Do Employers Need to Accommodate an Employee’s Perfume Sensitivity?

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You might expect that courts do not like to penalize government agencies too much. That expectation became a reality in a recent case in the Ninth Circuit appeals court. In that case, the Ninth Court found that the Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) did not discriminate against an employee—named Ms. Toms—on the basis of her alleged perfume sensitivity disability.

The ruling is interesting. Ms. Tom alleged that the SSA violated, among other things, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by not accommodating her perfume sensitivity disability by refusing to place her on full-time telework.

In affirming a lower court decision, the Ninth Circuit held that the SSA was not required to provide Ms. Tom with her preferred accommodation but only a reasonable one. In particular, the Ninth Circuit found that Ms. Tom’s request for full-time telework was not “reasonable” in light of the numerous other and prior reasonable accommodations that the SSA had provided her.

But California employers should not read too much into the case. For one thing, the case in question arose purely under federal law. Federal law, as we have said many times before, is not as employee friendly as California law. For another reason, let’s face it: The employer in this case was an agency of the United States Government. The vast majority of employers are not. One might not expect the sort of solicitude offered to government agencies to be provided to private employers.

For more information on providing your employees reasonable accommodations, please contact us at

This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.