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:
https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/policy-environmental-sensitivities

 

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 http://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca,
or contact our national office:

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

Email: complaint@chrc-ccdp.gc.ca
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:
https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/policy-environmental-sensitivities

“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.”

https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/employer-obligations

16 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
    https://seriouslysensitivetopollution.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/mcses-symptoms-and-environmental-incitants/

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  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.

    https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/medical-perspective-environmental-sensitivities

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  6. Does this only apply to work environment? The condo that I am living in right now installed an “Air-Fresheren” that produces a strong scent that triggers my partner’s migraine. I asked them to stop using it but they refused because it is a private building and not a “Odour-free” building. The smell is so intense on my floor and we are forced to smell it 24/7. Is there anything i can do? please help!

    • The federal policy applies to federally regulated workplaces.

      Provincial human rights codes apply to housing and other areas of life.

      Ontario Human Rights Code specifically mentions environmental sensitivities, chemical sensitivities, and related issues, which in theory anyway, makes it easier to ask for and receive disability related accommodations, but the requests must be done using human rights language when the initial plain human requests are dismissed.

      Ontario Human Rights Commission’s document on ableism and disability … is a good one to become familiar with.

      Other provinces should have similar duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship policies.
      Also, landlord tenant laws, and I think even condo laws state that it’s not cool to cause problems for other residents, even if it is not a designated odour-free building. Harming others is never a cool thing to do…

      If your wife has a letter from her doctor that air effers and scented cleaning products trigger migraines, and she needs to be able to avoid them, the request can be made in a more official manner that they can’t simply dismiss like that.

      CERA has a couple of documents on their website regarding the process. Unfortunately their search bar doesn’t pull them up.

      Here’s the links

      https://www.equalityrights.org/resources/environmental-sensitivities-and-rental-housing-a-toolkit-for-community-workers
      
      https://www.equalityrights.org/resources/environmental-sensitivities-and-rental-housing-a-self-advocacy-toolkit
      

      Basically, your condo is not aware of their duties under the law in this area.

      Over the years, many people across Canada have made similar requests. Some were more successfully received and changes made than others, some people had to go to court over this with varying results, including condo buy-outs.

  7. Linda, thanks a lot for your time and advice. My partner has been sensitive to any fragrance for his whole entire life, just he has been trying to avoid it. In This case, it is bad because it is in the central Air System for the entire building, and the smell gets into the living room and even the bedroom sometimes. The property manager makes us feel like we are the only ones complaining and other residents “love” the new fragrance. It is very frustrating and is causing me emotional stress and it is hard to see your loved one getting sick. To your knowledge, do we have to go to a specialist for efficient medical proof or a regular MD’s note can be used as proof?

    • A regular MD is fine for legal purposes.
      I think the CERA document has examples of how they can write a letter.

      CMHC had some good info on their site years ago about shared air in multi-unit buildings.
      Shared air is particularly bad for people who are “sensitive” to pollution.

      I used to be good at countering the nonsense that fragrance addicts spew out, but it’s harder now, other than that their right to do or use something doesn’t extend past their property line into our properties and bodies.

      I don’t know if you are on fb, there are a number of groups that might be able to offer more support and experiences than I can here (post covid my energy levels are way down)

      Hoping you are able to get this resolved without your partner’s health and abilities declining more, and without having to go to the human rights tribunal.

  8. In addition to your document (I thank you again) I did my research during the weekend and I found some documents which I think are useful. I hope nobody will need to suffer this again as there are more and more condos in the GTA and Condominium Corporations must do better to ensure this doesn’t hurt the residents and the staff who work there.

    https://www.condoauthorityontario.ca/condominium-living/declaration-by-laws-and-rules/ontarios-human-rights-code-and-condominium-governing-documents/

    Click to access policy_sensitivity_0.pdf

    • They have this page on the condo page too:

      …”If an odour issue does occur, it may need to be addressed immediately. Section 117 (2) of the Condo Act prohibits anyone from carrying on an activity or permitting an activity in the unit or common elements if the activity results in the creation of or continuation of any odour that is an unreasonable nuisance, annoyance or disruption in the condominium corporation.

      Odours that interfere with a person’s right to use and enjoy their unit may be constitute an unreasonable nuisance, annoyance or disruption. Whether an odour is an unreasonable nuisance, annoyance or disruption depends on several different factors, including:

      The source of the odour;
      The intensity of the odour;
      How long it lasts;
      How often it occurs;
      Whether it affects a person’s right to use and enjoy their unit.
      

      The Condo Act prohibits everyone from causing an unreasonable nuisance, annoyance, or disruption in a condominium, regardless of what a condominium corporation’s governing documents say.

      Prolonged exposure to certain smells or odours, could impact an individual’s overall enjoyment of their unit…

      A condominium corporation is legally required to take action to address an odour-related issue that:

      Is causing an unreasonable nuisance, annoyance, or disruption; or,
      

      (they don’t really specify causing adverse or disabling health effects here, but they should, “disruption” seems a bit trivializing)

      Likewise, if a condominium corporation causes an unreasonable nuisance, annoyance, or disruption (either by doing something or failing to do something) then a unit owner may take legal action against them, including filing an application with the CAT.”

      https://www.condoauthorityontario.ca/issues-and-solutions/odour-issues/

      and more here

      https://www.condoauthorityontario.ca/issues-and-solutions/odour-issues/solutions-for-owners/

  9. Thanks Linda, there are a lot of supportive info from the links you provided. I also called the Human Rights Legal Support centre today. They asked me to get a note from MD (which i will tomorrow), the advisor also asked me to forward the policy to the property manager. Fingers crossed.

    I will look around on FB and hopefully i will find the support groups you mentioned.

    Hope you get your energy back soon.

    Alex

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