Q. In the December 2000 issue, you discussed the topic of employees with body odor. We also have a staff member with body odor so bad that other staff members have complained and even threatened to leave the agency. The employee has been disciplined several times and required to go home without pay until she agrees to comply with the dress code. At what point can we legally terminate her? —A.S., Michigan
A. Michigan is an “at-will” state. Therefore, you can terminate her at any time, with or without cause, as long as she doesn't have an employment contract or the firing is due to a discriminatory reason. Still, employees frequently sue anyway in hopes of getting a settlement, so take a few precautions.
Your company has done the right thing so far by notifying her of the problem and giving her numerous chances to correct it. If you have not done so yet, give her final written warning that outlines the problem, the policy that is being violated, what the employee must do to correct it and what action you will take if the employee doesn't. Make your expectation as specific as possible.
Instead of saying “You need to improve your compliance with the dress code immediately,” say, “I expect you to comply with the dress code every day that you are at work.” The latter is better because it leaves no ambiguity about what is expected of her.