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THIS WEEK'S E-TIP: FLSA - How to Handle Employee Body Odor Complaints Q&A
Published by Personnel Policy Service, Inc.
"Your Policy and Compliance Experts Since 1972"
THIS WEEK'S E-TIP: How to Handle Employee Body Odor Complaints Q&A

Let's face it – no manager wants to have to confront the issue of an
employee's body odor. But, unfortunately, you can't ignore the issue if
other employees are complaining. Find out four tips for dealing with this
touchy problem.
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THIS WEEK'S E-TIP: How to Handle Employee Body Odor Complaints Q&A

Q: Over the last three weeks, we have received several complaints
regarding an employee's body odor. The employee works in a confined
office area with fifteen coworkers, and about half of them have
complained. He is an excellent worker and we don't want to lose him,
but the other employees are very upset by the odor. How should we
deal with this issue?

A: Body odor and other personal hygiene problems are among
everyone's least-favorite issue to tackle and can be very difficult to
address and remedy. The key to dealing with this issue is to balance the
employee's embarrassment (and yours) with the need to correct the
problem. Here are four tips for approaching an employee with excessive
body odor:

  1. Discuss the matter with the employee in private and, if possible,
    limit discussions about the meeting to key personnel with a need to
    know. Complaining employees should not be privy to the details of your
    meetings and only should be informed that the issues have been
  2. Be factual and straightforward and point out specific problems
    that should be corrected. Do not sugarcoat the problem. For example,
    explain that other employees have noticed an odor and that the
    employee needs to remedy the problem. If the employee's clothing
    appears to be dirty and unkempt, and thus is creating or contributing to
    the problem, then identify this issue as well.
  3. Make sure to set a time limit for improvement, just as you would
    for any other dress/appearance code (free policy download) violations. If
    you do not, the employee may not understand the severity of the
    problem and may fail to remedy it properly.
  4. Follow your normal progressive disciplinary policy for repeated
    infringements, up to termination for continued violations. While the
    subject of body odor and hygiene is very personal, it also is ultimately
    work-related when employees complain. Therefore, your policies and
    procedures should be applied, as appropriate.

Excessive body odor by itself generally is not considered a disability
under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You should, however,
be prepared to deal with an employee whose body odor could be a
symptom of a serious disease or health condition. In these rare
instances, you should follow your normal ADA procedures, such as
requiring the employee to provide medical certification of the problem
and discussing possible accommodations with him. However, do not
immediately assume that body odor is an indication of a medical
problem. Most odors are simply the result of poor hygiene.

Subscribers to the Personnel Policy Manual and HR Policy Answers on
CD can find more information on dealing with personal hygiene issues in
Personal Appearance of Employees, Chapter 802, note 8.

If you don't have the manual, but would like to order a trial review, go to:

Or just give us a call toll-free at 1-800-437-3735.

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Information provided in HR Matters E-Tips is researched and reviewed
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