Employer punished despite HR’s good deeds

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A recent court ruling will infuriate employers everywhere after one company’s HR department went out of their way to accommodate a sensitive worker and still came under fire from the courts.

Credit manager Christine Brady told bosses at United Refrigeration that she had a long-term “heightened sensitivity to perfumes, fragrant chemicals and lotions.”

Despite treatment via medication and ongoing advice from doctors, Brady’s unusual condition apparently worsened – she asked United’s HR department “if there is a way to have a fragrance free zone or [if she] could be placed in a fragrance free area.”

HR professionals at the Pennsylvania-based company were more than happy to help. Here are the steps the company took:
  • Purchased a portable air cleaner for Brady
  • Purchased a second portable air cleaner after Brady broke the first one
  • Repeatedly circulated a notice reminding all employees not to wear perfume, cologne or aftershave into the office.
  • Purchased face masks for Brady – which she refused to wear
  • Relocated an employee who had to wear medically-prescribed skin lotion
  • Relocated Brady’s desk “out of the main stream”
  • Professionally cleaned a wall panel that Brady claimed had fragrances on it
  • Professionally cleaned a rug that Brady claimed had fragrances on it – twice
 
Yet – somehow – Brady still struggled to maintain regular attendance at work. Eventually, she was fired.

The firm explained that “… [a]fter what we consider to be extraordinary efforts to accommodate you, you have still not been able to … report to work regularly, which we need you to do. We do not have work available that meets all of your restrictions. Accordingly … you are being laid off.”

An outraged Brady sued, insisting that the ban on fragrances wasn’t enforced strictly enough and claiming the company violated the ADA by firing her.

Shockingly, she won.

The Court explained: “[Brady’s] circumstances do not involve unexplained absences; rather, [her] condition is triggered by stimuli that are at least somewhat within [United’s] power to control. If [United’s] own no-fragrance policies are not being sufficiently administered or enforced, as [Brady] alleges, [United] may have to accept that [Brady] must take some time away from that environment.

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  • CherylD on 6/26/2015 7:46:57 AM

    Dealing with a similar situation. However, it is complicated by a co-worker who insists that her "essential oils" she applies liberally throughout her shift are medically required by her doctor. Looking for recommendations to accommodate both! Suggestions?

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