Personal Hygiene Issues
By Tonya Wells – I don’t care what culture you are from, if you have a medical condition, or if you just don’t like wearing it –nobody wants to have to deal with sitting next to or in meetings with a stinky employee. As a recruiter of contract employees, I’ve had to have my fair share of conversations with employees with odor problems, and these are never fun conversations.
The root of most odor complaints usually are caused by five different common denominators. Regardless of the reason, all of them have to be handled rather delicately with the employee to avoid making a scene and causing the employee undue embarrassment. So, whatever the problem, make sure you pull the employee aside into a closed door room so that you can discuss the problem with them in private.
Some of the most common reasons for employee odors are the following:
- Not bathing;
- Not wearing an antiperspirant or deodorant;
- It’s that ‘time’ of the month for the female employee;
- The employee is in a job that requires them to do a lot of physical work on the job site; or
- Overweight issues that are causing extreme sweating.
Providing Access to Hygiene Products
All employers should have a vending machine in-house that dispenses feminine hygiene products as well as health-related products.
- Feminine Hygiene Dispensers cut down on odors caused by not having access to products that can be changed frequently by the employee. You provide the dispenser, and even if they are caught by surprise and don’t have sufficient feminine products with them, they can always go to the women’s restroom and buy one from there. You’d be surprised how many corporations and small businesses don’t provide these for their employees. And, they will pay for themselves over time.
- Health/Medic Dispensers can provide deodorant wipes as well as medicine for employees that range from Body/Hand wipes with a deodorizer in them to Advil, Tylenol, Bayer aspirin, and Pepto Bismol. Not only will this help your employees freshen up, it will also help those with oncoming headaches or illnesses finish up their work for the day without having to leave work (assuming they are not contagious). This helps keep productivity up.
Some dispensers you might want to consider are:
Private One-on-One Meeting with Your Employee
Next, it is time to sit down with your employee in private and have a discussion with him or her. So, how do you address this topic? Here are a few tips:
- Remind employees to bathe and wash their hair regularly – It may or may not be clear that the person is not bathing and washing their hair regularly, but you should gently remind them to make sure they are taking a shower daily and washing their hair often enough that it does smell or look dirty.
- Remind employees to wear deodorant/antiperspirant – Deodorant issues are usually pretty apparent because your employee will be stinky as all get out with body odor if they are not wearing deodorant. Someone who is not wearing an antiperspirant/deodorant may just be wearing a deodorant, so remind your employee to make sure they are wearing a combination of both as the antiperspirant is what will stop the sweating that is causing the smell. Sometimes, employees will have a cultural issue with wearing deodorant, and I always simply state that while they are here in the U.S., the cultural standard is to wear deodorant. Take it or leave it. I explain to them that working with someone who has body odor problems (unless they are in a highly physical job where they are obviously working up a sweat) is just not acceptable to the company or those that they have to work around.
- Encourage frequent sanitary product changes for women – One of THE most uncomfortable conversations to have with an employee are the ladies who have never been taught proper hygiene around ‘that time of the month’. These conversations will even make me squirm. For some reasons, the women I’ve had to talk to about this never have any clue that they smell like stink bait. I just don’t see how that is possible, but alas, the women I’ve spoken to claim they had no idea. I usually tell the ladies that if it is their time of the month to make sure they are clean and fresh (i.e., bathe regularly); I remind them to change their sanitary products at least every 2-3 hours so that they don’t start to smell bad; and I leave it at that.
- Remind indoor workers with physical jobs to do a smell check periodically throughout the day – Employees who have indoor jobs that are somewhat physical often have problems with odors. These may be computer technicians who are having to pull cables, crawl around under desks, carry large servers or computer equipment from point A to point B, or they might be janitors or maintenance personnel. Clearly if someone works outdoors, and someone is complaining about odor, a fair amount of judgment has to be used to determine if there is truly a problem to be addressed. There are some outdoor jobs where you just can’t work without getting a little bit smelly. But, if the employee is dealing with a lot of customers or just smells downright rank, you might have to talk to them as well. You address these employees the same way you do the employee who isn’t bathing regularly or wearing deodorant. Remind them to do both, and tell them to go freshen up in the bathroom throughout the day if they notice they are starting to smell. Also, you might want to suggest that they bring some deodorant to work so that they will have it with them if they need it during the day.
- Suggest lighter weight clothing and a small desk fan for employees who sweat a lot – Another unpleasant conversation to have is with employees who smell bad because of extreme sweating. The most common objection I get is that they are overweight. I usually suggest that they wear lighter weight clothing that breathes more so that they are more comfortable and invest in a small fan on their desk to help keep them cooler. I also suggest that they keep an antiperspirant in their desk or purse so that they can reapply it during the day. But, my tough love response is that if your weight problem is causing you to sweat so much that it is potentially costing you a job you currently have, you have got to do something about your weight!
This is where I usually have a tough love conversation with the employee, and encourage them to begin eating better and exercising more. Why? Because a person’s overall appearance and weight has a huge impact on people’s immediate perception of them. Since I am also a BeachBody Coach, I point them in the general direction of some workout plans that can help them get in better shape, and I also suggest some healthy eating websites online that they might want to check out.
- Document, Document, Document – This is a conversation that you want to document well in the employee’s file. If you are required to have multiple conversations with the employee, and the problem is never fixed, sometimes I have had Hiring Managers ask me to remove my employee from the work site and terminate them. While this is easier to do with a contractor than a full-time employee, sometimes it becomes necessary with a full-time employee as well.After several conversations with my corporate lawyers as well as the State of Oklahoma’s Unemployment agency, I have learned that you have to document the hell out of these conversations – every….single….conversation! No matter how short or how long – document it! If the employee ever files an unemployment claim on your company, this documentation will be required.Unfortunately, I have never been able to get out of paying unemployment for this kind of termination. Unemployment agencies have no tolerance for it. So, before you terminate an employee for this reason, you better make sure that you are willing to pay a higher unemployment rate in the future due to this termination.I have never worked for a company that had an employee sue the company for terminating them for this reason, but it is possible, and you need to keep this in mind as a possibility BEFORE you terminate someone due an odor issue.
If none of the above suggestions work, I suggest investing in a case of Lysol and perhaps leaving some cans of deodorant in the company restroom to see if they will take a hint!