Making “Scents” of Employee Body Odor

One of the most awkward and challenging situations that employers face is when an employee’s body odor has drawn the attention of co-workers, often referred to as “employee relations”. It quickly becomes clear which co-workers are better equipped to work around the issue, but sometimes the measures that they take create other problems. When employees “fight fire with fire” by bringing in potpourri or by wearing more perfume, the problem is merely masked, and other issues may be created if other employees have perfume allergies or other negative olfactory reactions. If employees bring in fans to blow everything away, that can inconvenience others and just exacerbate the predicament.

Tactful Communication

Ultimately, the perpetrator needs to be confronted and counseled about the issue. A well-built employee handbook will address the issue of personal hygiene and explain standards and expectations. When approaching an employee with this issue, the employer must be respectful and open-minded to the employee’s circumstances; not judgmental. If the employee is not able to formulate any solutions, be prepared to discuss alternatives such as showering at a different time of day, using different soaps or shampoos, or changing towels more frequently. Most people form their hygiene habits very early in life, and as their circumstances and environment evolve, their habits should too.

Staying Open Minded

Staying open-minded will also force the employee relations professional to listen for red flags during the conversation. When body odors occur due to certain medications, or if an employee reveals that showers are inconsistent, or they have other physical ailments that contribute to the odor, then the situation may become an ADA event and a reasonable accommodation conversation. Confidentiality of the complaining co-workers is important. Plenty of follow-up is needed with all parties to see that the problem has been properly addressed. If the issue does not get resolved due to lack of effort by the offending party, then disciplinary action may be in order.