Our team of experts fields real-life, everyday questions from HR managers and gives practical answers that can be applied by any HR pro in the same situation. Today’s question: How do you approach an employee about a body-odor or bad-breath problem, especially if you think the source of the problem might be cultural or religious?
What can we do when an employee’s religious or cultural beliefs result in offensive body odor? Or when eating certain ethnic foods causes bad breath that offends co-workers?
You have to tread very carefully here, says HR consultant Lynn Nemser. One approach is to be sure the problem isn’t addressed as an ethnic or religious issue – or else you’ll be opening yourself up for a charge of discrimination.
So you can’t tell the person to stop eating certain foods or order him or her to start using deodorant or bathing more regularly. Instead, you can make it a performance issue – their body odor or bad breath is negatively affecting the people they work with and interfering with business.
If the employee tries to steer the discussion toward ethnic questions, remind them that the problem is body odor or bad breath. It’s up to them to address those specific issues as they see fit.