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poofandmook's avatar

People in Human Resources: How do you address very sensitive issues?

Asked by poofandmook (17272points) May 26th, 2010

I was reading an old post just now about a smelly co-worker, and how HR had gotten several complaints about the person’s odor.

For those of you who have experience in HR, I’ve always wondered just how that subject is addressed with someone.

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7 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

I’d like to know this too. When I was much too young, I managed a small department, and one of my group had this problem. Others complained privately to me. It was an extra-delicate matter because she was the only person in that small company who wasn’t American-born, this being back in the days when the non-native population was quite low and a foreign worker was very unusual, and I didn’t know how to handle what might have been a cross-cultural issue. I tried again and again to bring myself to the point where I could speak of it to her and always chickened out. Even now I don’t know what I ought to have said.

perspicacious's avatar

I would not call in HR to start with. A supervisor should be able to handle this issue. I would privately, and honestly, tell the employee that she smelled bad and that this was part of her personal responsibility of being a fit employee. I would only address it once. If she did not take care of problem, and since I am in an employment-at-will state, I would terminate her without cause. I would not deal with it, and would not expect the other employees to either.

windex's avatar

We had a “special” person like that too, a long time ago at a large company.
I can not tell you how many times I wanted to secretly place a deodorant in that person’s locker.
I never did because I didn’t want to offend that person.

I say you kidnap that person and wash him/her forcefully. [do not confuse this with shower rape]

poofandmook's avatar

I’m not asking how to deal with a smelly co-worker.

I’m asking how HR (or supervisors) deal with this when it comes time to “have a talk.”

tranquilsea's avatar

I would handle it very privately and very gently. I had to do this once and it was a hard conversation. I acknowledged that this was probably going to be hard to hear but that there had been complaints about their odour. I asked if there was a medical issue that caused it and then encouraged them to take steps to minimize the odour.

I think what matters most is how you approached the situation. You should do so with some compassion as that individual quite probably has been dealing with the problem for some time.

MissA's avatar

I had an employee with that problem. It was so offensive to others that I was truly shocked when she had no idea. Nobody had ever said anything to her…or, she didn’t hear it. We inherited her with the purchase of a business. It wasn’t long and we had to have “the talk”. I approached it woman to woman, not employer to employee. I offered to help her with whatever it was going to take. She stayed for a while and did improve her personal grooming habits. But, evenually, she moved on. I never really knew if that confrontation had anything to do with it.

mrrich724's avatar

when it’s “time to ‘have a talk’” you just call them into the office discretely, and be as upfront and honest as possible while being sensitive to their feelings. but it is key to get it all out in a legal and ethical way. just address the situation honestly and swiftly.

the smell issue in specific, first you send out an email to the entire department reiterating the policy (which you should have, probably in the employee handbook) about no offensive odors. that could do the trick without having to isolate one person.

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