Sunday, July 08, 2007

Chemicals, Scents, Disability, and Discrimination

The article linked below is fairly interesting because it references two different issues that, in this one situation, are unfortunately in opposition.

Susan McBride, a worker for the city of Detroit, has filed a suit, the goal of which is to have work colleagues banned from wearing a particular perfume. Apparently, Ms. McBride has a hypersensitivity to certain scents, including various perfumes and detergent aromas. In her personal life, of course, she can avoid those scents that cause her to become ill. This is not so easy, however, when the triggering mechanism for her illness is a perfume worn by one of her coworkers.

So, on the one hand, you have the issue of a worker being intensely affected by a chemical substance that is being brought into the workplace by a coworker. And, on the other hand, you have the issue of the coworkers's right to wear whatever perfume she chooses. Both issues will be determined by the answer to one question: What level of accomodation in the workplace is reasonable for a worker with a disability?

Of course, a suit would not have been necessary in this case if one worker (the one wearing the offensive perfume) had simply decided to take into consideration the needs of her fellow coworker (Ms. McBride). But that is neither here nor there. To what extent should Ms. McBride be accomodated? In my opinion, fully. And here's why. A worker's right to wear a certain style of clothing, or hair, or jewelry, or perfume, should be inviolable when they're not at work. In other words, whatever you do at home or elsewhere is fine. Once you enter the workplace, the situation is different, i.e. you're not an island, and the needs of other workers should be taken into consideration. And this is particularly true when the wearing of a perfume can actually cause another worker to become ill, thus impairing their ability to remain at their job.

Is it a silly lawsuit? Not at all. But it is silly that it had to get that far.

Allergic US employee sues to ban perfume at work

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