Perfume Worn By Medical Assistant Is Too Strong!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about strong perfume:

What is the rule on wearing perfume in a doctor’s office? The back office medical assistant wears a lot of perfume. What can I do?

Signed, Holding My Nose

Dear Holding My Nose:

We have many questions in our archives about fragrances and odors at work. There is no rule about it except the rules established by individual workplaces. If you have an office manager perhaps you can discuss it with her, because clearly there needs to be a rule about fragrances in a medical office.

read more

Coworkers Complain About The Smell of My Lunch

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about odor from lunch:

I work in California and almost every day I bring my food to work. The reason I am bringing my food is for budget reasons. Also, I prefer the food I am used to and there is no store near my work place that sells the Asian food I prefer. (I am an Asian by the way.) My co-workers have complained about the smell of my food. But food, when you heat it, you cannot contain the smell.What should I do now? I am on budget and prefer to eat the kind of food I like, that is why I am bringing my own food. By the way, there is no policy at workplace about the food smell. Will be waiting for your advice.

read more

Subordinate Passes Gas!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about employee who passes gas:

I supervise many employees. One specific employee passes gas on a daily basis. Yesterday it was so horrible that another subordinate grabbed a gas mask in order to allow her to continue with her production work. The odor filled the entire back half of the building even with a fan blowing.

As supervisor, I discreetly pulled the person to the side where no one could observe or overheard the conversation. I told him I did not want to hurt his feelings or embarrass him, but if he has to do this to please stop what he is doing long enough to step outside or go to the restroom in order not to offend his co-workers. I have discovered this individual went to human resources to complain about me. The head of our human resources did not know how to deal with this issue. So, he took the problem to the Vice President who stated he has walked in the production area where this individual works when he often does this and it STINKS! I had to say something before one of his co-workers became ugly to the point of hurting or embarrassing him. Can you advise?

read more

Lighting & Aromatherapy On Productivity

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about design of a change-room:

I am working on a new change-room layout for our factory. I wish to know if there is any scientific evidence to suggest that lighting and aromatherapy (that will only be present on the change-room -not in the production areas) can lead to increased productivity in the workplace.

Signed, In For A Change 

Dear In For A Change:

Obviously you are privileged to help design areas within your factory. That’s exciting and challenging because you must cope with so many ideas and, more importantly, with individuals of influence, who now or after a space is in use, voice their opinions. So I trust you can both initiate and incorporate planning that is creative and welcomed.With respect to your specific question:

read more

Who Is Responsible For Venting The Restroom?


My office shares a restroom with several businesses in our office complex. The restroom has a ventilation system but it is either turned off or doesn’t work. We have complained to the owner for over a year about the smells that linger in the restroom–odors, lysol, perfume, hairspray, etc. I have severe asthma and I am constantly having severe attacks that affect my attendence due to the fumes in the ladies room (the odors even bother employees with no respiratory problems).

Does the building owner have an obligation to provide adequate ventilation in the restroom? There are no windows that can be opened.

read more

Underarm Smell


I take a shower two times daily but the underarm smell is still there. Should I consult a general practioner or a skin specialist?




Dear Embarrassed:

We aren’t a medical site, so you should talk to a general practitioner if you think you have a medical condition that needs professional help.

However, I can tell you this without being a doctor: Sweat on the skin smells badly after it sits for only a few minutes, because of bacteria. So you can shower all you want but when you sweat, even a little, you will get a sweaty smell unless you have done something to stop or reduce the sweat or to cover-up the odor. You must use an antiperspirant to reduce the sweating under your arms or use a lot of deodorant and powder to mask the odor. My experience is that deodorant alone isn’t enough, almost everyone needs antiperspirant. Some of the worst smelling people I’ve counseled with about it are wearing some flowery deodorant that mixes with their sweaty smell! Some people claim it is unhealthy to reduce sweat under the arms. However, there is no proof of unhealthiness, especially since sweat isn’t stopped completely just reduced. Further, sweat is excreted in other ways. It’s just that under the arms and on the feet smell the worst!

As for some people saying they don’t mind the odor or think it smells sweaty: Aalmost everyone in the American culture dislikes a sweaty odor. Another thing to remember is that you can be clean and not sweaty, but if your clothes have heavy sweat odors that can’t be removed with washing, they will get worse as you wear them, because of body heat. They will smell as though you aren’t clean. Some fabrics retain the smells even after washing, especially if shirts and blouses fit tightly under the arms.

So, the key to not smelling sweaty is to shower with plenty of soap, then immediately dry off thoroughly, especially under your arms, and put on antiperspirant, then wear fresh, clean clothes. Pattiing some talcum powder on top of the antiperspirant will also help.

If you have the time after that first routine, wait a couple of hours and apply some more antiperspirant after the first layer has absorbed into the skin. If you’re going to do that, wait until then to apply the powder. Try that cleanliness-antiperspirant–powder–clean shirt routine and see if it works. If it does, you won’t have to see a doctor.

Just remember that if you get very hot or nervous later and sweat, it will overload your antiperspirant, so you should wash under your arms again, dry and apply antiperspirant and powder, and put on a clean shirt.

All of that is a bit of work, but it almost always DOES work and certainly saves you from smelling terrible to those around you.

Best wishes. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know if this is successful.

read more

How To Tell Someone About Dirty, Smelly Hair?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about grooming talk:

How do I tell someone who works for me that her hair is nasty and dirty? I believe she washes it every other night. She has bad dandruff and her hair is smelly, oily and just looks very nasty. She also seems to smell on the days she doesn’t wash her hair, so I can only assume she doesn’t bathe either. She is also very much a bully. When I have my talk with her, I know she will lie and tell me she does wash it everyday, but it is obvious she doesn’t. I do not want to hurt her, but this a car dealership and she is in front of customers all day (she is a title clerk). What is the best way to handle this situation?

read more

Boss Said I Smelled Of Alcohol in the Workplace


My boss said to me that he smelled alcohol on my breath.It was the afternoon when he said this and said it was in the morning he smelled it. He never said anything in the morning, but I am worried about where it may go and what rights I have because I did not have any excess alcohol the previous evening.




Dear Worried:

I’m sorry, we’re not a legal site, but I think I can provide some thoughts that might be helpful. Apparently your boss didn’t allege you were intoxicated, just that he could smell alcohol on your breath. I’ve spoken about that with people too. Many clients, customers or coworkers find it offensive or obnoxious to smell stale alcoholic drinks–and, unfortunately, it DOES smell like someone was on a bender the night before! So, your boss’s comment may have been made to remind you of the odor issue or it might have been checking to see if you’re having a problem with alcohol abuse. That would especially be the case if he’s smelled it before or if someone else complained.

Try this: Talk to him or write to him and say how worried you’ve been about this because you would never want someone to think you had a problem with alcohol or that your breath smelled offensive.

Say that you are going to make sure it never happens again by severely limiting your dinner-time drinking on weeknights and only drinking early in the evening.

I’m assuming you are concerned enough to want to write or talk that seriously to your boss about it. He may shrug it off at this point or may say he appreciates your comments. OR, he may counsel (or lecture) you a bit if he’s really concerned.

If this is the first time it’s happened that you know of and nothing was done at the time, your explanation should take care of it. If you are still concerned when the conversation is over, ask your boss if there is going to be any further action about it. You might as well find out! Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

read more

Co-Worker With Body Odor


We work in a sewing factory and our sewing machines are side by side. We have a girl working in the middle of the row, between 9 of us and she has bad b.o. everyday. Two different ladies have talked to the supervisor about her and also went to H.R. with no results. Today one of the ladies went to the supervisor again and he said that the factory director said that he had people go through that area and they didn’t smell anything and he didn’t want to hear any more about it. We were not to discuss this anymore.

This girl is really smelly. She comes in first thing in the morning smelling bad!

read more

Perfume Odor


Do you know of any guidelines posted by OSHA concerning strong perfume in the work place?


Seeking An Answer


Dear Seeking An Answer:

We’re a workplace communication site, so we don’t have expertise in OSHA or other regulations of that nature. However, since workplace conflicts often involve such personal issues as odor, I can provide some information and suggestions that might be helpful. And, our archives may have some information that will be helpful as well.

The whole issue of fragrances, either personal or in candles, plug-in’s, incense, etc., comes down to four basic statements: 1.) There are no OSHA regulations about perfume or other fragrance odors, that can be applied to any workplace. Those would be far too difficult to develop and enforce, so the government stays out of that one!

2.) There is also no unalienable right to wear a perfume or to have fragranced items, so an organization can make its own regulations regarding fragrances.

3.) A formal rule against all fragrances isn’t needed in most places. Usually, the situation is that one or two people are wearing too much fragrance or someone has a fragranced item in their workplace that is problematic. So, coworkers or supervisors can bring it to the employee’s attention and ask that the fragrance be reduced or eliminated.

4.) The use of fragrance is a very personal choice, so criticizing it or telling someone to change it can create hurt feelings, anger and resistance. But, it’s the responsibility of a supervisor or manager to ensure an effective workplace, and fragrance issues are part of that.

It isn’t possible to have a completely fragrance free workplace, for those who are hypersensitive to fragrance (allergy conditions or for some other reason). Many office or business products have a discernible odor. Detergents, deodorants, shampoos, hand lotions, etc., often have fragrances. Most of us aren’t bothered by those in a normal situation.

But, many people are bothered by strong fragrances all of the time. And most of us are distracted by strong odors, even if we don’t get a headache from the chemicals in the fragrance. That’s why its appropriate for a supervisor or manager to get involved about odors or fragrances.

The best way to deal with, of course, is from the moment someone is hired. I think it’s appropriate to have a section in an employee manual that discusses problems relatd to fragrances and that provides requirements, restrictions or guidelines. It should be discussed in new employee orientation, whether that is done formally or informally. That way employees know the policy and also know that even if there is no policy, there is an unwritten rule that products with strong fragrances shouldn’t be worn at all.

I have spoken to dozens of people about their perfumes, hand lotions or strong fragrances in hair spray, deodorants and even their shower gel fragrance that lingers! I have a series of almost memorized statements that seem to work.

Employees nearly always protest that his or her fragrance is very light or that many have said they like it. But, I just stick to the message: It’s bothersome to some, including me, so you’ll have to reduce it significantly or not wear it at all. (Sometimes the specific fragrance is a problem, no matter how light it is, and sometimes the fragrance is OK but they’re wearing too much of it.)

Here’s some of the things I have said (which sound a bit awkward when written, but they worked in real life!)

“Hey, Jana, that fragrance you’re wearing must have a chemical in it that sets off my sinus reactions. Some of the best perfumes do! Whatever it is, it’s just too much. Could you find a way to wash some of it off now and then reduce it way, way down or not wear that one? I’ll really appreciate it.” (I keep a confidential tone, as though this is between them and me and I’m confident they’ll cooperate.) Or, “Ava, I usually like that fragrance, but it could be the recirculation of air in this office makes it get stronger. Could you help me out by washing some of it off now and either not having it so strong or not wearing that particular kind anymore? (Sympathetic smile) That may be one you’ll have to save for the weekend!”


“Vince, men’s cologne is nice for some settings, but, sad to say, I think the combination of it and a small work area is too much. Could you do me a favor and tone it down to about 1/10 of what you’re wearing today or not wear it at all? And for the sake of my sinuses could you wash some of it off in the next few minutes?” Or, “Bill, I don’t know what the fragrance is on your clothes or hair, but whatever it is, it’s really strong after awhile. Do some investigating and figure out what it is and reduce it or don’t wear it, OK?” (It turned out, that was the spray that stops static cling. It kills my sinuses and was bothering others too.)

If someone has been wearing too much fragrance for a long time, but nothing has been said before, I have called him or her aside and said something like, “Lisa, I’ve been meaning to say something about the level of fragrance I notice when I’m in your work area. Between the closeness and the air recirculation, it’s just too much. I even notice it a lot now, standing here next to you. You don’t notice it I’m sure, because you’re wearing it and used to it, but you’ll need to wash some off now and reduce it way, way down or not wear it at all. “

As a coworker I said, “Marge, my sinuses can’t handle some fragrances, and the one you’re wearing is one of them! Or maybe it’s layered up and too strong for me. But, could you please do me a favor and wash some of it off and lower the level when you’re at work? It would help my headache a lot!” I’ve had managers tell me that they simply went up to someone and said, “That perfume is too strong, go wash it off and don’t wear it again.” But, I keep in mind that I’m going to be working with this person the rest of the day and in the coming days. I don’t want to ruin our working relationship over perfume. I also want to apply the Golden Rule: How would I want someone to approach me about an issue like that? I would want them to use tact and to not talk to me as though I knew it was a problem but wore it anyway, of as though I was stupid to not realize it was too strong.

I try to put the blame on the perfume not the wearer. If I’ve asked nicely and they still don’t comply, THEN, it’s the perfume- wearer that is the problem!

I hope these thoughts have been helpful. Best wishes as you deal with this issue. If you develop techniques for handling this that are effective, let us know so we can share them!

read more