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How to Discuss Poor Hygiene with An Employee

Published April 13, 2021 (last updated on July 4, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer

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An employer has to deal with many difficult issues in the workplace; sometimes these issues cross over into very personal territory, such as when dealing with a bullying or harassment complaint.

But there aren't many topics that are more personal and more embarrassing than discussing an employee’s poor hygiene. Poor hygiene can negatively affect other employee’s happiness and productivity and may also impact the health and safety of your workplace.

If this is the case, you’ll have to discuss the issue with the employee. How do you approach it?

Respectfully discuss the issue with the employee

The discussion with the employee will be awkward. When you approach the employee, do so subtly. Pull them aside into a private space and talk to them one-on-one.

If other employees have raised the employee’s poor hygiene with you, don’t let on. There’s no need for them to know. Take ownership of the concerns and let the employee know that their poor hygiene is affecting the workplace. You may need to specify what the problem is.

Don’t warn the employee but request them tactfully to improve their hygiene. If you believe their poor hygiene is impacting workplace health and safety, let them know specifically how, and give them an opportunity to respond. Be prepared for a negative reaction. Set expectations and agree what steps will be taken to improve on hygiene and within what time frame.

You should always document sensitive discussions with employees as much as possible. When you do, you can also ensure those documents are safe and secure with BrightHR’s unlimited cloud-based document storage.

What if there’s no improvement?

If you’ve given the employee a reasonable amount of time to improve their hygiene, and their hygiene is still not at acceptable levels for the workplace, it’s time to have another chat with them.

If they’ve not made progress, you might consider giving them a letter of concern to confirm in writing that you have addressed the issue with them and expect improvement. If they’ve made some progress, perhaps don’t formally warn them but give them stern encouragement.

If you have a workplace policy on standards within the workplace that includes hygiene which the employee is aware of, then it may be time to initiate formal disciplinary procedures with the employee if the issue doesn’t abate and there is no evidence of a medical, religious or cultural basis to the poor hygiene.

It might be a medical issue

Medical issues may affect an employee’s personal hygiene. An employee may disclose this information to you.

When this is raised, you should discuss the issue in further detail with the employee, and how their medical condition impacts their hygiene.

You can also request the employee provide a medical certificate detailing their condition. Again, this document can be stored securely and safely with BrightHR.

Poor hygiene can include many things

What falls under the umbrella of ‘poor hygiene’ is not formally documented, but it could include the following things:

  • Bad body odor

  • Unclean behaviour in the kitchen or bathroom

  • Spitting on the ground

  • Improper sneezing or coughing technique

  • Dirty clothes

These examples of poor hygiene need to be dealt with differently, as some may more actively impact health and safety (e.g. improper sneezing, especially during COVID) and some may cause more discontent with colleagues (e.g. bad body odor, spitting).

Employers must be aware that when dealing with these concerns, their management actions must be proportional to the actions of the employee.

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