How best can we legally approach an employee with strong/offensive body odor?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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How best can we legally approach an employee with strong/offensive body odor?

We have a member of our team who the staff has complained about regarding the above situation. I plan on having her supervisor speak to her regarding the matter indicating she, the supervisor, has noticed the odor and needs to have a conversation regarding this. The plan is to bring up laundering or not laundering as the possible problem hoping that is all that is going on. If that does not produce a positive outcome the plan is for me, the supervisor, and staff member to meet again and then indicate the problem is still there and ask if there is a medical issue responsible or possibly bathing/showering more frequently. Obviously this is a very awkward and personal conversation and fraught I am certain with danger if not handled correctly. Your advice is most appreciated.

Asked on February 20, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

DON'T invite her to blame it on a medical reason, because once she does, your ability to address the issue falls off drastically (you can't discriminate due to a medical condition). More generally, don't speculate with her as to why, or offer advice: just address that there is a strong or offensive odor which has caused problems for other employees which must be corrected. Let her figure out how to do so, and also let her decide whether she will blame it on a medical condition or not. If she doesn't address it and doesn't blame it on a medical condition, you could take whatever action later you deem appropriate, including termination.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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