Of all the words you can use to describe what a typical day is like for an HR professional, boring wouldn’t be one of them. Part of the job requires fielding questions involving sensitive employee matters—from grooming to relationships.
Below is a compilation of client questions BPHR’s Director Lisa Salcido addressed recently in her bi-weekly “Ask the Advisor” Q&A. Give them a read. The issues presented are universal and may arise at your workplace someday.
Question: I have received several complaints about an employee’s noticeable body odor. How should we handle this problem?
Answer: This is a surprisingly common and dreaded dilemma. When dealing with hygiene issues, such as body odor or offending scents of any kind, be as sensitive and confidential as possible. Designate an appropriate Manager to address the odor directly with the employee. Since the conversation will most likely result in discomfort and embarrassment, the meeting should be held in a setting that ensures privacy, preferably right before the employee leaves for the day.
Approach the meeting as any other job-related issue that disrupts others in the workplace. Refer to your dress and grooming policy and company expectations. Consider that diet, medication, a medical condition or disability might be responsible for the odor. Let the employee bring this up, don’t ask questions about health conditions. Also stay away from suggesting religious, cultural, ethnic (including food) causes.
Be straight forward and non-judgmental. Simply let the employee know that the issue must be addressed and see if they have any suggestions. Assure the employee that correcting the body odor would improve their professional image and the company is willing to help. Be prepared with a variety of solutions (cooling fan, laundry allowance, extra breaks to freshen up), if the employee asks for assistance. Follow up after a few days to confirm the issue is being resolved.
Question – During the summer months, some of our employees tend to take advantage of our business-casual dress code by wearing flip-flops and shorts. Should we send a memo telling them what to wear?
Answer – To deter employees from thinking that anything goes once the temperature rises, it’s best to define your company’s dress code in a formal policy. Consider your company’s culture and what is important or necessary for success in your business. Include details regarding specific permitted or prohibited items of dress.
Eliminate separate dress code policies for male and female employees, like “only women may style their hair in a bun.” Employers cannot force employees to conform or identify with a certain gender. Be sure to enforce the dress code uniformly but keep in mind, employers may need to exempt certain employees from dress code provisions to accommodate religious or medical needs.
Communicate your new policy consistently to all employees and let them know the consequence of reporting to work dressed inappropriately. You may require that they leave (unpaid or use Paid Time Off) and not return until the issue has been addressed.
Depending on the type of work and visibility to customers and clients, you may want to consider implementing “Casual Fridays.” This way your employees have a designated day to bend the rules if they so desire.
Question: I just found out that two of my employees are dating, should I encourage them to end the relationship?
Answer: Office romances are not uncommon. Many people meet and form relationships at work. It’s unrealistic to try and ban romantic relationships but here are some guidelines to reduce liability:
- Implement a policy that sets expectations for all employee relationships, including dating, working with relatives, and other conflicts of interest.
- Have a plan in place to change reporting lines or transfer departments for personal and familial relationships, especially between Supervisors and subordinates, to avoid allegations of favoritism and discrimination.
- Conduct employee and Supervisor training on harassment and proper workplace conduct.
- Once aware of a relationship, monitor it closely to ensure it remains consensual and is not affecting workplace morale or causing a distraction.
- After a relationship ends, the risks are greater for retaliation complaints. Review company expectations and prior policy acknowledgements so each party understands their responsibility to maintain professional working relationships.
Office dating is inevitable but by following these steps, employers can better protect their interests and decrease the chances of a lawsuit resulting from romantic relationships at work.
Need assistance handling sticky (and stinky) situations?
BPHR to the rescue! With BPHR, Balance Point’s HR consulting service, an HR Generalist will integrate within your organization and can advise you when sensitive employee-related concerns arise. With these worries out of the way, you can focus on more strategic tasks. Schedule a free phone consultation to learn more.