An embarassing issue

We have an employee who works in close proximity to others and who has a personal hygiene issue. Unfortunately, this makes it very unpleasant for others to work closely with him. His body odor is extremely strong. Although he is a very good employee, his ability to work with others is hampered by this embarassing issue. We would like to address this with him, but are not sure how to start.

 Any ideas?


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  • I think this is pretty common. We had a similar issue with an employee and since it could be construed as a performance issue (i.e., no one could work closely with  her), we addressed it as such. We told her that it was an issue and suggested that she address it. It was not a comfortable situation, but she did take action and the problem is not as severe as it was previously. I think if this is done in a discrete and professional way, it is OK.
  • Where I work, our employees have contact with the public/customers.  There is no way we could tolerate an associate with body odor that would drive people away, since it could literally send customers in the opposite direction.  It would simply have to be addressed for that reason--customers at stake.

    It might sound obvious to say that it would be easier to justify creating or modifying a dress code policy that addresses personal hygeine--one that explains that we expect employees to be "clean"--in a place like where I work, where we work with customers.

    But as HR professionals, our  employees are our "internal" customers, and I think we have an obligation to make their workplace bearable. If something is so bad that it's interfering with their work, we need to step in-- I agree that you'll probably need to speak with the offendor discreetly at some point, but if you're looking to reserve that as your last resort, you could try updating and distributing a policy that refers to hygiene.  I'm not sure exactly how you'd want to handle explaining why you've modified the policy, though, and it may be pretty obvious that someone has complained, but at least it won't single out the offendor.  If he doesn't change his habits after that, you'd have no choice left but to take him aside.  But at least this way you could point to your policy when you address it with him individually.

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