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Essential Oils in the Workplace

Los Angeles, CA |

I work in an office in Los Angeles and one of my co-workers saturates himself in self-mixed essential oils before coming into the office. I have serious respiratory allergies and I become congested, start coughing, get a sore throat and splitting headache shortly after he arrives. Several other co-workers have approached him and asked him not to wear the oils because it makes them ill and his response was that they were over reacting and he subsequently encouraged other people in the office to wear his home mixed oils. I have complained to management that these oils are making me ill to no avail. What can I do -- outside of resigning from work? Thanks.

Attorney Answers 5


  1. If you have an allergic reaction to the oil, bring in a doctor's note confirming this is a medical issue and give it to your HR manager. Employers must attempt to reasonably accommodate employees with qualified disabilities.

    Employers also have a legal obligation to maintain a safe work environment. If this employee's aroma is making other employees ill, you have the right to complain without fear of retaliation. If the employer refuses to do anything about correcting the problem, do not quit, see an employment law attorney in your area for advice and assistance.

    They say you get what you pay for, and this response is free, so take it for what it is worth. This is my opinion based on very limited information. My opinion should not be taken as legal advice. For true advice, we would require a confidential consultation where I would ask you questions and get your complete story. This is a public forum, so remember, nothing here is confidential. Nor am I your attorney. I do not know who you are and you have not hired me to provide any legal service. To do so would require us to meet and sign written retainer agreement. My responses are intended for general information only.


  2. In addition to MIchael's excellent advice, you can file a worker's compensation claim which will get their attention and get you care, if you believe medically it is severe enough to do so. Also, put your complaints in writing via email to the HR or manager of your office so there is a paper trial. Again, DO NOT quit your job - doing so will eliminate your ability to receive unemployment. Document everything and make sure to send emails to your work so you have a record of your complaints.

    Legal disclaimer: Please be advised that the advice provided does not create any attorney/client relationship; that due to the various state laws that the information provided is a general overview of the law, which might not be applicable to you, based upon the laws of your state. We will not file anything on your behalf nor protect any statute of limitations which might arise and recommend that you IMMEDIATELY consult legal counsel for adviceThis response does not constitute or make an attorney-client relationship as it is made for general purposes; answering attorney does not possess enough information to inform recipient of the applicable statute of limitations. You may also contact Mr. Hiden at (619) 296-5884 or by email at "dhiden@hrollp.com"


  3. I agree with both excellent answers. I would just suggest that you document your request for assistance in writing. If possible, scan and attach the doctor's note to an email requesting assistance from the Human Resources department. If possible, set the email up so you get a read e-mail receipt. This will prevent a dispute later over whether (and/or when) your complained about the problem.


  4. This is likely going to be a difficult and intricate issue for your employer. I do not believe your claims of an allergic reaction (assuming that a physician will actually make such a definitive written declaration) will resolve this matter. I have personal experience with about a half dozen such cases. In ALL of those matters that I dealt with, the employee using the oils was advised by independent counsel to interject aggressive claims of discrimination based on national origin (i.e., the use of these oils is claimed to be cultural), religion (the use of the oils is claimed to have some religious significance) and disability (the use of the oils is claimed to have a medicinal affect for the user, and numerous practitioners who will so certify). (You haven't stated whether there are national origin issues re the employee in your workplace, but the essential oils issue is most common with employees from certain regions.)

    Your employer will likely begin with an effort to reallocate and reassign individual work areas, but any relocation that results in isolation from other employees for the oils user will likely cause claims of retaliation and discrimination by him. From there, the employer will flail around until the situation is officially troublesome and chronic. In my experience, there is no perfect or fully prudent solution for the employer. In the cases I was responsible for, we ultimately resorted to a "no scent in the workplace rule," applicable to all employees of both genders. That "solution" did not satisfy anyone and did not in even a single instance succeed in preventing protracted and expensive legal processes.

    My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.


  5. Try the Job Accommodation Network. It is a free service for employers and employees. Maybe they can help you and your employer craft a solution. www.askjan.org

    If you come into a discussion with proposed solutions, I think your complaints will be received more favorably.

    David Mallen

    David A. Mallen offers answers on Avvo for general information only. This offer of free, general answers is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. If you need specific advice regarding your legal question, you should consult an attorney confidentially. Many experienced California labor and employment attorneys, including David A. Mallen offer no-risk legal consultations to employers and employees at no charge. David A. Mallen is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, as well as the California Labor Commissioner and the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Failure to take legal action within the time periods prescribed by law could result in the loss of important legal rights and remedies.

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