Laughing boss derides
April 21, 2010 3:56 PM   Subscribe

New person at work. I like her but she wears perfume and we're practically elbow to elbow in a tiny room with little ventilation, and my eyes are still sore and blinky three hours after leaving the place today.

Boss and the one other person in the place refuse to ask her not to wear perfume, mocking me for requesting it. Her perfume is not overwhelming in an olfactory sense, but it's got something in it that's killing my eyes.

There have been other questions about how to handle this, but not this question: what kind of eye drops can I get that will help counteract the soreness? I doubt I will be allowed to request that she leave off with the perfume so I have to adapt.
posted by zadcat to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you might want to show your boss this.
posted by HuronBob at 3:59 PM on April 21, 2010

Why do you need permission to ask her to either not wear perfume or change to a different fragrance? If she is a peer of yours, there's no reason why you can't raise the issue with her on your own. Simply explain that, for whatever reason, her fragrance doesn't agree with you. It's not that it's too strong, or that it's unpleasant in any way, but you seem to have some sensitivity to it. Play up that this is very embarrassing for you to raise the issue, particularly because she is new to the company and hasn't done anything wrong, but you would consider it a personal favor if she would make a change.
posted by DrGail at 4:07 PM on April 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm not in the U.S. and my boss is not from North America, so it's not going to help much. He deeply does not care. I should perhaps have indicated these things in the original question.
posted by zadcat at 4:07 PM on April 21, 2010

I love perfume and wear it daily . . . except for the period in my life when I worked near someone who was sensitive to it. I found out because that person told me about the sensitivity. Is there a problem telling the new person about the effect of perfumes on your eyes? (I'd suggest you just mention this as a general problem for you, versus one specific to her perfume.) Because no, I don't think there are eye drops that will fix this for you.
posted by bearwife at 4:11 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could frequently rinse your eyes with eye drops, or as a pharmacist for something to help with allergies. The former could help wash out the irritant, while the latter might block your reaction.

But first I'd ask your new co-worker nicely, explaining that you think it smells nice, but seems to be irritating your eyes like none other. I'd think it would go better than if your boss asked, too. Having your boss tell you "someone in the office seems to be allergic to your perfume" is (for me) more perturbing than if the person told me themselves.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:23 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before you try anything else, yeah, I would try personally telling my coworker that I like her very much so this is not personal, but her perfume is giving me an allergic reaction since we're sharing such a tiny space, is it possible that she could cut back or put it on after work? The worst she can say is no. You don't have to have permission from your employer to make personal requests of your coworkers.

(Also, Canadian workplace safety laws might not be the same as in the US, but they might still apply in a situation like this, and they don't care whether your boss is from North America or not.)

That said, I would make sure I was taking an allergy medication daily, and use plain saline eyedrops regularly throughout the day to make sure my eyes were able to flush out foreign substances properly. That might be enough to deal with it, especially if she can just apply it a bit more lightly.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:32 PM on April 21, 2010

Tell her you have an allergy.
posted by k8t at 4:33 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Antihistamine eyedrops may help a little, assuming you don't wear contacts and they're not otherwise contraindicated. Antihistamine pills or a steriod nasal spray may make a difference although they never do anything for my perfume allergies. Otherwise there's not much you can do. Also my experience says you'll get more sensitised as time goes on. I generally move from sore eyes to puffy lips in a couple of days and the swollen throat is next, for me at least this is a hypersensitivity reaction rather than just general allergies and it can get dangerous.

So yeah, you need to suck it up and talk to your co-worker directly. It's a perfectly reasonable request since you can't control your immune system and it's not like she needs to wear perfume. If she does get grumpy, and some people like to take offence at everything so to does happen, remember that her reaction is out of line and your health is more important. You say you like her so I assume she is reasonable and nice. If you're polite and make it clear it's not personal then any reasonable person will either stop wearing it or switch to something that doesn't make you react.

And if it doesn't stop and things get worse then you'll need to escalate again. When your workplace makes you sick then your employer really needs to be doing something about it regardless of how much he doesn't care. If nothing else because it's going to affect your productivity when you can't see properly.
posted by shelleycat at 4:37 PM on April 21, 2010

Just ask her nicely. She probably doesn't even realize that it's bothering you. Why would you not be allowed to ask her to not wear it?
posted by defcom1 at 4:38 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're having a serious allergic reaction, and your co-worker has no idea. Anti-histamines and eye drops might mitigate the symptoms, but I think the only way to avoid a reaction is to avoid the irritant. Politely explain to your co-worker that you hate to mention it, but you seem to be severely allergic to something in her perfume, and then ask if she could work with you to find a solution. Chances are she has no idea, and will just stop wearing it to work. It's really not a big deal and is an entirely reasonable thing to bring up (and I am someone who loves the perfume I wear daily).
posted by katemcd at 4:45 PM on April 21, 2010

I'm a pharmacist and I recommend not hanging out in fumes that make your eyes burn.

Seriously, just talk to her. No big thing. "I like your perfume, but it makes my eyes burn. I must be allergic."
posted by selfmedicating at 5:08 PM on April 21, 2010

Use your mouth. I mean talk to her.
posted by segatakai at 5:09 PM on April 21, 2010

We're not supposed to converse, except for functional stuff - and we've been strictly forbidden to speak in French (her first language, which I also speak). But I might be able to have a word with her about it when the others are out of hearing.

Thanks all.
posted by zadcat at 5:18 PM on April 21, 2010

zadcat, are you saying you aren't allowed to even talk to your coworker, and your boss doesn't care at all about your comfort while doing your job? These seem like some pretty strong indicators that you should be pursuing work elsewhere, life is too short to spend your time in a hostile work environment.

As far as solving the problem in the current time, I'd talk to your coworker in some fashion. If you can't speak to her, maybe just give her a note about the problem, or send an email. Most people would be pretty taken aback and apologetic if their perfume was causing their coworker to spend the entire day in pain.
posted by Allenthar at 5:51 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

wait - correct me if I'm wrong but I thought you were in a country where french is co-official or official and you're not allowed to speak it? and you're not allowed to have any conversations that are not strictly to do with company business, not even when they pertain to health, safety and productivity? what country are you actually in and do you have any legal protections as an employee?
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:57 PM on April 21, 2010

Sorry, I have to chime in that this is an unhealthy work environment and the perfume is only part of it.

If you absolutely cannot leave this job, maybe consider leaving the building at the same time she does and explain that you are allergic to her perfume and would she please consider not wearing it to work.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:15 PM on April 21, 2010

Seriously, have things changed that much since I last lived in Montreal? It doesn't matter whether you speak the language of the workplace (which in my day was always by definition French default unless on the west island), or French, or on break or wait and meet her as she's coming in to work. You may speak to your coworker about work. Canadian workplace law is on your side. I understand you don't want to make a fuss, and seriously I understand the dynamics of ethnic workplace culture. But if your boss makes a fuss about you telling her this privately in French you can tell him that you're sorry, but it was a private women's matter, and you didn't want to embarrass him. Your colleague will not likely spill the beans on this.
posted by kch at 6:16 PM on April 21, 2010

Yeah, maybe you can intercept her on the way into or out of work or send her an email. I know if I was making a coworker uncomfortable, I would want to know so I could stop doing it. I'm pretty sure most (normal) people are like this. Otherwise, I think only rinsing your eyes out with lots of water will get the perfume out, and even this might not be 100% effective. You could try eye drops (maybe the ones that contact lens wearers use to rinse out their eyes?), but I doubt it will work as well as getting rid of the perfume in the first place.

Also, I would classify a conversation about bothersome perfume as "functional." And I'm wildly curious as to a work environment where you're not allowed to talk to your coworker especially in a certain language. I hope you are well.
posted by bluefly at 6:26 PM on April 21, 2010

Wow this sounds like a horrible situation for you! However I do agree with everyone that you need to talk to the person. Definitely try to grab her before or after work, or in the bathroom or break room or something. I have never lived in a bilingual country, but I imagine that approaching her in her first language would put her at ease.

You might be able to ease into it by mentioning a little bit when she is around about your itchy eyes. Then she won't think it came out of nowhere.
posted by radioamy at 9:08 PM on April 21, 2010

I think you're fucked.

I would send her an anonymous message. You will never come out of this looking like anything less than a cad, a wilting fey hothouse flower, or troublemaker.

I feel your pain. I can stand the smell of shit, scrotum, old vagina, ruptured infected cysts and twenty varieties of BO but a dose of old-lady perfume or chemical cleaner makes me feel like I took a quaalude and a hammer to the head. I posted signs in my exam rooms telling people not to wear perfume. It helps, but most of the people who wear perfume are too stupid or oblivious to ever imagine how noxious it is to be around. Clean air should not be a luxury.

You could always start farting uncontrollably. After all, who doesn't like the smell of their own farts?
posted by docpops at 9:13 PM on April 21, 2010

sneeze cough and wipe your eyes a lot, and hopefully she'll be nice enough to ask "are you ok?" and then you can say, "sorry but I'm allergic to perfume" Or if she doesn't ask, just apologize for the noise, explaining about your perfume allergy.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:49 PM on April 21, 2010

Don't be passive agressive about it as 5_13_23_42_69_666 suggests. That's just going to make your coworker feel terrible, and that's not a good way to build a good relationship! Do just let her know that her fragrance is really bothering your eyes, although you do like the way it smells. Ask if she wouldn't mind wearing it or would cut back. Most people will just be happy you didn't suffer in silence.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:51 PM on April 21, 2010

Removing scents from the air is not possible. There's no magic technology which can do that.

You can use Visine or similar to reduce the irritation to your eyes, but that's really not a good long-term solution. Sensitivities often get worse with time, not better.

The only practical option is removing you from the source of irritation, either by moving you, your coworker or by getting her to stop wearing perfume.

You could pursue this as a workplace-related injury. Your responsibilities under Quebec law are here. Your first step would be visiting a doctor who specializes environmental sensitivities and getting an opinion. That alone might be enough to convince your boss. It will certainly help if you need to take anything further. A doctor will also be able to better advise you on treating your problems.

You could also try contacting the CSST to find out if perfume sensitivity is an allowable class of injury under their comp rules. There's nothing that I can find on their website about it, but try calling them anyway. You will certainly get your boss' attention if you have to take several days off every month medical leave (and him required to pay you for that time).

Finally, of course, your ultimate recourse is legal. Consulting an employment lawyer should be free for a first session to see what your options are. I'm not suggesting that route right away, but it might be easier to investigate options there than you may think.
posted by bonehead at 10:02 AM on April 22, 2010

See a doctor? Required to pay me? I'm sorry, bonehead, I'm not sure what planet you're on, but in Quebec it's very, very difficult to see a doctor, and if I did manage to see one and claimed I had perfume-related problems I'd be laughed out of the office.

Plus, I get no sick pay, and if I got the CSST involved I'd be fired immediately.

Today she wore no perfume. It may have been obvious that scents are not a great idea in the storage closet we call a back office, not when four people are quite often jammed in there at the same time.

In a pinch I'll try the Visine.
posted by zadcat at 2:17 PM on April 22, 2010

Later note: Co-worker resumed big perfume today and I asked her if she could not do that. She has refused, and the boss certainly will not back me up. So you folks with, like, HR departments and rules and shit, just thank your lucky stars. I have no recourse.
posted by zadcat at 2:06 PM on April 27, 2010

that really sucks! maybe you could get a small air filter to put on your desk? I have one in my room, and it helps my allergies. Some are a bit loud though, so keep an eye out for a quiet one that won't disturb you while you're working.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:12 PM on April 28, 2010

I think you're closing off options prematurely which may be still be open to you. It's not impossible to go to a doctor for something like this, particularly if it stops you from going to work.

Here's a link to an article in the Gazette recently. It mentions by name a doctor at the Montreal Chest Institute, part of McGill University Hospital, who is concerned with exactly your problem.

And yes, if you are injured on the job, you can claim compensation from the CSST for your recovery time (assuming you are employed legally, i.e., file and pay taxes), and this is recovered from your employer. You do need a real injury or illness, one signed off on by a doctor. That's why checking this out now may be a good idea. An environmental sensitivity isn't very differnet from having an alergy.
posted by bonehead at 12:40 PM on April 28, 2010

bonehead, thanks for the link, but I see no mention of the Chest Institute in the article, which originated from the Edmonton Journal.

I am looking for another job, but so far no luck. My employers have a very short fuse about things and are not prepared to believe me or tolerate any difficulties, and bringing in the CSST or the like will simply mean getting terminated instantly anyway.
posted by zadcat at 4:11 PM on April 28, 2010

Sorry, wrong article. This is the one I meant to link to.

Believe me, I'm not trying to make your life difficult, but we get labour law really thumped into us, especially with regard to our duties to employees. There are other places where your concerns would be taken very seriously.
posted by bonehead at 4:49 PM on April 28, 2010

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