Odors in the workplace can cause all kinds of stress and conflict for some employees and for supervisors and managers. Here’s an example:
Q. One of my employees is complaining that some of the women he works with wear perfume that is too strong. He says it gives him headaches. Can you give me some suggestions on how I can approach this situation and keep everyone in the office satisfied?
A.There is no easy resolution to your situation. When a number of people gather in an enclosed space, there may well be a variety of odors in the room.
Some of the smells will be pleasant to some individuals, while some are likely to be unpleasant to others. One thing is certain: Not everyone in the room will agree on one perfect fragrance, or even having no perfume at all.
So how do you try to resolve this employee’s complaint, with the hope of keeping everyone satisfied?
Answer the following questions to help broaden your view of the picture before deciding on how to approach this matter:
- Is the employee’s complaint an isolated one?
- Have other employees expressed this same complaint?
- Is the employee’s complaint one of personal preference?
- Does the employee suffer from an allergic condition, or some other health condition, that causes the discomfort?
Being a problem solver is a requirement and a skill for workplace leaders. But is it the role of a manager or a supervisor to accept every complaint as a managerial problem to solve? Sometimes managers are guilty of trying to solve time-robbing complaints.
Still, here are some suggestions:
- Find out if the perfume odors are offensive to others as well as to the complaining employee. If the perfume is out of control according to general consensus, you have more reason to request the offender to lower the volume or strength of the perfume or to discontinue using it.
- If the complaint is one individual’s opinion: Move the employee away from the perfume source, and ask the complaining employee to offer a suggestion.
- An employer has a duty to maintain a workplace environment free of conditions that can harm the health of employees. So if the complaining employee’s health is negatively affected by strong perfume fragrance, you may have the duty to prohibit the wearing of offensive fragrances in the workplace. If an employee expresses a personal health-related objection to an odor or odors in the workplace, consider discussing your options with an attorney familiar with employment law.
Do this to help reduce future problems of this nature: Give your employees a written policy on dress, appearance and personal hygiene. Tell them they are expected to report to work with clean clothing and clean bodies. In addition, strong odors, such as smoking tobacco, perfume and after-shave that may be offensive to others, are not acceptable.