Employees with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) are dealing with a chronic illness that most people have never heard of and many people do not understand. MCS is a medical condition characterized by a sensitivity to chemicals, many of which are commonly used chemicals that do not have any impact on those who do not suffer from MCS. The level of sensitivity to chemicals ranges from mild to severe, and not every person is sensitive to the same chemicals.
Examples of things that chemically sensitive people might react to include many building materials, fresh paint, new carpet, industrial cleaning products, industrial fumes, smoke, air fresheners, perfume/cologne, scented lotions, soaps, and detergents. Employees with MCS can suffer symptoms after inhaling, touching or ingesting substances containing chemicals to which they are sensitive. Symptoms of someone suffering from MCS can range from mild to life-threatening and can include, but are not limited to, headaches, difficulty speaking or thinking, rashes, nausea, fatigue, difficulty breathing, irregular heart beat and seizures.
For employees with multiple chemical sensitivity, chemicals in the workplace and irritants in the air can present a barrier to the workplace, in the same way an inaccessible workplace does for an employee with a physical impairment. For employers, accommodating employees with this illness can be a challenge, but is not impossible. As with any other medical condition, the accommodation process for an employee who has MCS requires an individualized assessment of that employee's specific workplace needs and begins with a determination of whether that employee is a, "qualified individual with a disability," as per the Americans with Disabilities Act, as Amended. An employee is an individual with a disability if that employee suffers from a medical condition that substantially limits their ability to perform a major life activity (breathing, walking, thinking). An employee is a qualified individual with a disability if that person, with or without accommodation, can perform the essential functions of their position. See, 29 CFR 1630.2(m). See also, EEOC's Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Accommodations for employees with MCS might include providing an alternative work space that has better ventilation and using HEPA filters in the ventilation system, maintaining a fragrance free work environment, modifying the exhaust systems to remove fumes from copiers and other office machines; allowing for alternative work sites when chemical agents will be used in the workplace, using alternative cleaning products that do not impact employees with MCS, and having building cleaning and maintenance performed when the employee is not present, to reduce the employee's exposure to chemicals.
For more information regarding Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation has a lot of information available on its website. Additionally, the Job Accommodation Network (JANS) has information regarding accommodating employees with MCS. If you are a federal government employee who would like assistance with your request for reasonable accommodation, please contact our office online or via telephone at (301) 869-8774 to schedule a consultation.
This blog is not intended to provide legal advice or representation, but rather to provide very general information regarding a variety of subject areas. The viewing of the information contained on this blog does not create or establish an attorney-client relationship. Further, this information should not be relied upon without first consulting with an attorney regarding your specific situation.