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What should I say to an employee with body odor?

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in Human Resources,People Management,The HR Specialist Forum

Now that warm weather has arrived, it seems abundantly clear that some of our employees are, shall we say, hygienically challenged. Any suggestions on what to say or how to handle an employee who has body odor?—Darlene, Pennsylvania

See responses below
Editor's Note: Looking for more tips on how to handle employees with poor hygiene? Visit Wash Your Hands of Employee Hygiene Issues. 

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiger T August 14, 2012 at 8:56 am

Anyone fancy a curry and a pint of Mead?


Handsome Rich August 14, 2012 at 8:40 am

I’m working in an ffice with a guy that is completely Abraham Lincoln. I was dry boaking this morning at the sheer pungency that was attacking me from all angles. It’s actually burning my eyes. I really do not know what to do. Can I sue him? get a restraining order placed against him? Throw soapy water at him in the office?

Please help.

It’s not all bad though. I have a fantastic colleague, in fact words cannot describe this boys awesomness. He has kindly made a contraption that places an air freshner in front of a fan. He’s great. He has really helped me. In fact I need to thank him for this most generous act. He’s all heart and totally brilliant.

Many thanks for reading and I hope you one day work with someone as outstanding as the guy I work with.

Handsome Richard


Glasweigian Marky August 14, 2012 at 8:53 am


Sounds more like the real hero is “Handsome Rich” for attempting to resovle the problem, the colleague that has made some crude home made air freshner contraption is just masking the problem and not letting other colleagues experience the true pungency. Perhaps the fan device shoudl be stopped and allow the scent to be shared amongst the masses.

Hang in their Handsome Rich im sure the problem / issue will be resolved soon, before you have to don full chemical suits.


Marky G


Alice August 18, 2011 at 7:14 pm

great ideas and very helpful, I have three employees with very bad personal hygiene smells, one has smelly hair, rotten teeth which promotes bad breath and one is female with disgusting odor and smelly feet


Brian January 30, 2011 at 8:38 am

is there any action legally that an employee can take when they can not take the smell of someone else? I continously gag while being around this employee and the manager and HR continously do nothing about it. Please help


Btwn Rock & a Smelly Place July 23, 2010 at 9:30 pm

I am experiencing this issue at my new place of employment (I’ve been here 3 weeks). One of the first tasks given to me was to address an employee odor problem. I have experienced it myself and once it was so bad it even triggered my gag reflex. It is NOT a matter of using deoderant or perfumes. The odor is non-existent in the mornings but progresses throughout the day. It is definitely a medical issue. I addressed it for the first time yesterday only as “I’ve recieved complaints and I have noticed it myself,” but this is not the first time it has been addressed with the employee. The odor does disrupt work when it is strong as people cannot be in the same room.

My question is, how do we proceed knowing it’s medically related (I haven’t asked about that because I don’t want to open a can of worms), if it is not corrected and what should be the time frame to expect a change (The employee told me it would be taken care of, but it is just as bad today as it was yesterday)? This employee is a MODEL employee and has no work related issues whatsoever, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse and lower their morale…


Matt February 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I am having the same issue right now with an employee that immgrated to the US a few years ago. It’s not an everyday problem, but after a few weeks, he will begin to have a terrible body odor. I can’t say I have a solution, but some of the comments made here seem totally inappropriate or irrelevant. For starters, body odor does not affect productivity or effectiveness, nor will smelling good help one be successful! John Weaver’s recommendation would be embarrassing and awkward for both parties. I think that saying other people complained is blaming others and will make the employee uncomfortable around everyone as they wonder who spoke up. And giving a “package” is assuming someone has poor hygiene when there could be a diet issue, ethnicity difference, or health issue. I am not sure how I am going to approach the issue with my employee, but I have been receiving complaints from numerous staff members. Every situation is different, and I am planning to reference that it is not an everyday issue, but it happens every so often. My assumption, which I’d never disclose to the employee, is he does not bathe regularly and the odor is a cycle that occurs between bathing.

Any other suggestions would be appreciated, and I feel sensitive matters like this one need to be discussed more among people who deal with employees everyday.


John September 18, 2009 at 10:33 am

Ouch! Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.


Ronita September 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

Okay Guys, Well today is “the” day. I have an emplooyee that has a major body odor. You can smell him throughout the office. This has been going on since May, it’s now September. This is not attributed to a medical condition. He is going through a divorce and does not take care of himself as he once did. This morning I had two employees come in a complain. So I must speak with him. Wish me luck!


Kay September 3, 2009 at 4:05 pm

When I had an employee with this issue, I was directed by HR to tell him that people had complained of his body and mouth odor. I was to say no more.

The result was a new (but unfortunately temporary) personal hygiene routine, which he demonstrated in the men’s room each day, brushing his teeth and applying cologne. This was great for the odor problems, but after 2 weeks, he slipped back into not doing anything and the odor problem returned.

When I asked HR about it again, and asked if I could offer helpful tips/suggestions, they said I could not. I love Betty’s packages, it’s dignified and discreet.


JWG June 29, 2009 at 10:40 am

I’ve never heard of this approach, yet, I must say that I like it. Why? It delicately yet directly places ownership with the employee while letting him/her know that his office “family” cares and wants things “normal” again. And to your point, we are speaking of adults hygeine versus that of a mid- or high-schooler, which would likely take a more “help me understand” approach.


Betty June 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

Come on guys, all of you have got to be kidding. Being from the south and also being a “lady”, I try to treat all of my employees with respect and honor. 99% of them are men and they sweat. If I have one that is not taking care with his dedordorant and bathing habits and some complain then I call the culprit to my office and hand him one of my care packs. It is a plain bag & small and varies in colors and shapes so no one ever knows what I am giving away. (I give various little gifts and things from benefits providers and conferences I attend all the time). My care package includes anti-persp. – deordorant – soap – washcloth and a note. The note tells them that some of their teammates are concerned with his body odor and wanted to know if his health was okay or was anything wrong at home and if he needed help. If so and if there was anything they could do to help, to please let H/R know so “his” other family could assist. So far, this has worked like a putting lotion on a baby.


Veronica June 23, 2009 at 4:17 pm

We recently experienced this situation, not because of the warm weather, but due to an incontinence issue that was ignored and not handled properly. Lillian is very right, the ‘how’ and addressing the issue as delicately as possible is just as important as addressing it so that other co-workers and productivity don’t suffer. Being direct and giving specific examples while respecting the person’s dignity is the key to getting the issue recognized, acknowledged and corrected by the employee. If the employee does not accept responsibility that a problem exists and/or does not offer a reason for the issue, repeat the example(s) and indicate that others have noticed the lack of hygiene/hygiene issue and the situation needs to be corrected immediately. It is good to follow the conversation with an email that the employee can acknowledge receipt of. If the situation does not correct itself, then it must proceed through your company’s disciplinary process and having an acknowledgement of a conversation will help with initiating the process if necessary. Again, I agree to refer to the situation as a hygiene concern and not body order. Good luck.


Mary June 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Been there, done that. It’s one of the most difficult things to do. Make them part of the solution. “We’ve had some complaints about an unpleasant ordor coming from your general work area. Could you help us out and find out what it is? Maybe you left something in your desk, or there’s something on the bottom of your shoe. Could you check it out and get back to me?” If they still don’t get it, try giving the a personal hygiene set.


Erika June 17, 2009 at 10:28 am

I’d be careful…if you ask for a reason and there is a medical cause you could trigger an ADA lawsuit…I’d personally avoid asking for an explaination or reason.


Lillian June 16, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Personally, I believe that THE most important consideration is “how” you handle the situation and, in particular, how you speak to them during the talk that you definitely should have with the person.
Most importantly, be certain that this chat is held in absolute privacy … it could prove to be tremendously embarrassing to the person if others overheard the discussion. Refer to the situation as a “personal hygiene” concern rather than body odor, which carries a definite negative connotation.
Surveys conducted overwhelmingly indicate that if a person has body odor or bad breath, that person wants to be told about it. They want to hear it from a friend rather than an acquaintance or a fellow office worker or a boss, if at all possible, so the key is for the friend to talk to the person privately, perhaps starting by saying if the roles were reversed he/she would hope the person would say something to them. Keep things positive, and remember that this will most likely come as a surprise to the individual—they will most likely be sensitive about the topic, though hopefully thankful that you’ve brought it to their attention.
Keep in mind that there may be a medical condition, or a medication taken for a medical problem, that is causing the odor. Whatever the cause of the odor problem, you have to address it and be as straightforward, considerate and non-threatening as possible … be sure to approach the talk with tact and discretion. Talk to this person the way you would want someone to speak to you if you were the one with the personal hygiene concern.


John Weaver June 16, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Joe Employee as your direct supervisor, it is my job to help you be as productive and effective as possible. Well there is an issue that we need to discuss and get the situation fixed so you can be successful in your current job situation. There appears to be a body odor situation in your life right now. Are there any explanations for this. Washing machine broken down? Change of eating habits? Medical? Stress? What can I do to help you?


Kristie Lee June 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm

This can be a hard issue to tackle. There has to be some decorum on everyones part. First – if it is not causing any real harm to the others or impacting their work progress – then you need to weigh the necessity to even bring up the issue.

We have an employee here that has allergic reactions to deoderant / anti-persp… to the point that when it is used, they break out in a massive rash. This person is alreay very self conscious about this issue – and has tried everything in the book – but the only relief available to them is just some baby-powder or cornstarch.

We cannot isolate this individual because of a problem they are unable to change – that could create a nightmare legal issue. We can make sure that this persons work space is properly cooled. As far as the other employees, we can move individuals around if they are severly affected by the odor… but be careful with that too… it can easily get out of hand.

Unfortunately, no easy answer for that one.


Marsha June 16, 2009 at 2:43 pm



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