Counseling an employee on body odor is one of the most uncomfortable tasks faced by managers and human resources professionals. Body odor conversations are rarely easy. However, failure to address body odor can create an uncomfortable work environment for co-workers and customers. Body odor conversations must be addressed with empathy, care and total confidentiality. It is important to remember that body odor can be caused by a variety of factors, not just poor hygiene.
Prepare a Private Meeting
Ensure that you have an accurate description of the problem. Is it a regular occurrence or intermittent?
Secure a private area to conduct the meeting.
Print your organization's dress code policy and highlight any applicable areas.
Schedule the meeting.
Create a Plan of Action
Explain the purpose of the meeting to the employee. Discuss in general terms the information you have received. Do not share the names of employee(s) that reported the problem.
Ask for the employee's feedback. Are they aware of the problem and/or do they know what might be causing the body odor?
If the odor is a medical condition, it is necessary that you make a reasonable accommodation per the Americans with Disability Act. "When individuals with body odor are unable to reduce offensive body odor to an acceptable level, employers may consider providing a private office with an air-purification system, using odor-absorbing products in the work environment, or allowing work from home," according to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
If the odor is not the result of a medical condition, determine the cause through communication with your employee.
If the employee does not know the cause, ask him to actively review his diet, clothing and hygiene over the next two to three days. Schedule a follow-up meeting. Once you have identified a possible cause, create a plan of action.
Can the issue be addressed with something as simple as a new deodorant, or with flexible restroom breaks? A change in diet? Follow up with the employee(s) that initially reported the problem. Assure them that steps have been taken toward resolution.
Schedule a follow-up meeting with the employee, regardless of the cause of the problem. If the body odor is the result of medical condition, discuss the steps the company has taken to address the problem. If it is not a medical condition, discuss the steps that the employee has taken toward resolution. Review any assistance that the company has provided. Remind the employee that you continue to be available to them should they require support in resolving the issue.
Follow-up with the reporting employee(s) to ensure that the issue has been resolved.
Document the original complaint, meeting summaries, any steps taken toward resolution and your follow-up notes. Save everything in a confidential file, away from the personnel file.
Whenever possible, conduct your meeting outside of business hours to ensure maximum confidentiality.
As tempting as it may be to ignore complaints of body odor, failure to do so can result in reduced employee morale, absenteeism and potential turn-over. In addition, if the employee is in a customer service role, you run the risk of customer complaints.
Johna Simon has a bachelor's degree in organizational psychology. She has been a human resources professional for more than 15 years, specializing in employee relations, resume preparation and interview training. After several years of writing materials related to her profession, she began writing professionally.