This brings new meaning to the phrase “rank privilege.”

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Q: I’ve accepted a substantial position as a director in a very large school division. On my first day at work, I noticed a large sign that read, “No scents allowed.” I consider myself fashion forward, and I use my style to exude my creativity. I can’t imagine not wearing perfume to work. Would it be wrong if I continue to do so, yet in a subtle way? Would people tolerate me if my perfume was pleasant? Would someone really confront the director with a stink?

A: Well, this brings new meaning to the phrase “rank privilege.”

I’m afraid there’s no “subtle way” to violate a straightforward policy, any more than smokers can successfully bypass smoking bans by covering their tracks with Febreze and Tic Tacs. Just because you enjoy or hardly notice a fragrance doesn’t mean it’s not a problem for others.

And I do mean a problem. Individuals with allergies or physical sensitivities to chemicals can suffer headaches, dizziness, nausea, even breathing problems. Those physical reactions can be triggered by fragrances at all price points — not to mention scented shampoos, lotions, candles and diffusers.

You may be right that others would have too much respect for your position to complain to your face about your perfume. But that doesn’t mean they won’t complain about you. And however much people like you or admire your taste, you can’t be an effective leader if being near you makes them physically ill.

So I recommend that you forgo the fragrance, as a courtesy and a kindness to your colleagues. While managerial status has its privileges, the attendant responsibilities include leading by example — and to look beyond the end of one’s nose.

A truly toxic workplace

Q: My office is going through a major renovation. Since we moved back to the renovated space, there have been several incidents of people feeling sick. I felt dizzy at the end of the day for weeks. One woman suffered from an allergy so bad she couldn’t breathe, and many others suffered from headaches and migraines. We have complained to HR and the facility managers, but we still have not received a reply or seen an air-quality report for our workspace. I’m thinking there’s something fishy going on. What else can we do to get answers?

A: Since HR isn’t responding, here are some other offices you and your colleagues should contact:

1. Your doctor’s, to confirm and document your health issues.

2. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (; 800-321-6742) or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to file a confidential complaint and request a workplace inspection or health hazard evaluation.

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. (Courtesy of The Washington Post)
Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. (Courtesy of The Washington Post)