Body Odor? Handling Uncomfortable and Awkward Conversations at Work

by Bethany Wright on February 11, 2020

in Communication,Questions

Beautiful woman with grimace beacuse of bad smell. Isolated on white.

The first thing is to just remember to be sensitive to the person, as they may not know there is an issue. If an employee who you supervise brought up the issue, inform them that you will address the problem, and they should not try to handle the situation on their own. Remember that these things should be kept confidential to respect the other employee’s privacy.

Someone trained in difficult conversations is the best option to handle the matter. Make sure to have the conversation in a private location, where other employees are not around. Be upfront, and inform the employee that the conversation you are about to have will likely be uncomfortable, but that it is necessary and something you think they’d want to know.

Be delicate, but also straight forward. Inform the employee that at times, there is an odor about them, and ask if they are aware.

Don’t make assumptions. Remember that you may not understand the actual cause of the odor. It is possible the cause of the odor could be due to a medical issue, or a cultural or religious custom and may not be related to grooming practices at all.

Allow the employee an opportunity to respond to the issue by saying something like, “I am not sure if it is a personal hygiene issue, your clothing or something else. Are you aware of this issue?” This will give them the chance to answer back with a possible reason for the odor.

If the employee indicates that the issue is due to a medical issue, or religious reason, you should begin the interactive process for possible reasonable accommodations.

Inform the employee of how the odor may be affecting the workplace. For example, you may have had customers or employees express concern. If the problem is with a fragrance as opposed to body odor, review your policy on fragrances in the workplace if you have one.

At the end of the meeting, verify that your employee understands your expectations regarding their personal hygiene and discuss what steps need to be followed going forward; whether it be discussing possible reasonable accommodations, or if the onus falls on the employee to make any necessary changes. Confirm the employee understands possible consequences if they fail to comply with the expectations, document the conversation, and follow-up as necessary.

If there is a need for a reasonable accommodation, document those conversations as well as possible accommodations and how those might be implemented, going forward.

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