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Tips | Work advice: the smells of co-workers bother everyone


Drive: Remember the episode “Seinfeld” where the valet leaves Jerry’s car to stinking that it is rendered unusable? George exclaims, “Oh, it’s not even BO! It’s beyond BO! It’s BBO!

Well, this valet apparently took a job at my office.

You can’t get in the elevator with him. You cannot use the toilet after he enters it. And forget about entering or near his cabin.

How do you kindly let him know it’s time for a serious shower? What can I do without resorting to Jerry’s idea of ​​sending the “Feel the Gestapo?”

Karla: Two things made “Seinfeld” entertaining television. First, despite being a “show about nothing,” it somehow had a relevant episode about every little provoking pet peeve of modern American life. Second, its tactless characters provided a useful moral compass. While you may dream of following Jerry’s lead and locking the scent offender’s boss in an enclosed space with his stench, you also know that’s not a good solution. (RIGHT?)

I agree that someone should talk to your coworker about the effect he is having on your work environment. But that person probably shouldn’t be you. It’s best to have these conversations either with someone close enough to the offender to speak candidly about personal hygiene, or with an objective third party with authority to address problem behaviors, such as your human resources department.

Seasoned HR professionals have the expertise to investigate complaints; start discussions; manage legal concerns related to medical, behavioral or cultural issues; and set and enforce expectations. And, like “Seinfeld,” they’ve dealt with every unpleasant, awkward and unspeakable human encounter you can imagine.

If your employer doesn’t have an HR department, the best course is to talk to your manager about the situation – privately and respectfully, without George Costanza impressions. Your manager can then talk it over with the coworker’s manager or help you find ways to get away from your BBO buddy.

Reader 2: I work for a small company with less than 50 employees. One of them, who works on a different floor from me, is sensitive to the environment. As a result, all employees have been asked not to wear perfume, aftershave or anything scented.

The other day, the environmentally sensitive employee came to our floor, went to a coworker’s office and criticized her for wearing deodorant. Afterward, people on my floor complained that not wearing deodorant could lead to other types of odors.

I wondered if I should now buy body care products based on the dictates of someone I almost never interact with. I approached the issue with my boss in a way that I thought was sensitive. He issued a company-wide memo telling us all not to wear scented products, including deodorants, and added that he didn’t want to hear any complaints about it. In general, I get along so well with my boss that I was surprised by his firm response. Who is right ?

Karla: From my point of view, everyone is partly right, but handles everything poorly. When you don’t have trained professionals to handle sensitive discussions, you end up with vigilantes and zero-tolerance policies that leave everyone a little disjointed.

An employee whose well-being is affected by odor or other environmental conditions is right to request some form of consideration. The employer is justified in trying to accommodate this request and may even establish policies requiring the cooperation of others in doing so.

But even if the affected employee’s condition requires accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the accommodations cannot impose an undue burden on everyone. If good faith efforts to accommodate the worker are not enough, then the employer should consider alternatives, such as providing the sensitive employee with a private, ventilated workspace or the ability to work remotely. Shutting down feedback from others affected by the accommodation promotes resentment, which does a disservice to the sensitive employee.

All that said, Fragrance-free body products are becoming more and more available and affordable. But I sense something more serious is going on. It doesn’t seem logical for someone who is averse to odors to knowingly corner the source of their discomfort in an enclosed space for a confrontation. If, as your wording suggests, the sensitive employee deliberately entered your colleague’s office to call out to them, this suggests either extreme frustration or an attempt to assert power – which a seasoned HR professional would should be well equipped to resolve either of these issues.


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