Person With A Bad Odor

Question:

I work with a person who has a very bad body odor because they dont wash and don’t look after themselves. I want to know how do I deal with this? I have been in a meeting with my HR department and they have not done anything about it. Is there a legal way I can make them deal with this?

Signed,

Suffering


Answer:

Dear Suffering:

Unpleasant body odor is nearly always preventable and nearly always is caused by not bathing or wearing stale or dirty clothes or not using deodorant or antiperspirant. In this case you seem to think the coworker doesn’t wash or use basic hygiene. That doesn’t take much to fix.

I’ll make the assumption that you are correct about it being a bad odor and that others would notice it too if they were near.

There are three ways to approach it, and all require sticking with it until it gets fixed.

1. Talk to the coworker yourself or with others. Say something like, “Jake, this is really difficult to do, and I wish I didn’t have to do it, but I have to. You have a sweaty smell or a stale smell. Something that doesn’t smell good anyway. I would want you to tell me if it was me, so……………I don’t know what it will take to fix it, but you just gotta, because I’m dying over here.”

(You might not talk that way….but I heard someone say that once and it worked well!”)

2. Go to your supervisor or manager and ask that person to help you with the problem. Surely he or she notices it too.

3. Go to HR, which you say you’ve done.

The key to going to your manager or to HR is not to just talk to them or to just complain. Instead, tell them it’s a distraction from work and you would like to have someone talk to the coworker about it. Don’t make it a request, make it an expectation.

In this letter, state that you have talked to them once already and if they talked to the coworker as they said they would, you want to report that it didn’t work. Say that you hope you can depend upon them to make the work environment tolerable. Then send that off, with a copy to your supervisor, perhaps. Give it a few days and contact them personally about it. Don’t give up, but always behave in a businesslike manner yourself. There isn’t a law about body odor or making someone get rid of body odor. But there are plenty of good business and workplace reasons to have people look and smell clean.

I think if you push it a bit more someone will talk to the coworker–although they may mention it was you who complained. If they don’t, you will have to do it. You don’t say the number of employees your business has, so I don’t know how many layers there are in the management levels. But, if I were you I’d keep going until someone, at some level became concerned about it.

If you keep the focus on how this is distracting and will affect others, maybe that will make an impact.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. We’re always interested in how these odor issues are resolved!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.