The Canadian Human Rights Commission’s “Environmental sensitivity and scent-free policies”

The Canadian Human Rights Commission’s
Policy on Environmental Sensitivities
has been updated to add more on scent-free policies.

Image description: “Environmental sensitivity and scent-free policies” text on a blue background to the left, with a photo of a dark haired woman resting her chin on her hand, while looking wistfully (towards the title  text) out a window with rain drops on it, on the right side.

The new policy includes this:

“A scent-free policy is similar to other workplace policies such as
anti-harassment policies. It applies to all employees and is intended to guide
their conduct. If an employee does not comply with the policy, disciplinary
action can be taken.”

and this:

“If an employee with environmental sensitivities needs to leave because of a trigger, this person should not suffer negative impacts because of their disability
or their need for accommodation.”


Visit the CHRC website to download the PDF:


Full text of the policy
(as copied from their PDF for people who have difficulties with PDFs):


Environmental sensitivity and scent-free policies

What you need to know

What is environmental sensitivity?

People who have allergies or sensitivity to certain products may have a bad reaction to a much lower level of chemicals, perfumes or environmental triggers than the average person.

Their reaction is a medical condition. It is a recognized disability. People with allergies or environmental sensitivity are entitled to protection from its cause.


The Canadian Human Right Act protects people with allergies or environmental sensitivities, like any other disability. Employes or clients with environmental sensitivities can ask employers or service providers for accommodation.

Employers and service providers must ensure that their facilities are accessible and safe. In the case of environmental sensitivities, this means:

► reducing the use of chemicals;
► having a scent-free policy;
► purchasing less toxic products;
► notifying employees and clients before construction or maintenance work.

These measures can prevent injuries and illnesses and reduce health and safety risks.


What is a scent-free policy?

A scent-free policy is similar to other workplace policies such as
anti-harassment policies. It applies to all employees and is intended to guide
their conduct. If an employee does not comply with the policy, disciplinary
action can be taken.

To make it easier for people to comply, the policy should describe the types of
products to avoid.

The policy can also explain the goal of reducing chemicals and environmental
triggers in the workplace, to avoid negative impact on health.

The guidance should provide flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the
workplace. For example, if a person is allergic to a food item or substance,
you could prohibit that specific food or substance.


Can the employer enforce it?

The right of a person to a scent-free workspace is not absolute. The duty to accommodate requires reasonable accommodation. This right may sometimes conflict with another employee’s right, based on another ground such as religion.

To enforce a scent-free policy, an employer should mention it in a letter of offer. Once employees are aware of their obligation to be scent-free, it is reasonable to expect them to comply or face consequences if they fail to do so.

If an employee with environmental sensitivities needs to leave because of a trigger, this person should not suffer negative impacts because of their disability or their need for accommodation.

If a client or employee is a victim of discrimination because of a disability, or does not receive appropriate accommodation, they can file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.


Find out more

For further information, you can read the following Commission publications
(currently NOT available on the CHRC website, but are available elsewhere):

► The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities
► Accommodation for Environmental Sensitivities: Legal Perspective Policy

(reviewed January 2014)


Visit the Commission’s website at,
or contact our national office:

Canadian Human Rights Commission
344 Slater Street, 8th floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1E1

Facsimile: 613-996-9661
Telephone: 1-888-214-1090
TTY: 1-888-643-3304

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented
by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, 2019
Cat. No. HR4-46/2-2019E-PDF
ISBN : 978-0-660-32607-8

(full text copied here for people who cannot access PDFs)

Link to CHRC’s  Policy on Environmental Sensitivities web page:

“Individuals with environmental sensitivities experience a variety of adverse reactions. This medical condition is a disability. This document is a policy on environmental sensitivities. It provides guidance and strategies to minimize or eliminate exposure to triggers in the environment.”


Employer Obligations

“This is where an employer or service provider with the federal government or a private company regulated by the federal government can find information about its obligations under federal human rights law and information about how to improve their workplace.”

8 responses to “The Canadian Human Rights Commission’s “Environmental sensitivity and scent-free policies”

  1. thank you for informing us of this change CHRA, Linda!

    • Someone in our community alerted me to the fact that they had requested the CHRC change the image they had used, as the previous one of a person sneezing and blowing their nose in front of a field of flowers misled and trivialized the disabling nature of (more than mild) ‘sensitivities’. It was nice to see that the CHRC was very responsive to the request. When I went to check out the new image is when I discovered the new policy!

  2. Environmental Sensitivities – Medical Perspective Sears 2007

    “The term “environmental sensitivities” describes a variety of reactions to chemicals, electromagnetic radiation and other environmental factors at exposure levels commonly tolerated by many people. These phenomena are not yet fully understood.

    In contrast, some toxic environmental agents such as metals (e.g. lead, mercury), rock dusts (e.g. asbestos, silica), chemicals (e.g. hydrogen sulphide, dioxin) and biological agents (e.g. snake or scorpion venom) are better understood as to their ill effects on people.

    “Environmental sensitivities” does not describe a single, simple condition with a universal cause. Environmentally sensitive individuals link their symptoms to aspects of their environment such as being in a particular place or being exposed to one or more factors such as chemicals, biological materials or electromagnetic phenomena.”

    “Sensitivities may be initiated by a range of environmental factors and once the condition is initiated, reactions may be triggered by a broadening array of incitants.

    Environmental sensitivities may affect every system in the body, so multiple symptoms are possible, with variation among individuals. Neurological symptoms are almost universal.

    Common incitants are summarised in Table 6 and symptoms are summarised in Table 7. The impact of environmental sensitivities on workers’ performance may range from mild (e.g. habituation to chronic exposures such that performance may be sub-optimal, although not “abnormal”) to severe impairment such that work is impossible.” …

    see: MCS/ES Symptoms and Environmental Incitants

  3. Pingback: Canadian Petition for People with Chemical and Environmental Sensitivities | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

  4. Available on the CHRC website in March 2021

    The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities

    Are you an employer or service provider? Do you understand, from a medical perspective, why you need to accommodate individuals with environmental sensitivities? Do you know what policies or guidelines you should implement to ensure your environment is safe for all? This report summarizes scientific information about environmental sensitivities and addresses issues such as recognition by medical authorities, education and training, impact of environmental sensitivities in the workplace, and guidelines for accommodation.

  5. Pingback: Earth Day Human Canary Starter Pack | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

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