t smell at all. it’s super weird and i hate it. dogs are great.

            1. watermelon fruitcake*

              Dogs have a smell. Some people are more sensitive to it, allergies or not. I love dogs, too, but no matter how clean or freshly groomed they are, they have a smell. I mean, “wet dog smell” is in the common vernacular, and if you mention it to somebody they almost always recognize the smell you’re referring to, even if they claim their beloved pooch certainly doesn’t smell like it.

              People say the same about cats, which I’ve never noticed, even (allegedly, according to blood tests) having a slight cat allergy myself! Of course I notice when cats aren’t clean, like they will smell like their litter if it isn’t changed enough, but I have never picked up on a “cat smell.” I wonder if there may actually be a real physiological, difference between “cat people” and “dog people,” but it’s about olfactory receptors more than personality differences!

          3. Rara Avis*

            I REALLY notice it at the gym — people get warm and sweaty, and their athletic wear starts to exude strong chemical scents that make me cough.

        5. Random Dice*

          I love the laundry detergent papers by TruEarth. They are unscented, come in a cardboard sleeve, work great, no plastic and far less shipping weight.

        6. Hot Flash Gordon*

          Yeah, they’re super aggressive, for sure. I swear that even the usual scented laundry products (april fresh, summer rain) are getting more powerful by the minute.

        7. Quill*

          “plug ins for week long freshness!”

          Ah yes, because when someone whacks me between the eyes with artificial scent and the alcoholy diffuser smell, ‘fresh’ is a descriptor that I think of…

        8. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, it’s essentially saying “Hey, buy our product that removes dirt and replaces it with a scent guaranteed to give half the people you know migraines or asthma attacks a week later!” I want to scream at things like that.

          If you can smell it, then it’s not actually clean. You’ve just substituted one contaminant for another. Clean does not smell, and there is no such thing as a “clean scent” – if there is a scent, it’s not clean.

          Yes, this is a hill to die on, because I’m seriously afraid one day I’ll be trapped with someone who wears this stuff, and I will be unable to escape to breath, and end up passed out or worse, with a heavily fragranced person crowded over me wondering why I’m turning blue…

      2. Smithy*

        I think a reality for most hospitals is that because they’re larger bureaucratic entities with an HR, they’ve likely gone through a lot of individual cases over the years to figure out the language of being “fragrance free” to both not overly discriminate as well as giving them the opportunity to step in for significant offenders.

        In addition to detergents/lotions for a range of skin needs regularly not being truly fragrance free – I’m also thinking about hair products such as oils that are not “fragrance free” but not always perfumed. Again, I’m sure hospitals working with larger, diverse staffs, have had more opportunity to refine this approach. Whereas another employer bringing it out ad hoc for an event could easily err on the side where the interpretation of being fragrance free feels more alienating.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          “We’re not discriminating against anyone, we just don’t allow coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil, argan oil or jojoba oil due to their scent.”

          1. Smithy*

            Shea butter….exactly. And on the one hand, I cannot imagine hospitals wanting any kind of policy that could be interpreted that broadly. But, where it still gives them an opening for an HR conversation in case someone was using any of those products in a concentration or from a brand where the level of scent was deemed to be a problem.

            Not to mention that a number of prescription topical lotions, ointments, and shampoos can definitely have an odor and sometimes containing a fragrance. Bigger picture is that this seems like a situation when a number of HR representatives and lawyers put their heads together due to having a large staff and beneficiary population to consider, the language is likely a lot more precise to take a number of sides into consideration.

          2. Banana Pyjamas*

            Argan is a tree nut, so that probably shouldn’t be allowed in a medical setting.

    2. Llama face!*

      You mention good ventilation and my first though reading the post was that air purifiers can do a lot (for all kinds of things in the air, including scented products) and are easy enough to obtain. Maybe not enough for your example situation where everyone had bathed in Axe but they would cut down significantly on average levels of scent miasma.

      1. Llama face!*

        I do think requiring people to stop wearing optional scents (perfumes, body sprays, colognes) is totally reasonable.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, it’s the difference between products that *are* scents (perfumes, colognes, body sprays) and products that are scent*ed* (laundry detergent, icy hot, eczema lotion, shampoo).

    3. meaganfitz*

      I also have MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity going on 20 years now) and was required to attend an in-person work event (normally I work from home 100% of the time). Within one hour I had a seizure and had to leave. I fully expected this outcome and I fully understand that it would be impossible to get enough smell out of everyone’s products (not to mention the off-gassing smells in the room of paint, carpet glue, furniture treatment sprays, etc…). And because of this I am totally understanding that *I’m* the person that needs to take care of myself and will gladly accept a remote option and be happy about it because then I don’t have to have a seizure. A remote option is a very reasonable accommodation on the part of the employer.

      **I would also like to point out MCS is recognized as a disability in Canada and is treated under their disability laws.

      ***If anyone is curious as to what MCS looks/feels like watch the 1995 movie “Safe” (with Julianne Moore).

      1. GladImNotThereAnymore*

        My wife had MCS as well and would do what she could to avoid exposures – be selective where she spent her time, wear a charcoal mask if she had to be somewhere problematic, set up the house as a safe space with regards to cleaning products, soap, shampoo, etc. It still could be too much at times – she was the church organist, and while the congregation in general knew she was sensitive, there was often a “oh, you don’t mean I’m a problem” and people would marinate in perfume and such. Her playing was sometimes impaired because of it (cognitive effect) and a number of times she had to leave right after playing the opening hymns because it was too much (and occasionally even before service started). So, I sympathize with the person who wants a fragrance-free environment, but in practice it really is impossible, especially if there are people that are one cannot have full control over (e.g., live in the same house). Still, it hurts to be the one who can’t attend a wedding because of guests’ perfumes, can’t watch a live show because of the other patrons, can’t stay in an arbitrary hotel because of the cleaning products, pesticides, etc. that are used so travel is difficult, etc.

      2. Filosofickle*

        I felt so bad for a coworker who had this (or something just like it). She was already having difficulty getting the company to properly accommodate WFH — she negotiated it but it was in the 90s and so out of the norm for us that it wasn’t being handled well. Then she needed to do remediation in her home, which meant finding a safe place to live not just for the duration of the work but also for a long period after while all the new materials (I think flooring was involved) off-gassed. Ugh.

      3. Peg legged*

        >(not to mention the off-gassing smells in the room of paint, carpet glue, furniture treatment sprays, etc…)

        Yeah, whenever I read about these “nothing with a scent” rules I wonder whether I’d be allowed to walk in on my prosthetic leg, as it’s definitely the smelliest part of me. The socket and liner always stink (more of paint than of perfume), especially when they’re new.

      4. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I used to not be affected, until I had to use lice shampoo for the family (twice, but that one family finally moved). Now I can spot artificial scents a mile away (I can still use real ones, like using the skin of a lemon etc., newly picked lilacs, etc.).

      5. Michelle Smith*

        You say their disability laws. Does that mean you aren’t in Canada? Because if you are and you were forced to go to an in-person meeting where you knew you were going to have a seizure and they made you go anyway and you had a seizure…seems to me like that is a major violation of any reasonable disability discrimination laws and that company deserves to pay you for their screw up.

    4. JP*

      The scent thing is tough. I remember reading a post years ago on a forum about a school teacher who sent home notes to parents asking them to refrain from using scented products with their kids due to the teacher’s scent sensitivity. The poster’s daughter was black, and he ended up getting a nasty note back from the teacher after a few days due to the products used in his daughter’s hair care. I don’t remember if there ended up being a resolution there. I feel for the teacher, but I don’t think it’s reasonable in that particular situation to put those demands on students and their families.

      I do, however, continue to rage against my coworkers’ liberal use of scented air fresheners in our office, and the over the top perfume / cologne smells.

      1. Rara Avis*

        I’m about to change dentists because every time I go into the office, it seems like they are using more air freshener. When I went yesterday, I walked into the office and started coughing. They kept offering me water, and I kept saying, “Nothing is going to help as long as I am being exposed to that scent.” They finally ended up opening the window of the room I was seen in (in 40-degree weather).

    5. Hannah Lee*

      Random “Axe” story.

      Years ago, I volunteered to be the person who picked up Christmas tree ornaments for an non-profit fundraising event with a limited budget. I made my way to the local KMart because I figured I might be able get a lot for not much money.

      I’d found a few things and was stand in front of a aisle of ornaments checking out one other option, when a poorly stacked and previously opened tub of ornaments tipped over off the top shelf, opened up and plastic ornaments covered with glitter rained down on top of me along with a cloud of glitter dust. I wound up covered with glitter. I decide that was enough shopping for me, tried to dust off as much glitter as I could and headed for the check out.

      In front of me in line was someone buying gifts for their nephews, they had brought 2 different bottles of Axe body spray to the check out, and for some reason, decided to ask the person working the check out (a middle aged woman) which scent she thought her 15 year old nephew would like.

      So the check out person FOR SOME REASON picked up a bottle, said “lets see” and proceeded to spray it … not realizing it was aimed right at me.

      I so I ended my “no problem I’m happy to stop and pick up some decorations” shopping trip covered in body spray and glitter. Argh!

      I think I had to shower and run my clothes through the (always unscented) laundry multiple times to get all the smell off. The glitter haunted me for months.
      Blue light special? Phooey!

    6. Joana*

      I worked at a call center that was supposed to be fragrance-free. Had nothing to do with the soap or detergent you used, but with perfumes and cologne and such. My sister and I both ended up in the ER because people would literally douse themselves in it on the floor. Even had to move my station one day because the person who sat down at the one next to mine proceeded to take out a can of potpourri and open it.

      I’m not so sensitive that I’ve found myself noticing when people are already wearing something (barring a few times when they bathed in it) but yeah, spraying and spreading it around right there is obnoxious.

  4. Zarniwoop*

    #3 No need to feel ashamed for getting out of someplace that unreasonable. Humans need breaks!

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Exactly! LW, don’t feel any shame for leaving after 8 months. As Alison always says, job-hopping is only a concern if there’s a real pattern of it and you’re in an industry where it’s unusual.

      In the future, consider leaving even earlier so you can leave problem!job off your resume entirely!

    2. Artemesia*

      In that situation, I’d be the one who stand up and says — we need a break, I’ll see you back here in 15. I have learned that often ridiculous patterns like no breaks all morning with back to back meetings often irritate everyone and yet everyone is reluctant to do something about it. Often if you just take charge on it, it works. Of course if you are a very junior person meeting with seniors, you would need to approach one of them with ‘these meetings that run together really need a break — could we have 10 minutes between them?’ or whatever might work.

  5. Jess*

    “professionally and personally, when accommodating one person, make sure you don’t accidentally exclude another.”

    HELLO. Louder for the unbelievers in the back.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      +1000. Even though it is about war, Mark Twain’s short story “The War Prayer” is a powerful expression of the same thing.

    2. Three Flowers*

      Amen. I remember many comments on the original letter that were sympathetic to the scent-sensitive person to the extent of excluding anyone who used any kind of products with any scent at all. As a person who has to use slightly acidic soap, shampoo, etc due to hard water—meaning I come with a faint, natural, and entirely unavoidable smell of citrus and cider vinegar—it kind of annoyed me on behalf of people who *can’t* use fully unscented products. And I (White, with pretty typical white girl hair) never even thought of the additional burden on people who have a much smaller selection of products that are appropriate for their hair type. Learned something today! I hope LW’s company gets with the program and identifies a solution that is reasonably accommodating for the sensitive person and does not make a whole demographic feel like they’ll be blamed for that person’s discomfort due to their totally normal hair/skin routines.

      1. fidget spinner*

        I thought I might be misremembering how absurdly harsh some of those comments were, but I went back and looked at them and… nope! I remembered correctly. There really were people saying that people should not use any fragranced product, at all, ever, or else they’re harming others’ health.

        This update showed how short-sighted that is with its terrible outcome….

        1. Galadriel's Garden*

          Harsh, sanctimonious, and sporting a side of “chemicals bad!” hysteria, to boot.

          1. Moose*

            The whole thing reminded me of when some folks at my work found out that I enjoy scented candles and have a collection of perfumes/body sprays that I use when I am not at work.

            For some reason the conversation puts many folks in a space where they are not at their best.

          2. CommanderBanana*

            Right? Meanwhile the only product line I ever had a reaction to was one of those crunchy plant-based ones. Turns out a lot of plant oils are super irritating!

    3. YRH*

      This! When my office installed gender inclusive signs on the bathrooms (which I 100% support), they got rid of braille on the signs. That’s not how inclusion works.

      1. Bathroom drama*

        God I remember the battles. Like opposition rarely came from anti trans bigots. They came from staff members who wanted their own restrooms. The college only ever had public restrooms except in one part of the library that only staff could access. The only changes that were supposed to happen was a sign change for single stall restrooms and the installation of baby changing stations in all bathrooms. That last change was due to a single father who couldn’t change his kids diaper without going into the single stall female bathroom.

        The teachers demanding staff restrooms held up the process for 3 months until state law changed and mandated the signage.

    4. Random Dice*

      Right, but the solution can’t be to ignore the ADA needs of folks with medical issues.

      It’s to be more careful with the instructions, and think through how not to harm others while doing a good deed (that’s arguably legally required).

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        There are times too when two peoples’ separate ADA accommodations will clash. A common one is one person who has a service dog and another who is allergic to dogs. There’s no one-size-fits-all set of instructions that will cover all situations, which is why even the ADA rules include allowances for nuance.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Exactly. An accommodation might be holding an event outside or creating a virtual option, but it’s never going to be “everyone else that works here has to change their laundry detergent and shampoo to a brand that works for me.” There is a reason the ADA says accommodations have to be reasonable and not create an undue burden on the business and certainly coming to my home to police what products I use to clean myself and my laundry are not going to fall on the side of reasonable.

      2. watermelon fruitcake*

        When it comes to reasonable accommodations, you can’t gloss over the “reasonable” part of it. Companies are allowed to decline an accommodation if it imposes an undue burden on their operations. One person with a nebulous “scent sensitivity” requiring an entire office or floor or building to change their personal hygiene habits wouldn’t pass the sniff test for reasonability; the more reasonable accommodation, in that case, would be to allow that person to work in isolation, remotely, if possible, or allow them to opt out of crowded events. If this weren’t feasible, then the job isn’t a fit.

        For instance, if a wheelchair user applied to be a walking tour guide at a mountainous nature preserve that did not have adequate ramps built throughout all the hiking paths they would need to take, the employer would not be required to pave the mountain with appropriately graded ramps. If having the applicant escorted on an all-terrain vehicle were also similarly impossible, they would be allowed to reject the applicant on the basis that the essential functions of the job require ambulation.

        Asking for staff to refrain from applying perfume, cologne, body spray, or essential oils (because yes, essential oils are JUST as volatile as any category of fragrance, even if they are “natural”) is completely within the realm of reasonability. Asking your entire workforce to refrain from ANY scented products, including but not limited to personal hygiene like soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, as well as detergents and medications (for instance, tea tree and sulfur products used for acne tend to smell very strongly, as do coal tar, etc., shampoos for dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis), is not. It’s impossible to police adequately and it risks discriminating against one person’s needs in favor of another’s, and, personally, it is an overreach into employee privacy.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I hope the sniff test for reasonability isn’t like the hug test for scented products… ;-p

  6. Old lady*

    #2 gives me a flashback to previous job – we had a world champion rambler. She was incapable of answering a simple question without going into a 30 minute conversation. It got to the point when one of our group had to go talk to her we set a timer and came in to announce an important phone call so that person could be rescued. The rambler was totally oblivious to any “stop now” signals from her target of talk. So glad to be out of there!

    1. Don’t make me come over there*

      A former workplace of mine had two people in particular that when you needed a yes-no or one sentence answer from them you had to plan on a 20-minute conversation.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Sigh, that’s my mom. She’s a sweetheart but a world class rambler–if talking were walking she’d have set every world record by now. I can’t call her without a good hour free for the conversation.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Goodness, mine too! We refer to it as “transmission mode” because she’s only transmitting and not receiving signals. I thought she only did it to family, but recently discovered she does it with clients at work too, and I felt SUCH vicarious embarrassment.

    2. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I had to run meetings with one, so I put her close to last while the smell from lunch would come in and motivate everyone to wrap things up.

  7. A Simple Narwhal*

    Oof #2 reminds me of a former grandboss – he could talk at you forever and was impossible to stop. It was a known and acceptable excuse to be late to meetings if you got caught in his trap.

    If it wasn’t so annoying it would have been genuinely fascinating how you could never get a word in edgewise and any attempts to end the conversation or mention you had another meeting were swiftly and smoothly brushed aside.

    1. Betsy*

      I’ve discovered that I can start packing up my stuff, put on my coat, zip it up, etc., and some people still don’t do taking. I think I have to not stop once I’ve picked up my stuff – just walk out the door and say, “see you tomorrow” or whatever. It feels so rude, but I’m now old enough to really not want to put up with other people’s nonsense.

  8. samwise*

    OP 2/Rambling coworker
    The trainers may not have supervisory authority, but they have classroom authority. If someone is disrupting the class/training session/workshop, the trainer/teacher/workshop leader has the authority and the obligation to shut it down.

    A trainer can do this indirectly: Please save questions for the end. Please write down your questions and save them for the end of this section.

    Or directly, and can become increasingly more direct, if it’s a repeat offender:
    Jude, you’ll need to hold that question/comment/observation/concern til the end of this section, we need to move on. Thanks!
    Jude, please wait til end of this section.
    Jude, I’m going to stop you right here. We need to move on. Hold your question.
    Jude, please chat with me at the break. [then you have a frank, direct “conversation” with Jude, in which you name the behavior, state that it has to stop, and state that you will not allow any further interruptions]
    Jude. Stop now. This is what we discussed, you cannot interrupt.

    I’ve been a teacher and I’ve been a trainer. People like that have to be shut down, kindly if possible, but direct and blunt if need be. It’s not a one-on-one session (and even then, you may need to shut them down), they are so extra special swell that everyone else loses the benefit of the class/training.

    1. Jade*

      Exactly this. We have third party trainers and they control the situation all the time. Because there’s always a rambler.

    2. Awkwardness*

      I am a little bit saddened by this update. The ability to provide guided and structured training sessions has nothing to do with authority, but is a simple necessity for successful training.
      I did some trainings and even if I wanted to, I could not let a rambler take over because otherwise I would not have been able to stick to my training schedule.

    3. Artemesia*

      This so much. Anyone doing training has to be able to manage this. I have had people much more senior than I am in training and still managed — sometimes, it meant flattering them while reining them in off line — e.g. These are very sophisticated questions and really beyond the scope of the course or the level of this group, so could we discuss them one on one rather than taking group time. We have so many things we need to get these folks through. (note: the guy was not sophisticated and his questions were stupid — but it flattered him and let me get it done). And of course anything like this is done privately.

      And during class, having structures like parking lots for questions that will be addressed later and articulating what has to be accomplished and having some sort of formal wrap up helps.

      It isn’t easy. But it IS the job when you are doing training with adults.

  9. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    Oh, LW #3, that meeting schedule sounds like my idea of hell itself. I’m glad you got to a place where they know it’s people, not robots, they’ve employed.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I don’t understand how people trapped in a meeting schedule like LW #3 described ever get any actual work done!

  10. Scent Free*

    I wish more things were fragrance free and didn’t cost extra. I can’t stand the conflicting scents between body wash vs hair products vs my clothes from detergent on myself. Has nothing to do with any medical issues just a personal preference.

    1. Enai*

      Same. I use fragrance free laudry detergent and no fabric softener, because if I ever feel the need to smell like anything besides “reasonably clean human”, I want to choose the perfume myself. The people who manufacture my washing powdet don’t get a say, and I do not want their suggestions.

      1. Writerling*

        Pro tip: use white vinegar instead of fabric softener for better effect! Neutralizes scents, even, I’ve become a big fan.

        1. OnyxChimney*

          Oh yeah. I’ve been using that liberally with an infant at home it disinfects without shrinking the clothes like hot water.

    2. Artemesia*

      And a twist is the fragrance free stuff that stinks. I have a gel deodorant, I don’t use because to me it smell worse than sweat — but it is scent free. The same brand has a cream deodorant that is also scent free, but has almost no detectible scent which is what I use.

      1. Lacie*

        Deodorant is an especially difficult thing because a lot of people are using the scent in the deodorant to mask potential body odor (which can be impacted by so many things that it’s not as simple as saying “well just make sure you’re clean and you won’t smell bad!”). I don’t know how they manage it, but some of the brands that are marketed as unobtrusive or unscented and ~natural~ can make the wearer smell worse than they would if they had worn nothing at all. And you really only figure that one out by trial and error, where “error” is “go into the office smelling like absolute filth”. I

        have no idea what could be causing that (body chemistry maybe?) but it’s happened to a few friends and family members who tried to switch to natural products with low or no scent. It was pleasant for no one involved, lol.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          Yeah, I tried Lumi for a while and it both didn’t react well with my body chemistry smell-wise AND gave me an itchy rash in one armpit.

  11. desdemona*

    I just went back to the comments on the original fragrances post, where I had mentioned my coconut-oil-including scented hand sanitizer. I never saw the replies asking me what it was – so in case those folks still want to know, it’s Grove Collaborative’s hand sanitizer. The downside is it only comes in Blood Orange scent (which I LOVE, but it is fairly strongly citrusy & I don’t bring it if I know I’ll be near someone sensitive to strong smells).

    1. desdemona*

      Also, adding to this – I just got back from a work trip with a scent-sensitive coworker. I didn’t bring my favored hand sanitizer, but DID bring a lot of lotion and bandaids. My hands are managing.
      Not everyone is so lucky that that’s a simple solution – as the update shows :)

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Strangely, I know a scent and skin sensitive person who is fine with certain scents; not only is blood orange and coconut oil among their favourites, they really can’t use plain alcohol sanitizer without a reaction!

      1. desdemona*

        I also find plain alcohol sanitizer to be too harsh! If I use it while traveling, for example, I wind up with my skin cracking and bleeding in the airport. So now I try to minimize the hand sanitizer and wind up ducking to wash my hands a lot more. Still dries me out, just slower.

        1. Artemesia*

          hand washing is much better for disease control too — norovirus for example, that thing you really don’t want to get traveling, is not phased by hand sanitizer — its got to be soap and water.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Sometimes it depends if the scents are natural or artificial. I can actually tell which ones they are by how my nose reacts.

      3. Hot Flash Gordon*

        I’m scent sensitive and can tolerate some herbal and citrus scents, but all musks and florals are out. Oddly, patchouli is one of my faves.

      1. desdemona*

        The only moisturizing one I’ve found that doesn’t leave my hands feeling sticky or like there’s a film over them is the one I mentioned in my comment! But it does have coconut oil, so I am careful to ask about allergies before someone borrows it.

    3. fidget spinner*

      Wait you mean there’s an option that doesn’t burn like heck when you put it on??

    4. LW#1*

      LW#1 here – reading your comment reminded me that when we got in to the office for the event, at the hoteling desks set aside for people who usually work from home but happen to be in the office, every desk had its own bottle of hand sanitizer and package of sanitizing wipes… All of which were scented. Talk about facepalm moments.

      1. Frankie*

        Eczema is worsened by fragrances, just FYI. There are no lotions used to treat it that contain fragrance. This was that employee’s personal preference, not a competing accommodation.

        1. watermelon fruitcake*

          Since “fragrance” is NOT a single ingredient, there is no basis for you to make this claim with any degree of authority, and it is incredibly dismissive to people suffering from eczema/atopic dermatitis or any other skin condition who have found the one product that works for them that happens to have a fragrant ingredient, like shea butter.

          1. Itchygirl*

            Exactly! I have an eczema cream that is officially unscented (no added fragrance). But it definitely has a scent. I don’t even like the scent but it works so

  12. You never know*

    Another angle to the scent issue I didn’t see mentioned…The scent in some products is used to cover the chemical smell of the ingredients. I can handle a light scent much better than some of the chemical smells. The key is LIGHT scent, not half a large bottle!

  13. Random Dice*

    #4 I loved your last comment.

    “I’m still painfully socially awkward”

    Oh I feel you! The socially awkward unite! (Awkwardly, missing the high five, and avoiding eye contact). :)

    It’s unsolicited, but I’ve found so much help from Michelle Garcia Winner’s Socially Curious, Curiously Social. It’s the manual that I used to wish for as a social awkward kid. See, we KNEW there was a manual!!

  14. BikeWalkBarb*

    LW #3, early in the pandemic when a big chunk of my public agency was directed to WFH if our jobs were appropriate for that we had the most horrendous calendars. Meeting-meeting-meeting-meeting-meeting. It made it pretty obvious that we’d have to carry our phones to the bathroom and mute them if we needed to pee.

    I pushed back and instituted a calendaring practice that some have picked up on. All meeting requests from us will start at 5 minutes after the hour or half-hour. If it would have been a 30-minute meeting it’s 25. We note that in the subject line so it says “NOTE: start time 1:05pm”. I did a little research on building in breaks between meetings and found some evidence that it’s better to schedule the start “late” than try to end early because people will always use up the 5 minutes at the end. Our former 60-minute meetings have 5 minutes trimmed both front and back so they’re 50-minute meetings, although it sometimes only serves to prove the point that people will slop over into the last 5 minutes.

    I figure this scheduling replaces the delay when it’s supposed to start on the hour and the meeting leader says, “We’ll wait a few minutes for everyone to arrive.” OK, let’s *schedule* that wait time to be realistic. When I’m in our giant building it takes a full minute to walk from one end of the hallway to the middle area where the stairs, elevators, bathrooms and drinking fountains are located.

    I’ve also started reviewing agendas for any long meetings and have asked for more frequent breaks. There’s a health basis for this in some recent research noting that a 5-minute light movement break every half-hour contributes to all kinds of measurable health improvements (lower blood pressure, blood glucose management etc.). This fits well with the pomodoro method if that’s your jam. If I’m leading a meeting, at around 25 minutes in I’ll offer a 5-minute stretch break–maybe go a little longer if we’re in the middle of a topic, but at least break up any 90-minute meetings at the midpoint. I’d rather have 5-minute mini breaks than one 15-minute break.

    1. So they all cheap-ass rolled over and one fell out*

      I used to work at a place where any meeting that included someone outside my Engineering department wouldn’t really start until 5 minutes late, because most of the other teams had back-to-back-to-back meetings that always ran up to and over their supposed end time. As someone who didn’t have so many meetings (thankfully) it felt pretty disrespectful. Now reading this I can’t imagine it was very pleasant for them, either.

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I made pretty much the exact same comment the first time this question was posted. lolol

  15. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 An employer (above a certain #employees) is required to provide reasonable accommodation.
    But imo, this accommodation is NOT reasonable if it costs coworkers extra money, work, time, mental or physical health, or causes their exclusion. So, banning the application in the workplace of fragrances such as perfumes and bodysprays and banning essential oils, candles, air fresheners etc is reasonable to ask, but not changing products used at home.

    If wfh isn’t possible and a separate office impractical, could employer provision of plentiful FFP2 masks work, since they do keep out tiny virus particles?

    However, I understand the US is mostly at-will employment, so presumably an employer can choose to prioritise say a rockstar employee – or the owner – by firing anyone who does not go completely fragrance-free?

    1. Albatross*

      Given that OP mentioned that this strongly affected minorities because of what hair/skin products are available and work, you could probably argue for de facto racial discrimination. That’s often hard to prove, but it is illegal.

  16. Hcm*

    I’m not sure I disagree with the advice on scents being over the top but the detergent rationale behind not accommodating it feels off to me. I have never encountered anyone with eczema (as someone with eczema) who required a scented detergent to run their laundry. If anything, people with eczema are supposed to use unscented detergents/lotions/steer clear of perfumes. Maybe it’s the only scent that works for their skin and they strongly prefer scented detergent… but that’s a preference issue not an allergy issue. Lotion I can see a bit: most of the eczema lotions won’t have added fragrances but can have strong smells since they don’t have added fragrance (Amlactin has the most disgusting smell and I have to use it every couple of days)–so maybe this was the issue? I also acknowledge I could be totally wrong and this could be the one person who does actually require a scented detergent for their skin but in that case, it seems like a pretty clear-cut case to raise with higher-ups since it becomes one accommodation against another. And it doesn’t even sound like the person requesting the accommodation wanted them to change their detergent since they specified it was fine as long as it had been washed out (and is it really that hard to just avoid running one load with a dryer sheet for this one meeting?) Maybe that was just one example of many but the excuse felt a little off and like they were looking for reasons to feel outraged about the policy. I’m a little annoyed that eczema folks got used as a way to not accommodate someone else’s need. And this goes beyond scent sensitivity for some people–I’ve heard of scents causing horrible allergic/asthmatic reactions, debilitating migraines, even aggravating Tourette’s. I think it would have been nice to see a bit more generosity toward the person requesting the accommodations. Sure, don’t go and buy all new stuff, but paying attention to what they actually said and meeting them there without getting on a high horse about a dubious accommodations claim for scented eczema detergent would be a good place to start. (I’m anticipating all the eczema folks jumping in with the scented detergent that is the only one that works for them and if you’ve found one, include links because I wanna get it. My skin still acts up most of the time even with unscented detergent.)

    1. Allergic to everything*

      I’m seeing lots of comments along this vein and it’s a really narrow minded view of eczema being the only possible skin sensitivity at play here. At least in my experience, eczema is often, rightly or wrongly, used as a catch all term for skin problems since its fairly easily commonly understood without going into graphic detail. I went through nearly a year of inexplicable full body hives/breakouts in my 20s (got treated with prednisone many many times to be able to function, because long term full body rash and itch is soooo distressing and painful) which I called eczema, especially at work, to not have to show my rash to random people. And the treatment from doctors was basically a big shrug. I tried all of the eczema treatments and ‘there’s nothing in this you could possible react to, it’s safe’ options and reacted to all of them. I got patch testing and only a few very standard ingredients that I had already been avoiding turned up positive, to which doctors shrugged again. I had a massive reaction to the tape they used to administer the patch testing, and asked what could be in that, and also got a shrug. I ended up just not using lotion at all for ages and then slowlyyy trying random ones until I found something that worked (and I still don’t use it daily out of fear hahah). I think the products I’ve settled on are fairly scent neutral (though not completely), and while I’m very happy to not apply perfume/obvious scents because I feel for people that are sensitive to them, I will not change my body care products, and I deeply resent those claiming that ‘well clearly it’s just a preference’ (not you, someone said that higher up) if it’s not a marked eczema treatment product. I know my situation is rare, but also skin is really really weird and I’m sure there are lots of similar variations of I can use x but not y and I couldn’t explain why to you, out there. Scent sensitivity is a big deal, but so is skin sensitivity, and saying one trumps the other, instead of trying to work out a compromise, is a problem.

    2. Edna*

      Maybe this is me being uniquely bad at managing my life (hello ADHD) but it would genuinely be a large mental load for me to remember to do my laundry in a specific way sometimes and then wear only outfits that had been laundered according those methods. Like, I’m not proud of this, but that is something I would definitely mess up just because life and chores can be chaotic.

    3. LW#1*

      LW#1 here – The text I quoted in my first letter came from the body of the email (the event invitation) which did say “scented laundry products where the scent has not washed out.” However, attached to the email was a fifteen page document compiled by the employee requesting the accommodation which included the specific request “So, what can I do to help? … Switchover personal care products to fragrance free versions” before going on to list laundry detergents as one such product to switch out. The document specifically cautioned that only products explicitly labeled as “free and clear of dyes and fragrances” were acceptable, as “Unscented, Fragrance free, and Sensitive Skin products, especially those made for babies, may have lavender or masking fragrance in them.”

      You accuse my colleague of not being generous to the person requesting the accommodation, but I think the opposite is true – Out of generosity to the person making the request, she made the decision that since she wasn’t able to provide what they had described as the necessary accommodation, she shouldn’t attend the meeting.

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