Accommodation of environmental sensitivities
- Tips for obtaining an accommodation without a lawyer
- Environmental sensitivities: Biological, legal and social aspects
- Jurisprudence Guide
- Right to Reasonable Accommodation
One of the most devastating consequences of environmental sensitivities is the sudden loss of quality of life due to the individual’s inability to tolerate chemicals and other exposures. Providing timely accommodation is important as it allows for retention of employment and income, housing, and an acceptable social life.
Environmental sensitivities/Multiple Chemical Sensitivities are legally recognized as a disability under the Canadian and Québec charters of rights and freedoms. As such, patients are entitled to reasonable accommodation, meaning that businesses and service providers have an obligation to accommodate their needs, as long as this does not constitute undue hardship. Note that inconvenience is not considered to be undue hardship.
If you suffer from environmental sensitivities, you may seek accommodation in some of the following circumstances:
- In the workplace, so you can continue to earn your living.
- For income replacement, if you are no longer able to work.
- From your landlord, so you do not become homeless.
- In hospitals, schools or from other service providers such as restaurants, movie theaters, government agencies, etc.
Your right to protection from adverse health effects related to your disability takes precedence over an inconvenience to healthy people.
What can you ask for? Here are some examples:
Ask for a separate working area removed from pollutants (such as a printer), with no carpeting, and equipped with an air purifier. Ask your employer to establish and implement a scent-free policy in your workplace. Make sure that areas next to printers and photocopiers are well-ventilated. You will need to be notified in advance of any renovations taking place, and you must ask your employer to use least-toxic materials for renovation projects. Ask to work from home until renovated areas no longer emit chemicals into the air.
How to establish a scent-free policy
A scent-free policy must be initiated and / supported by the company’s owner or management. It should include a starting date and there should be one person designated to oversee it.
- Consult with the person who is suffering from environmental sensitivities. He or she is the first source of information on the way sensitivities affects them and how to accommodate their specific needs.
- Create an educational plan consisting of workshops, flyers, posters, etc., to inform everyone about the health concerns related to fragrances and why the policy is required.
- Include in this plan a list of scent-free products (personal use, laundry and cleaning) and mention where they can be purchased. Make sure the products on your list are truly unscented, since some products advertised as unscented contains odour-masking chemicals.
- Also develop a list of cleaning and renovation products.
- Make sure to circulate both lists via email, your website and notice boards and make it available on demand.
- Make sure that everyone working in and maintaining the office has been informed, including visitors. In a hospital setting, this would include patients.
- Listen to people’s concerns about the policy and take the time to explain that the policy is for health reasons and not due to personal likes or dislikes.
- Ask for employee feedback, listen to concerns and help find solutions to any problems that might arise.
- The scent-free policy should be given to visitors while making appointments, to participants of meetings or conferences and to prospective employees. Include a short statement about your scent-free policy on your office stationery.
- Ensure adequate signage and posters in key areas.
- Give people adequate notice and the option to work from home during renovations.
Here is an example of a scent-free policy
Sample: Scent-Free Policy
Policies should be based on the health concerns of employees and apply to everyone.
Policy: XYZ, has established a scent-free environment due to health concerns arising from exposure to scented products. This policy is for all employees and visitors.
Definitions: Scented products are not allowed within the building. All materials (used for personal, cleaning, maintenance, etc) will be scent-free
A list of scent-free products is available at ________ and on the website.
Procedure: Employees will receive orientation and training. Signs will be posted throughout the building and in promotional materials. The host will explain the policy to visitors well in advance of their visits to the building.
This policy is effective on _____________.
Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
Resources that can help you:
Environmental Health Association of Québec https://www.aseq-ehaq.ca/fragrance
Canadian Human Rights Commission Policy https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/policy-environmental-sensitivities
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/scent_free.html
When the environment makes you ill: Need to understand, need to act! www.EnvironmentalSensitivities.com
If your sensitivities were caused by a toxic injury in the workplace, you can apply to the CNESST (workers compensation) for an indemnity. Whether or not you were injured in the workplace, you can apply for a disability pension, but you may not apply for both. Unfortunately, freelance workers must rely on their salary insurance, or apply for social welfare when they are unable to work.
If you are a homeowner, you can ask your neighbours to notify you when they carry out repairs so that you can close your windows and air-exchanger. As a tenant, you may want to ask for notification of repairs, that repairs or renovations not be carried out during the winter months, that mould be removed correctly, that non-toxic products be used to clean hallways, etc.
How to ask for accommodation
When appropriate, speak to the person directly, (for example, your employer or landlord) and explain your situation. Use peanut allergy as a way to explain your reactions to certain products.
Follow up with a letter or email detailing your request and mention the obligation to accommodate under the charter of human rights, so you can have a written record of everything that transpires.
If you belong to a union, your union representative can help you negotiate a solution in the workplace.
Make sure to bring a witness with you when negotiating verbally, and follow up with minutes of the meeting sent to all parties.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes impossible to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement on your own, and you may need a lawyer’s help. At this stage, one must weigh very carefully the time and expense involved before pursuing this avenue.