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Addressing personal hygiene issues at work: Answer

Answer: Yes. An employee with offensive body odor is surprisingly common, and it should be handled with sensitivity and privacy. Keep in mind, while it’s usually assumed an odor is caused by poor hygiene, that is not always the case. For example, it could be:

  • Diet related,
  • A product reacting badly with a person’s chemical makeup, or
  • A reaction to medication.

Tread cautiously, because if the odor is caused by a medical condition, it may be a disability and fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This may require making an accommodation.

Also, some employees may not bathe or may eat different foods during certain religious holidays. If an odor is due to a religious practice, an employer has an obligation to accommodate the employee, so long as it does not unduly interfere with other employees’ rights or with the legitimate needs of the business.