Clearing the air with a peer’s odor problem

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Question: "How do others handle personnel who wear strong and unpleasant perfume? What about other grooming and hygiene issues?" —Chris

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom June 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Many years ago at a different job, I had a co-worker who had recently lost her home. And her husband had lost his job. She and her husband and children were living in a camping trailer. I put up with for several weeks, but finally realized that it was not going to change I took our Supervisor for a walk and explained the problem – she teared up and said she knew there was a problem, but hated to have these talks – I politely reminded her that she was in charge and gave her suggestions on how to speak with the employee. Since I was the only male in the group I then asked for the next day off so they could have to talk in the Supervisor's office and the offending employee would be able to step out of the office and not get even more embarassed by seeing the only male in the group. When I came back to work they had the talk and from that day forward there was not a problem.

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Teresa June 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I agree with Lisa as some odors are from a medical issue. Be cautious on how you approach a person with body odor as they themselves may not know there is a problem.

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Rose June 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

It is not “hopefully your HR Department would help”, It should fall on the HR Department because if a manager tries to solve this kind of problem, there will be bad feelings in their department. From then on working with the person with the problem will be hard. That’s what companies pay their HR Department for.

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Chris June 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Would you be willing to share your policy? Thanks.

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Helga June 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I would not go to HR first. Second, yes, but not first. This is something the person’s manager or supervisor needs to handle. HR is there to keep benefits rolling, keep the company from losing employment lawsuits, maintain compliance with ICE and everyone else, and advise managers and supervisors on how not to get in hot water. Oh, and work on recruiting and employee development (the enjoyable part of HR!) when there is a chance. Destinking an employee and/or avoiding awkwardness is not really high up on the list.

If the manager hasn’t been able to do this, then it is time to escalate it to HR to see if they can handle it. There are cases where a medical condition can cause a bad smell and HR can possibly move someone to a better office (that happens to be well ventillated) if it’s an issue.

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Terry June 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I had this problem with a guy at work. Every time he walked by, I got a migraine. I went on Word and typed a very nice anonymous letter. Very short and sweet. I copied and pasted a paragraph from our company handbook that said “you should wear very little or no, perfume or cologne, while working in the office.” My letter said that I was very sorry, but I was getting severe headaches from his cologne everytime I worked with him. He never wore it again.

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Lisa June 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Please be aware that sometimes, people who have body odor issues are suffering from an actual medical issue, not just poor hygiene. It's important to approach any issue like this very tactfully, regardless of the cause. If your company has a human resources department, that would be a good place to start.

I am very sensitive to perfume, myself, and a former co-worker (and friend!) used to wear a very strong scent which gave me a headache. I mentioned it to her in private, and asked if she would mind not wearing it any more. She stopped right away. I think that some people who wear perfume regularly don't even realize how strong it is – they get "desensitized" to the scent, and keep applying more and more until they're able to smell it themselves.

If you'd rather not directly approach the person yourself, hopefully your HR department would help.

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Sharon June 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I suffer from severe allergies, musk oils and parfumes are the worst they affect my eyes, respirotory system, and skin. If I can’t smoke in the work area you should not be allowed to wear gagging choking offensive parfumes that lingier long after you have left the room. Heres my take on the situation
You
Musk Oil $5.00

Me
Doctor Visit $20.00, Prescription $ 10.00, Sick day $170. Parking $5. Eye ointment $15. Skin Ointment $40. total $260.00 giving you the bill priceless.

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Perfume Sensitive 2 June 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I have this problem in my office with two separate individuals. When it was mentioned to the persons wearing the offensive fragrance, they just ignored me. Now I have a Scentsy candle (which operates by a small lightbulb) on my desk to “mask” the odor.

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Janet June 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm

This is definitely an HR issue and I would ditto the previous comment that HR should have someone trained to deal with same. I would think the conversation would go something like, “I don’t mean to embarrass you and that’s why I asked to talk with you privately. I’ve been asked to speak with you about offensive body odor, etc.”

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Pam June 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I managed a woman who had very offensive body odor. I took her out to lunch and over lunch we discussed possible solutions. It was very hard for me and I am sure for her but the next day when she came in and I did the ‘sniff’ test she passed. I told her she smelled great (she had even put on a light cologne) and from then on it wasn’t a problem.

At my current position we have a lady who is deathly allergic to most everything. We moved her to an office with a door she could close and posted signed asking that everyone refrain from wearing scented products when needing face to face time with her. Initially there was quite a bit of resistance but eventually it worked out. It wasn’t that much of a hardship for people to plan on one day every week or so and just not wear the colognes, hand lotions or other scented products.

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Gail June 17, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I am very sensitive to strong perfumes and scents, I become nauseated and have trouble breathing. I let people know in a tactful manner, either by working it into general conversation to not single them out, or by speaking with them privately. The compassionate ones will cut back what they wear and I communicate electronically with the others, even if they are close by. If, after speaking with them, it began to effect my health I wouldn’t hesitate to approach my manager. My health is more important than their optional scent, and likewise, my ability to work more is more important to my manager.

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Patty June 17, 2011 at 2:21 pm

The company I work for has a Fragrance-Sensitive Workplace policy that prohibits people to wear perfume, scented hair and body products, etc. The policy is a little lenient when it comes to products other than perfume, but if someone is wearing a strong product, they are sent home and asked to bathe before returning to work. There are other employees who have allergies and fragrance sensitivities that sometimes make them extremely ill.

If the issue is grooming and hygiene odors, I would speak to the person’s supervisor, who will need to handle it. If you are the supervisor and do not feel comfortable dealing with it, talk to your human resources department. They should have people trained to handle such circumstances. The worst thing you can do is publically embarrass an employee, who may not even know about the problem. Be empathetic and think about how you would want to be approached if you were the person with the problem. Good luck.

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Maria June 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I have the EXACT same question. Would really like imput from others on how to address this.

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Alice June 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm

I once worked with someone who wore a cologne that gave me a migraine. This person was not in my group but just sat nearby. Therefore, it was very unconfortable to confront. I explained about the migraines and asked if he could wear that cologne on the weekend and something different in the office. He was very apologetic and no longer wore the offensive cologne.

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