There are always going to be times in life when someone says something you just can't believe. My all time favorite (in retrospect) is directly related to my life with Migraines.
Approximately twelve years ago, I was working as an associate professor and division director at a major university. At that time, my Migraines had not become chronic but were still a very real and present part of my life. As a result, our office had a long held policy of being scent-free since scents of most kinds are major Migraine triggers for me. My staff was incredibly supportive in following this policy, and the janitorial staff went to great lengths to use non-offending products as well. Little did I realize how blessed I was until Ms. X came to work for me.
During the general orientation, I told her of our policy and gave her a written copy of it as well. I thought little of this, since it had not been a problem for anyone up to this time. However, over the ensuing weeks, it became apparent that Ms. X not only used perfume but really liked it - a lot! As her supervisor, I sat down and began the difficult task of trying to explain that although I might like a scent it could still trigger a Migraine and that this was a medical necessity. It had nothing to do with her or her choice in perfume. It had to do with my overly sensitive nervous system. I went on to explain all that a Migraine entails for me and how it caused any work for the day to come to an end. She stared at me impassively as I spoke to her. We concluded with my asking her to please stop wearing her perfume while at work to which she replied "I'll think about it."
Say what?! (She was a new employee, under my supervision and had been faced with a medical concern. Ironically, one of the specific functions of our division was to provide accommodations for students with disabilities. This was surely not something that should cause a great deal of introspection.)
The next week came and went with no change in her "perfume habits." After re-addressing the issue with her and getting nowhere, I asked my neurologist to send a letter to the University stating my need to have a scent free environment due to health reasons. I once again sat down with Ms. X and showed her the letter. Our meeting ended amiably enough, and I thought all had been taken care of.
However, the next day the scent of perfume continued to waft through the office. That same day I also received a phone call from the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Diversity to let me know that a complaint had been lodged against me by none other than Ms. X. I was told that she had lodged formal complaint on the basis of discrimination. I was totally baffled and went to the meeting to find out that she believed my "dislike" of her perfume had to do with the brand she used and that I was using it as a means to discriminate against her.
Here I was, an individual with a legitimate disability covered by the ADA asking for an accommodation, being told that I was the one who was discriminating. I didn't think it was possible to be any more shocked than I was at that moment. I provided my letter to the Vice Chancellor, and he let Ms. X know that she needed to cease wearing the perfume.
By this time, things were quite uncomfortable in the office due to this situation, and I was just relieved that the whole thing was settled. (Or so I thought.) Beginning the very next day, she was once again wearing the perfume. I tried to convince myself that it was an olfactory hallucination and to just ignore it. However, after throwing up at work several days in a row and having to leave due to excruciating pain, I finally asked one of my other employees if she could also smell the perfume. She replied in the affirmative.
Great - now I had dealt with this employee one-on-one, gotten documentation from my doctor, gone through a diversity hearing, and thought everything was settled. I agonized over how to handle this without it becoming an even more contentious topic. I asked Ms. X to come to my office and asked her if she was still wearing the perfume to which she replied in the negative. Now what was I suppose to do? I didn't want to call her an outright liar, so I let things go on as they were for another couple of weeks as my Migraines became more frequent and more severe.
Finally my work was so compromised that I had no alternative but to have yet another conversation with Ms. X. I told her that it was obvious that she was still wearing the perfume and that it HAD to stop. She looked me, cool as a cucumber, told me that I was not the only one with a "disability" (emphasis on sarcasm) and that she had a "personal odor" condition which necessitated her wearing her perfume. As I stared at her dumbfounded, she proceeded to point to her lap and tell me that I could smell her there if I didn't believe it.
Say What?! Had an employee really just told me to smell her privates!? Yes, indeed, she had!
Things were later resolved with this employee through her resignation due to the "adverse" working environment, and I was fully backed and supported by the University. However, to this day, I cannot believe anyone went to such efforts to wear perfume knowing that it caused another person to become ill.
The bottom line is just when you think you've heard it all, you probably haven't!