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What can HR do about an employee’s bad hygiene?

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

Addressing a colleague’s poor hygiene can be a tricky conversation to bring up. While it may not be the most comfortable conversation to have, it is an issue that can affect anyone who has to deal with that person.

An important first step is making sure that hygiene is addressed in the dress policy. By making sure that good hygiene is written down as a workplace rule, you create a better standing if an issue needs to be raised, according to SHRM.

US-based Joseph H. Harris, an employment law attorney, commented: “[Dress code] typically requests that employees exercise good judgment regarding their appearance and hygiene.”


Body odour is a common issue that can cause staff disruption if not nipped in the bud.

“Additional language may express the employer’s expectation that employees will use deodorant or antiperspirant to minimise body odour,” Mr Harris noted.

But it’s not just bad odour that can have an impact. The reverse can be experienced too, wherein an employee uses an excessive amount of fragrance that disrupts other workers. A similar policy should be written down so as to have something to refer back to.

Hygiene issues can (and should) also be addressed during onboarding. By setting workplace standards from the beginning of employment, candidates will be aware of the regulations they’re expected to follow.

If an issue does arise, SHRM stresses the importance of discussing it with employees. By ignoring a problem, you risk angering other staff and alienating the one with the problem, which can affect morale.

If and when somebody does complain, remain calm and privately address the employee in question. Making a scene or punishing employees can be embarrassing and inconsiderate.

“It is something you should think out before blurting out. Think about how you would want to hear it, then discreetly take the person aside and address it. At the same time, you are also trying to get the message across that the person needs to do something about this or disciplinary action could result,” said Danielle Urban, an employment law firm partner.

Remaining calm and talking to the person with respect is especially important as it could be a medical issue or cultural barrier.

Religious beliefs or medical conditions may prevent a worker from adhering to the policy, in which case some level of consideration may be necessary.

As noted by Mr Harris: “An employee’s religious, ethical or moral beliefs or an employee’s medical condition or disability may prevent them from complying with the policy as written.”

In these circumstances, it may be beneficial to adjust their position in the office or encourage work-from-home options if possible, SHRM advised.

Alternatively, it may be beneficial to look at the ventilation of the workspace. Poor ventilation has the potential to compound issues, and getting it fixed may mitigate any further complaints.



Compliance often refers to a company's and its workers' adherence to corporate rules, laws, and codes of conduct.


Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.


Onboarding is the process of integrating new hires into the company, guiding them through the offer and acceptance stages, induction, and activities including payroll, tax and superannuation compliance, as well as other basic training. Companies with efficient onboarding processes benefit from new workers integrating seamlessly into the workforce and spending less time on administrative tasks.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.