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Scent sensitive co-worker


Today I had a co-worker announce that a perfume (that I have been wearing for a week) I was wearing was too heavy for her.  She even compared me to the president of our company (who she also thinks wears too much cologne) and said that I was at "insert president's name level with my perfume"

I was a little taken aback and at a loss for words immediately (although I did have some other more physical strategies in my head), but I did tell her that I have been wearing the same amount of the same perfume.  Apparently my perfume was way too much for her and she went home about 2 hours after arriving at work.  2 weeks ago, this co-worker had made a comment about another 'fragrance' that she deemed 'headache material' but was actually purell hand sanitizer that I had used and is what is used in the office by everyone.

I am not the only person in the office that wears perfume and am wondering why I seem to be the target.  I understand 'sensitivity' to fragrance but it seems a little extreme to me to just get up and leave work (there are other work spaces available that she could move to for the day?)

After she left, I did ask her supervisor if she told him why she had left. He said that she claimed my perfume was too strong for her, but also said he wasn't sure why she said that and that he never noticed anything.  He also said he was 'confused' by her just leaving. 

In spite of the fact that this chick is really making a huge deal out of nothing, I am choosing to take the higher road here and maybe use less perfume?  I am hoping and praying that we don't turn into one of those 'scent free' offices-as I (and all of the other women in the office except her) wear fragrance and love it!

What do you think of fragrance sensitivity and how would you handle this situation?
Mar 17, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

22 Replies

Ali de Bold

Oh fer cryin' out loud!

Some people genuinely have fragrance allergies and that really sucks for them. In a situation like that I'd stop wearing perfume for their sake, but it sounds like this coworker is being a bit extreme with her approach.

I think you are right to take the higher road and wear less perfume but don't be surprised if she continues to complain since it sounds like she is somewhat of a dramatic personality.

Update Nov 10, 2017
We received an email from someone who found my comments here offensive. I apologize if this came across as flippant towards those suffering from fragrance allergies. My comments were not meant to minimize allergies, rather directed toward the way the situation was handled.

If you have a fragrance allergy you should get a note from your doctor and bring that in to your boss. Your boss should then communicate that to the entire team so that everyone can comply. This avoids uncomfortable confrontations at work or anyone taking it personally.
Mar 17, 2011 @ 11:28 pm

Totally Agree Ali!

In my experience, the majority of people with legitimate allergies or sensitivities try their best to cope and not make a big deal about it. On the other hand, there are people who always need special attention - this women sounds like a huge drama queen! Hopefully the whole issue is dropped soon, good thing your boss is on your side!

Mar 18, 2011 @ 10:01 am


It definitely sounds like she is a drama queen. If there was another free desk, she easily could have moved, so it sounds to me like she just wanted attention.
Mar 18, 2011 @ 11:32 am

Oh brother!

I totally agree with Lauren! Some people just need that extra attention for something that is probably not effecting them nearly as much as they claim. Plus, if she wasn't so high strung about it, she could've used another work station as you said. She's just being silly!
Mar 18, 2011 @ 11:38 am

thanks for weighing in!

I actually ended up speaking with her immediate supervisor and told him that I wouldn't stop wearing perfume but that I would 'try' (and really hold my tongue) to accomodate her allergies.

She did come to me and apologize the next day for a bad 'delivery' of information.

In the name of trying to act like an adult at work, I will do my best to ensure my incredibly awesome perfume doesn't overwhelm :)
Mar 18, 2011 @ 05:32 pm

Glad you feel that way....

Maybe she approached it the wrong way with you...but when you are in pain from a smell induced migraine you might not say the right thing. Is there an important reason to wear perfume at work? I do not have this sensitivity but a co-worker of mine does....she sticks it out with a migraine at work probably 3 times a week. We all know the people at work who are being "Silly"....or "Drama Queens" but the people with legitimate allergies should not just have to suck it up to do their jobs.....just so you can smell fabulous.
Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:55 pm
Ali de Bold

Agree with anonymous

I do agree that the lesser of two evils is not wearing perfume. I wouldn't hesitate to go without fragrance if it gave someone a migraine or other reaction. But I think the sensitive person should request someone stop wearing perfume in a nice way rather than act like it's a personal affront to them when someone is wearing something, and it should be enforced by the business (make it a rule for the whole company or whoever works in the vicinity of that person) not to wear fragrance so it doesn't become a cat fight between coworkers.
Jun 22, 2011 @ 01:33 pm

office policy

I think it should also be brought to the supervisors' attention. If there is someone who has a medical need (allergy qualifies IMO), then there needs to be an office policy about it, just like many elementary schools prohibit peanut butter sandwiches because of a handful of kids who have allergies. It directly affects the worker's ability to complete his/her job, and that ultimately impacts the company's bottom line.

There's nothing wrong with a company creating a scent-free area or even a scent-free office. You can also ask employees to limit their scents to body sprays (or weak eau de toilettes) and scented deos instead of full strength eau de parfum products.

If other women in the office are using scents, then it is not just one person's product that's setting this co-worker's headaches off. Rearranging desks or using a simple air purifier in a corner would do wonders, keep up everyone's productivity, and give all parties the sense that things are being dealt with universally instead of picking on just one or two people.

The sensitive co-worker clearly went off the deep end here, and while I sympathize with her health issues (I also suffer from migraines, but scent is not my trigger - usually), she could have requested changes in a far more respectful and productive way.
Jun 22, 2011 @ 01:46 pm

Hating a scent-free world!!!

Perhaps I am unkind here - but I have to be honest: I hate scent free offices. I worked in one for 5 years. Scent is personal and if its worn lightly, then its only when people are in your personal space that they can smell it. However, scent free meant that in my office I had to put up with BO offenders as well as the type of nut who grabbed a friend's hair, sniffed it, and told her that her shampoo was too fragranced. I thought this was akin to harassment. I think its my right to choose my fragrance, body lotion, hair products etc... and also my responsibility to be light with it. In my office-from-hell I ended up using Arden's Green Tea (original) since I haven't met anyone yet where that scent sets off their allergies/ sensitivities. Sadly, I LOVE fragrance and after wearing the same one daily for 5 years, I just wanted to weep.
Jul 09, 2011 @ 04:12 pm


Ignorance is bliss, as most above comments illustrate. I found this blog post today, because for the gazillionth time, I'm accosted by someone's fragrance despite the frequent, polite reminders of it's affect. It's a painful and abrupt slap in the face, repeatedly, for the duration of the smell. My solution - as always - is to walk away and get fresh air, come back and tolerate as much as I can until I need to walk away again. If I'm lucky, I can keep the worst of the symptoms at bay, such as migraines, dizziness, and disorientation. I work here and can't just leave, though there have been times when I've gotten sick enough that I had no choice but to drive home, ill, twice not even aware how disoriented I was until I passed my turn or forgot why I was home instead of at work. Most coworkers are very considerate and understand. Others, mostly supervisors, HR, and managers are different. Is it possible they validate each others' arrogance? If you've ever heard mention of anyone anywhere in your place of work who has bad health reactions to fragrance yet you still wear fragrance, you should NOT be surprised by any plea that it not be worn at work, no matter how zealous the plea. Your surprise should be ONLY with yourself and how a smart person like you can choose to stay so ignorant so long. Shame on you. You're desire to smell pretty should not impose on my need to breathe the air we share.
Jun 05, 2015 @ 12:38 pm

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