Multiple chemical sensitivity is a difficult beast to live with. Most of the time, an MCS diagnosis means a radical change in the way you eat, shop, and keep your home. Carpet needs to be torn up, cleaners replaced, and every food label examined from here on out. Travel plans disintegrate because you know little to nothing about how they clean your hotel room.
Even if you can travel, how do you afford it, when holding a conventional job while living with MCS is almost impossible?
Working with MCS
Office buildings and other work settings create a situation where many environmental factors are out of your control. At home, you are in charge of your environment and are able to make changes to alleviate your symptoms. At work, however, you are at the mercy of the building manager or your superior for most adaptations.
It can be hard to concentrate with headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, and any number of other symptoms. Suffering from MCS greatly impacts your ability to be a productive employee, and employers aren’t always sympathetic to MCS symptoms in the workplace.
It is important to talk to your employer about any concerns you have about your ability to be an effective employee. While the task may seem daunting, raising awareness and working to eliminate toxins in your environment will benefit everyone.
Fortunately, OSHA defends a worker’s right to a safe workplace. Employers are not allowed to punish an employee for raising health and safety concerns, including those relating to MCS. Remember this when approaching your employer.
Utilizing Your Diagnosis
Most employers understand rules and policies incredibly well. It’s part of why they’re in charge.
When approaching your superior to ask for accommodations, it’s important to come prepared. It is ill-advised to ask for changes to be made based on anecdotal evidence, as people tend to look at that as special treatment. There has to be a viable “why” behind the decision.
If possible, obtain a medical diagnosis from your practitioner, and ask them if they’d be willing to write a medical recommendation or disability note. Taking formal advice from your doctor with you when asking for workplace changes will add validity to your claim and make your employer more likely to support you. It also provides them with the information necessary to protect themselves if they’re accused of special treatment.
Medical notes also give you more grounds to push back against your employer should you be denied changes that you’re requesting. Employers will want to dismiss your claims because then they don’t have to the hard work of re-vamping your work environment. And unfortunately, with all the information out there disqualifying the validity of MCS, it’s easy for people to become skeptical.
However, sometimes all it takes is time. The link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma was debated and dismissed for years before a strong link was drawn, and now it’s impossible to dismiss. Perhaps someday we’ll see class-action lawsuits aimed at corporations for causing MCS as a result of workplace chemical exposure in the same way we see claims made for asbestos-induced mesothelioma.
Accommodations for MCS
As hard as it can be to be patient, there are steps you can take in the meantime to make your workspace as comfortable as possible. Some of these you can do on your own, while others will require the cooperation of your management.
Use a Desktop Air Filter
Some jobs will have these available to workers, but in other cases, you may have to bring in your own. A desktop air filter can help make sure that the air in your space is clean and free from dust, dirt, and potential toxins. You may find this especially helpful if you experience coughing, sneezing, or irritated eyes while at work.
Ask for Uncarpeted Space
Carpet can trap toxins and dirt for long periods of time despite vacuuming or regular cleaning. Carpet shampoo can contain harmful chemicals that will only exacerbate symptoms in many individuals. If there is a tiled or hardwood portion of your office, request to be relocated to that part of the building.
Request a Fragrance-Free Policy
Co-workers can help alleviate odors in the building by reducing or eliminating personal fragrances at work. Products to avoid include scented lotions and hand sanitizers, personal perfume, and scented fabric products like wrinkle releasers. Not everyone will be willing to make these changes, so having the support of management in instituting a policy can be helpful.
Lobby for Non-Toxic Cleaners
Workplaces can also accommodate you by switching their cleaning products to non-toxic, green cleaning supplies. With the environmental movement gaining more traction every day, there is no shortage of green cleaning options to choose from. In many cases, your employer may find that they stand to save money and look better in the public eye by making this switch.
Request Notice of Building Projects
It’s good business practice to alert employees of impending construction or other building activities that may interrupt your ability to work. However, if your employer doesn’t currently do this, suggest starting. It’s easy enough to send out an email to all employees letting them know what will be going on in their building.
Explore Working From Home
Technology is making it easier for employees to work remotely for a number of office positions. With instant messaging applications and email taking over face-to-face communication in many business settings, very little face-to-face interaction is still required. Skype and similar programs make it easy to share presentations or hold conference calls to compensate for not being physically present in meetings.
It takes a lot of courage to open up about MCS, especially to those who have power over part of your life. While talking to your boss may be intimidating, it’s necessary in order to find greater comfort. Working with your doctor and employer to incorporate some of the tips above will benefit everyone involved and allow you to live a healthier life.