Passing the Smell Test: The Duty Accommodate Employees With Scent Sensitivities

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently considered the types of accommodations employers are required to make with regard employees with scent sensitivites.

The employee, a teacher with the Coquitlam School District, filed a complaint with the Tribunal alleging that her employer’s failure to provide a scent-free work environment amounted to discrimination on the basis of physical disability, contrary to British Columbia’s Human Rights Code.

In an attempt to accommodate her disability, the School Board and the employee agreed upon an exposure control plan that would allow the employee to take steps to minimize her allergic reaction, including leaving the workplace if necessary. In addition to the exposure control plan, the School Board had carpet removed from the classroom, replaced all of the soap dispensers in the building with unscented soap, posted signs around the school, and spoke with parents and staff about being scent-free. Despite the attempts at accommodation, the employee continued to experience difficulty, resulting in several absences and eventually, a medical leave.

In dismissing her claim, the Tribunal held that employees with disabilities are not entitled to perfect accommodation and must co-operate with their employer in arriving at a reasonable accommodation plan. Here, the School Board took significant steps to accommodate the employee’s disability, including implementing a plan to which the employee agreed. Once a plan has been agreed upon, according to the Tribunal, working within that plan cannot constitute a breach of the Human Rights Code. Accordingly, the complaint was dismissed.


  1. “Once a plan has been agreed upon, …working within that plan cannot constitute a breach of the Human Rights Code.”

    Is that accepted law? Does that sound right to you? May an employee or other person in a situation where his/her human rights are threatened just give them up for all time (in the applicable context) by agreeing to an accommodation plan that turns out not to work?

  2. Reading the case… it states:

    “The evidence is that, once the Exposure Control Plan was put in place [and it was amended to deal with ongoing issues], Ms. Andruski’s [employee] attendance improved and the plan appeared to be working reasonably well. The respondents [employers] argue, and I agree [Tribunal], that the process of reaching an accommodation or working within it once agreed cannot itself constitute a breach of the Code or adverse impact.”

    The employee was arguing that the employer’s accommodation efforts and plan was flawed… because she was still having issues that prevented her from working…

    “Ms. Andruski has not provided evidence that allows me to conclude that the respondents’ accommodation efforts were somehow flawed.”

    “There is evidence from the respondents, confirmed by Ms. Andruski, that she had repeated and significant difficulties with scent. It caused her not to be able to work. Solutions almost always involved constraints on others.”

    “[34] The respondents took significant steps to accommodate Ms. Andruski’s disability. Her union was appropriately involved and it helped negotiate and amend the Exposure Control Plan. It appears to me that, due to the accommodation efforts, the respondents have shown that Ms. Andruski has no reasonable prospect of success with her complaint. It is dismissed.”

    I don’t think the case is saying that an accommodation plan is set in stone and cannot be reworked if further issues are identified… The issue that was put into question in this case by the employee was the employer’s efforts and wanting to work within (even amending the plan) the set plan to try to accommodate the employee.