Personal hygiene in the workplace

Authored by hrsimple
June 12th, 2018

When you took your job in HR, you knew that you would have to face some uncomfortable situations: terminations, poor performance reviews, disciplinary actions, but perhaps the worst of all is the “we need to talk about your personal hygiene” conversation. Your staff’s poor personal hygiene can negatively effect co-workers and customers alike, and management needs to take these delicate matters seriously. Here are few ways to deal with hygiene issues in the workplace. 

1. Have a policy in place. And use it. 

As we say often, the best way to enforce rules in the workplace is to have rules in the workplace. When you have a clear policy on what level of hygiene is expect of all staff members, your staff can clearly understand what is expected of them, and these uncomfortable issues are less likely to arise. When new staff is hired make sure to go over the employee handbook with them and highlight these areas. Here is a sample dress code policy from our partners at Polsinelli that includes hygiene. 



Dress codes POLICY

We always are concerned with the impression we make on others as representatives of ABC Company.  In accordance with this concern, employees should strive at all times to ensure that their clothing, appearance, and hygiene are businesslike and contribute to a pleasant office atmosphere for both co-workers and visitors.  Employees are encouraged to consult with their supervisor whenever necessary regarding what is acceptable for their work area.



2. Understand what protections employees have when it comes to personal appearance. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect your employees’ religious beliefs as well as individuals with disabilities. Before you begin the process of correcting a personal hygiene issue, take a step back to consider any possible interaction between these protections and the issue at hand. Is the bad breath of a staff member due to medication or illness? Is deodorant against their religious beliefs? Weigh these possibilities carefully before opening up a conversation. 

Also consider that personal hygiene can be reflective of mental health issues, and take a moment to consider if your staff member may be in need of medical help. 

3. Take steps to remind staff of the policy to avoid unnecessary confrontation. 

If you have noticed that staff are not washing their hands, try posting “All Staff Must Wash Their Hands Before Returning to Work” signs in the restroom. If the temperatures outside is rising and you have noticed some excessive body odor in the office, post a reminder of the dress code on the memo board for all to see. These friendly reminders are often times enough for staff to fix these issues on their own. 

4. Approach the conversation with tactfulness and respect. 

Telling a staff member that they are omitting an odor or that you have received complaints about them not washing their hands may become awkward for both parties. Do your best to be respectful of their privacy, and conduct the conversation in a private space where other staff members can not hear. Try to keep the conversation as short, to the point and direct as possible. Communicate the complaint in plain, clinical terms and try to leave any tone of judgement out of it. For example, instead of saying “everyone is talking about how bad your breath is” say “I just want to remind you that oral hygiene is covered under our dress code policy, and ask that you take actions to improve your breath.” 

If this warning does not lead to corrected action within a few weeks, follow up with the employee and document the conversation as a disciplinary issue. Not maintaining an acceptable level of hygiene after receiving warning violates your disciplinary policies and reminding staff that these rules are in place may be the reminder they need to take these rules seriously. 

Here is a sample discipline documentation form from our partners at Polsinelli. 



Discipline documentation form





























I have read the above and discussed it with my supervisor.  I understand that my signing this form does not necessarily mean that I agree with its contents.


Signed __________________________________________________________     Date ______________________                                      


Signed __________________________________________________________     Date ______________________                                      




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