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Workplace Odors Are No Laughing Matter


Peter Gillespie was quoted in Bloomberg BNA on December 11, 2015. The article “Workplace Odors Are No Laughing Matter” discussed while a source of laughter for some, such odors may significantly disrupt a workplace and should be taken seriously.

Issues are most likely to occur in sealed, modern office buildings that recycle and recirculate air, rather than in jobs that take place outdoors or in older office buildings with windows that open, Peter told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 3.

Broaching the subject with an employee “can be a tricky situation,” Peter said.

The nature of such discussions is highly personal, and an employee may be inadvertently offended by something said by the company's representative or the way in which it's said, he warned. Therefore, conversations between management and employees about workplace odors should be approached delicately, he advised.

“Nobody likes to be told that they smell,” he said.

Peter said he wants both the manager and HR present. It's better that the company has a second person there, he recommended, to both act as a witness and to keep the conversation on track and away from any possible comments that might be construed as discriminatory or generate hard feelings.

He said it may turn out that providing an accommodation for an employee who's causing an odor issue isn't the answer, and that the situation is better dealt with by providing sensitivity training to co-workers.

In such situations, “the biggest concern for management” should be whether the co-worker complaints or comments are part of a larger pattern of harassment based on culture, religion or another protected trait that causes a hostile work environment for the employee who smells or engages in a smell-causing workplace action, Peter said.

It may depend on the nature of the employer's business and whether there's a legitimate need to have broader dress codes and grooming policies, Peter said, citing businesses and workers providing direct customer service as a situation in which such a policy may be necessary.

To read the full article, please visit BNA.

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