What to do when you have a smelly co-worker

I have a friend* who is suffering from a co-worker with tremendously bad body odor. This person’s odor is so bad, it’s legendary. It’s the kind of B.O. that stays behind after the co-worker has gone home for the day. I commented that in arenas outside the workplace, say, summer camp, middle school, the military, this sort of thing would be handled in a different way. We’d kick it old school and leave gifts of bars of soap, deodorant sticks, a bottle of Febreze. But in the workplace, one can’t very well, even anonymously, decorate a co-worker’s cube with a dozen car air fresheners.

But what to do? HR is reluctant to bring it up. The offender seems not to have friends (understandably so). It’s pretty dire, particularly in the warm weather.

I feel for my friend, but also for the offender. Perhaps it’s some kind of medical condition. But if that’s the case, this person really needs to see a doctor.

In my work life, I’ve only had to address wardrobe issues (had more than one conversation with a co-worker who failed to recognize the line between casual and business casual), but never one that addressed grooming.

How would you handle it? Have you ever witnessed this kind of situation at work?

*It’s not me. I work at home. My only co-worker there is Clover and I tell him when he’s smelly. I’m starting to think he just doesn’t care.

About marijean

I'm a public relations professional, social media consultant and work-at-home-mom living and working in Charlottesville, Va. I'm Marijean Jaggers and this is my blog.
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6 Responses to What to do when you have a smelly co-worker

  1. abunslife says:

    I had a situation where this came up, and I was pregnant and very prone to getting sick, due to smells….. It was a new employee, I spoke to my boss who then spoke to HR. They talked to the employee and he took care of it. No problems. Thank goodness, no hurt feeling or angry pent up feelings had to be dealt with.

  2. Susan says:

    Once. And HR talked to the woman about it. Yes, the woman got her feelings hurt but started making an effort to improve. In the end your friend’s HR dept. needs to buck up and take care of it. That is their job.

  3. Sara says:

    We had The Best HR person ever.. but her husband was a UVa Law student and graduated and they moved to Charlotte. Now I have to actually ask someone if I want to hear about who is new, who is a temp, and who got laid off.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I love your tag for this post, “smelly co-worker”– please tell me you created that just for this post! This has not been a recurring theme, has it?!

    I agree with Susan- HR needs to talk to the person. Too bad if it’s a difficult topic. I see that as part of their job.

    I have had a similar situation but luckily not as severe as your friend’s. Plus, the relationship was different- it was not a co-worker. I addressed the entire group (personal hygiene, being thoughtful of those arround you, etc.) before addressing the individual. Never needed to address the individual personally. But- my situation is a bit different.

  5. Stef says:

    I had a coworkers that smelled and picked his nose during meetings. It was so gross! There was nothing that could be done about it though. Once he wanted to borrow my pen. I let him keep it after he had touched it.

  6. Zoe Murphy says:

    body odor is nasty that is why i always take a bath twice a day.’.`

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