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I Just Work Here: Handling the Office Stinker


The Chicago Tribune interviewed Peter Gillespie for the article "I Just Work Here: Handling the Office Stinker." A reader wrote to a Tribune columnist asking how to deal with a co-worker who smells so bad that the reader is sickened by the odor. Peter noted: "Somebody who's coming in to work who may have issues with body odor and cleanliness, the problem might be deeper than simply whether or not they took a shower that morning. It can often be a sign of depression or other psychological issues. It could be that what co-workers are smelling is the manifestation of some other medical issue." In a situation such as this, particularly when the employee's physical appearance or overall cleanliness seems to have suddenly changed, Peter said a manager might want to let the employee know about the Family and Medical Leave Act, which can allow a person to take a leave for medical reasons with no risk of job loss. But if the person's odor is unrelated to mental or physical health issues, employers must tread carefully and make sure the employee in question isn't being harassed. "The employer, for example, does have an obligation to reasonably accommodate someone's religious beliefs under federal law. That may require that the employer tell employees that this is a diverse workplace and they shouldn't be complaining about or hassling the employee in question."

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