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What should HR do when an employee's body odor is affecting the workplace?

Employees with body odor can cause a disruption in the workplace; other employees may feel uncomfortable and, in extreme cases, be unable to perform their jobs. Employees may also begin to talk about the problem in the workplace, which disrupts work even more. Managers may feel ill-equipped to deal with this type of situation and seek guidance from HR.

Given the personal nature of the problem, HR should advise managers to handle the matter with sensitivity. Body odor may be caused by a medical condition, poor hygiene or a specific diet, to name a few options. If the issue is not addressed appropriately, it may run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act or lead to claims of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Depending on the strength of relationship with the offending employee, HR or the manager should meet with the employee to bring the matter to the employee’s attention. Gently pointing out the strong odor and asking for a response from the employee is critical. If appropriate, HR or the manager should reference the company’s dress and grooming policy and the negative effect on the employee’s contributions can be discussed. The employee should be allowed an opportunity to discuss the matter and to provide possible solutions. In the event the employee states that he or she has a medical condition, HR or the manager should reassure the employee and discuss reasonable accommodations.

Issues such as this one may cause employees to be distracted and disgruntled. Because is it inappropriate for employees to handle these situations between themselves, managers must deal with this situation as soon as possible.


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