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March 10, 2009

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Q: If one of our employees is allergic to perfume and has requested that we ask the other employees to stop wearing perfume, are we required to do this?

A: An employee with severe allergies may be protected under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits employers (with 15 or more employees) from discriminating against qualified individuals (people who have the appropriate educational training and experience for the job and who are able to perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation) based upon a disability. The ADA requires you to make a reasonable accommodation to enable a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of that job, so long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship to the company.

If the employee's allergies substantially affect a major life activity, then the employee may be covered under the ADA. If he is, then your company may be required to provide him with a reasonable accommodation. The best place to start when deciding how to reasonably accommodate an employee is usually by asking that employee for any suggestions he has. ~

Although you may not be legally required to provide the employee with the specific accommodation he requests, this is a good way to at least begin the dialogue between the employee and the company. A company need only provide an accommodation that's effective. It doesn't have to provide an accommodation if it would cause the company undue hardship. A job accommodation is considered an undue hardship where providing the accommodation would cause the employer significant difficulty or the cost involved is substantial in light of the employer's resources. Whether a requested accommodation poses an undue hardship is decided on a case-by-case basis.

In trying to find an accommodation, you may consider moving the employee into a better-ventilated area or more private office. In addition, you may choose to institute an office policy banning wearing fragrances in the workplace.

If it is not apparent to you that the employee's condition is covered by the ADA, you may require the employee to provide reasonable documentation of her impairment and limitations.

Even if the allergy is not covered by the ADA, it may be covered by state law. Several states have statutes that may be more beneficial to the employee, and a company must comply with the state law in these cases. Refer to the your state's laws for more information.

To learn more about a company's obligations under the ADA, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at www.eeoc.gov.

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