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Navigating A Delicate Issue: Hygiene

Emily Hartman /
Text: "Ask the HR Expert"

Q: I have one employee with a persistent hygiene issue. How can I broach this delicate topic with the employee?

A: Usually, there is basic language about hygiene standards included in your company’s dress code, code of conduct, or similar appearance/grooming policies. First, review your policies to make sure the company has hygiene expectations.

Next, talk to the employee in private. If the employee is a different gender than you, include a manager, leader, or HR person (of the employee’s gender) in the meeting. Inform the employee that none of this is meant to be embarrassing, but you need to address their hygiene per the standard laid out in the company policy.

If the employee voluntarily discloses that the odor is part of an underlying medical condition, that means the employee is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and should be allowed reasonable accommodations. (Note: You cannot be the one to ask the employee if they have an underlying medical condition or any other disability: that would be an ADA violation.)

Work with the employee to figure out a reasonable accommodation that will work for everyone: this is called the “interactive process.”

In some cases, requesting medical documentation may also be appropriate.

If the employee does not disclose a medical condition, however, their hygiene will need to improve to meet your company’s policies and expectations. A solution to the problem could be new clothing, different odor absorbing products, or additional bathing.

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