September 13, 2012

Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a little-understood but serious condition. The presence of everyday items like perfumes, cleaners and gasoline can set off serious, allergy-like reactions in people with MCS. Accommodation of employees with this condition requires understanding and cooperation among all workplace parties, including the employee with the disability, the employee’s co-workers, management and the union. In this session Lancaster’s experts will provide an overview of multiple chemical sensitivity and discuss the roles of all parties in providing appropriate accommodation.

  • Understanding Chemical Sensitivity: What is “multiple chemical sensitivity?” How common is it? What symptoms are typically experienced by people with this disorder? What types of personal or industrial products typically trigger a reaction? Why does it remain a controversial disorder? Is multiple chemical sensitivity a biological or psychological condition? How is it treated and how is the preferred treatment influenced by a professional’s view of the condition (i.e. whether it is biological or psychological)?
  • The Duty to Accommodate: From a legal standpoint, does it matter whether multiple chemical sensitivity is a biological or psychological condition or whether a precise diagnosis is available? Given that multiple chemical sensitivity is not fully understood in the medical community, is it reasonable for an employer to request medical evidence from a specialist or from an independent medical examiner? How should conflicting diagnoses and recommendations for accommodation be resolved? What types of accommodations do employers often have to make for people with MCS – modifications to the workplace? Better ventilation? Is providing access to benefits such as short-term and long-term disability insurance sufficient accommodation? What sort of benefits are available to, and helpful to, employees with MCS? What responsibility does the employer have to educate co-workers (and clients/customers) about MCS? What role should the union play in educating workers about MCS?
  • Limits on Accommodation/Undue Hardship: When will the accommodation of an employee with MCS create undue hardship? Will the employer or union ever be able to establish undue hardship based on the effect the accommodations have on other employees? What types of restrictions may reasonably be placed on the co-workers of an employee with MCS in order to accommodate that employee? (What about restrictions on customers/clients?) Are ‘no-scent’ policies reasonable? How far can no-scent policies go? Can they ban employee from wearing deodorant? Washing clothes in scented detergent?