J. J. Keller® Compliance Network Logo
Start Experiencing Compliance Network for Free!
Update to Professional Trial!

Be Part of the Ultimate Safety & Compliance Community

Trending news, knowledge-building content, and more – all personalized to you!

Already have an account?
Thank you for investing in EnvironmentalHazmat related content. Click 'UPGRADE' to continue.
Enjoy your limited-time access to the Compliance Network Professional Trial!
A confirmation welcome email has been sent to your email address from ComplianceNetwork@t.jjkellercompliancenetwork.com. Please check your spam/junk folder if you can't find it in your inbox.
Thank you for your interest in EnvironmentalHazmat related content.
You've reached your limit of free access, if you'd like more info, please contact us at 800-327-6868.
How do I address an employee’s personal hygiene issue?
  • An employee with offensive body odor is surprisingly common, and it should be handled with sensitivity and privacy.
  • There are many reasons an employee might have body odor, some of which may be medical.
  • Medical conditions for body odor might fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The presence of an employee with an offensive body odor is a surprisingly common occurrence in the workplace, and the matter should be handled with sensitivity. First, address the problem in private. Employers should tell the employee it has come to their attention that the employee emits a strong odor. The employee may or may not be aware of it. Ask if the employee can come up with solutions to the problem and go over some possibilities together.

While it’s usually assumed an odor is caused by poor hygiene, that’s not always the case. For example, it could be:

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

There may be easy remedies, depending on the nature of the problem. If it is a case of a product interacting with a person’s body chemistry to produce an unwanted odor, the solution may be as simple as switching to a different soap or laundry detergent. It may be something in the person’s diet, like an overabundance of garlic. Or it could be a personal hygiene issue, such as infrequent bathing. If necessary, remind the employee of the company’s dress code or personal grooming policy.

If there appears to be no easy solution, suggest that the individual see a doctor for any potential causes, then check back with the employee in a few weeks. It is a trickier situation if it is related to a medical issue. For example, an odor may be caused by a colostomy bag or certain medical conditions, such as:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Kidney or liver failure

Tread cautiously, because the condition may be a disability and fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which may require making an accommodation and cannot be discriminated against.

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.

Whatever the case, express the desire to simply make sure the employee is well. The key is to show respect and compassion. As embarrassing as this conversation is for a manager or HR representative, it’s doubly so for employees, so try to minimize their embarrassment as much as possible. It’s also best to keep the discussion as confidential as possible. Simply monitor the situation or discuss it with the employee privately in a couple of weeks to see if any progress has been made.