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Employee ‘odor policy’ doesn’t pass the smell test

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Hiring,Human Resources

Courts typically say that grooming policies (such as those that deal with hair or beards) violate federal discrimination law if they disproportionately affect a protected class and if the company doesn't have a legitimate business reason to support the policy.

But consider this latest example: In Murfreesboro, Tenn., the city council instructed its personnel department to add an "odor" section to its existing employee grooming policy.

The change was made largely in response to years of employee complaints about a co-worker's body odor.

The city's old rules only required employees to dress professionally. The new policy says: "No employee shall have an odor generally offensive to others when reporting to work. An offensive body odor may result from a lack of good hygiene, from an excessive application of a fragrant after-shave or cologne, or from other causes."

Advice: Be leery with such specific anti-odor references to your grooming policy. Unlike a typical dress-code issue, like beards and inappropriate clothing, proving your case because of odor could be a lot tougher. What's acceptable to one person may be offensive to another.

If a grooming policy violation is related to an employee's body odor, discuss the problem honestly and openly with the employee.

Publish your dress code and grooming standards in your employee handbook, citing examples of acceptable and unacceptable clothing or hygiene.

Clearly document the health, safety or business reasons. Lastly, notify all applicants about the dress, appearance or grooming standards during the hiring process.

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