Q. Unfortunately, some of our employees are complaining that one member of the team has very bad body odour and people do not like to sit near this employee. We are also concerned because she has a certain amount of client contact, and therefore clients may be experiencing the smell as well. How do we go about addressing this issue?
A. Obviously this is a situation that needs to be addressed promptly, but understandably many managers or HR personnel may feel uncomfortable about addressing this type of issue for fear of offending the person, or causing formal complaints to be made about bullying and in some cases, discrimination.
The first step is to have word in private with the employee in question. There is little point in beating around the bush, so inform the employee what the issue is directly in a non-judgemental manner i.e. that complaints have been received about their hygiene. However, it is also very important to be sympathetic to the feelings of the employee during the conversation, and aim to put them at ease as far as possible.
Hopefully, a discreet conversation is all that is required to make the employee improve their hygiene. However, if complaints are still received then you may need to have a further conversation with the employee, at which you need to make it clear what the expected standards are and what improvement is expected within a reasonable timeframe. If a second conversation does not elicit any response, then it may be necessary to commence formal disciplinary action against the employee.
You should certainly keep notes of the conversations with the employee in case of any issues later on, as this will assist you in the event of a formal disciplinary being implemented. Notes should also be kept of any verbal complaints received from the employee’s colleagues about the issue.
Challenging conversations like this are never easy, but it is important that issues are addressed directly and as soon as possible so they do get out of hand. It is also important to act consistently and reasonably to avoid allegations of discrimination, so it is worth taking advice before progressing with formal action. If you are uncomfortable about having conversations like this, some external training or role-play practice with colleagues may help.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).
Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.