sensative subject

Ok Forumites, give me your best ideas.

Imagine this scenario: You have an employee who leaves a trail of odor. The mail room where they work half day smells unpleasant a good portion of the day, their supervisor has taken to spraying her work area with Fabreeze whenever the employee leaves her area, you have heard the warning sound shortly before you smell it when you are walking behind her in the hall, and now employees are complaining. They don't like that it appears the employee is unaware or doesn't care that those sounds are not acceptable in public, and neither is the odor. Yesterday one employee refused to go into the mail room after being hit with the odor at the door.

This employee is otherwise well liked and avoids causing anyone inconvenience or trouble. She has a minor disability and possible health issues as well as probably financial issues.

You need to talk with the employee. How does your conversation go?


  • 9 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Do you have a "Clean Air" policy? Does your dress code policy include hygiene?

    I would be cautious - you mentioned health condition - it's not a health condition causing any of this is there? If so, I'm wondering what a reasonable accommodation would be?
  • Ahhh...there's the rub. The employee has never indicated any health condition might cause odor issues.

    Hygiene is addressed in the policy, and so has the use of perfumes and sprays. This employee is highly alergic to certain chemicals so we have strong limits as to what is permissible as far as sanitizers and cleaners. Employee produced odors outside of the restroom have not been addressed.
  • For her next birthday or employment anniversary, give her a gift basket full of soap, shampoo, and scented oils
  • I wish brybol! But if I want to change her odor it needs to be something she is eating, for she has no bathing issues or related body odor.

    The complaints concern both her frequent odors AND her um..rude noises. Do you think I really need to address the noises too?

    I haven't done anything yet, for I am hoping someone will tell me what they would say and help me get the conversation started.
  • You tell her "sometimes the odor of your body is too noticeable." I learned that line from the video "The Practical Coach".

    "Sometimes" is important because you dont want to make a blanket statement.

    "noticeable" is important because we all have body odors. It becomes an issue when its too noticeable.

    Be compassionate but firm and ask her to take whatever necessary steps she needs to take to make her body odor less noticeable.

    I wouldn't address the "body noises". Thats a minor issue in my mind. It may improve on its own if the employee becomes more aware of their own personal hygeine.
  • Nae, I'm afraid I can't offer you much help, just my sincere sympathy that you have to come up with a way to address this situation! :angel:

    It would be easier if it were an issue of body odor caused by poor hygiene, because then you could approach it from the bathing/cleanliness point of view. Unfortunately, no amount of washing, perfume, or body spray is going to help, since it is an odor she is...ummmm...emitting. That makes the conversation much more difficult. Maybe you could suggest that there are over-the-counter remedies (Gas-X, Beano) that could help reduce or eliminate the problem?

    And as far as the accompanying sounds go, I know some people who don't seem to think it's a big deal to - do that - in polite company or in public, their attitude is more like they can't help it or it's natural, so maybe she thinks that way also and it doesn't occur to her that it might not be acceptable in public.
  • Thank you Paul and cngr! This is what I needed to move forward.
  • I wouldn't get into the analysis of the problem , the cause of the odor, or possible remedies. I think that is the employee's issue to deal with. I would simply focus on the "noticeable odor" and let her figure it out. Unless she raises a medical issue, I think its the employee's responsibility to address this issue.

    Smell is a big deal. Some people are very sensitive to odor in the workplace. Its not an easy issue to address but I know you are a very kind, compassionate, wonderful HR person Nae and I am sure that you will handle the conversation well.
  • Those sort of conversations are extremely difficult - I would probably handle it something like this:

    1. Start the conversation off with honesty. "Jane, I need to talk to you about something that is very delicate. Please note that this is as difficult and awkward for me as it is for you, and I want you to know that I wouldn't be coming to you about this unless I had exhausted all other remedies."
    2. Mention the issue in a way that doesn't place blame on anyone. "Jane, at ABC Corp we are friends and family as much as we are co-workers. And as your HR representative, I strive to act as an advocate for each of you, and that means having to discuss items that could possibly impact your perception in the workplace.
    3. Explain that the issue affects how other people view them. "Sometimes we can all be unaware of little things we do that offend or annoy others. I'm not sure if you realize it, but.....and this is the awkward conversation part....sometimes you pass gas/are flatulent near others and it has been mentioned to me on a few instances. Whether this is intentional, an unconscious occurrence, or a medical issue, I felt you would appreciate being made aware of the situation rather than have people talk about it when you're not around."
    4. Reinforce your support of them. "Jane, I hope you aren't offended by me bringing this up with you, but I genuinely care about your success at this organization, and want you to be known for your contributions to ABC Corp, and not for some passing (pun intended) bodily issue. Do you have any questions for me? Is there anything I can do or recommend?"
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