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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Smelly Problem

Dear Evil HR Lady:

In the office that I currently work in all the CSR sit out in the open. No this isn't the problem, the problem is that one of the lady's in the office seems to have, what I would call a hygiene issue, however you may bag to differ. She passes gas - ALL DAY LONG. Some days are way worse than other. I realize that this is a touchy subject in how you approach this lady however it does interfere with my job.

At least once a week, I have to leave my work area because the smell is so bad that it makes me gag and almost throw-up. Several of us have approached our HR/office manager however nothing seems to get accomplished. We are constantly told that it does not "directly" affect us (even though we can't stay in our area because of the smell) or that she can not do anything because of the nature of the issue. Do you have any suggestions for us or our HR department in how to handle this?


What solution do you propose? Should this woman be placed away from everyone else? Should she be fired? Should she be subject to public humiliation? Should you and your co-workers be provided gas masks? What about incense?

I ask because there isn't an easy solution here. You don't know what conversations have gone on between your unfortunate co-worker and HR or her manager. Nor should you.

It's true that your HR and management are full-fledged wimps. (Wimps, I tell you, wimps!) If that's the case, nothing has been mentioned. However, it's more likely that a conversation like this ensued:

HR: Smelly Woman, I don't know quite how to say this, but your flatulence is a bit, umm, excessive.

Smelly Woman: (Bursts into tears) I know, I'm so sorry. I have [name of complicated, serious medical condition] and this is one of the side effects. I've tried everything I can think of and nothing works. I'm so humiliated by it.

HR: Oh, I'm so sorry. Is there anything we can do to make your situation easier?

Smelly Woman: No, I'm so sorry. I'm working with my doctor on this. Hopefully it will get better.

Now, if that conversation has occurred, what would you want to have happen next? HR say, "Well, we're probably going to get sued up the wazoo for this, but we're going to have to fire you"? Would you do that?

I wouldn't.

If the area is conducive to a separate area, I might move the woman there. If not, well, I'd leave it alone as well.

You said that once a week it's bad enough to drive you out of your area. Unpleasant though that may be, it's not the end of the world.

Now, if the woman has no medical condition and she's doing it on purpose to torment her co-workers, then yes, she should be fired. (Can you even do that on purpose? I guess I should ask an 11 year old boy. He would know.) But, the firing wouldn't be due to the "medical" aspect, but rather due to the bad attitude.

Your problem is you don't know which one it is and you have no real means of finding out. Does this woman have any friends at work? My bet is that her "condition" prevents such a thing. We often are able to tolerate a lot more from people we like than from people we don't know. Get to know her and you may find a great person under there, that will make the smells much more tolerable.

And invest in a bottle of Febreeze. Spray your cubical when necessary. It helps neutralize odors.

If you really can't stand it, go find a new job. Customer service jobs are available everywhere.

9 comments:

Katherine said...

If allowed, get a small fan to plug in at your desk. Or a battery operated one if personal electronics aren't allowed.

Evil HR Lady said...

katherine--duh, I can't believe I didn't even think about that. Yes, battery operated fan.

Excellent.

Anonymous said...


You said that once a week it's bad enough to drive you out of your area. Unpleasant though that may be, it's not the end of the world.


Presumably all the CSRs have to leave their desks at least that often.

Would the company really be at legal risk for firing someone whose medical condition causes the company to lose that many hours each and every week?

Katherine said...

Evil - I've worked with a lot of smelly people!! Febreeze (or other spray with odor neutralizers) and a fan are your best friends. Febreeze even makes a "no-scent" neutralizer in case there are fragrance allergies, although their new Christmas Tree scent is wonderful!

If scent isn't a problem, those reed diffusers that are so popular right now would also help things be a bit more plesant!!

another hr rep said...

Presumably all the CSRs have to leave their desks at least that often.

Would the company really be at legal risk for firing someone whose medical condition causes the company to lose that many hours each and every week?


Another HR professional here, and the likely the answer is yes. There are other factors to consider, but courts will view a bigger company as having the resources to make a reasonable accomodation to allow the offending employee to continue his/her work. In this case, the accomodation may be a work area separate from others (own space, etc.).

Anonymous said...

I had this problem... in a shared office. They moved in someone with the same problem (who also sang at his desk, burped constantly, talked to himself, etc., along with the gas problem.)

I asked to speak directly to the people who manage building facitilies and office placement, by passing our coordinator b/c I wasn't going to share the details with her. I explained the problem and asked to have him reassigned to a single office. Which they did. (Normally he would not be in a single office due to how recently he joined the company -- so he got a single office out of the move.) I was hoping they would move him in such a way to make this seem normal and a benefit -- we are moving you to a single office! I don't know what they did/said though.

To this day, this person hates me. I see him in the halls and try to say hi, and truly he hates me. He scowls at me, won't say Hi back, etc. It's OK though. It had to be done, and he couldn't be assigned with someone else. Someone had to speak up, I'm fine that it was me.

Michelle Malay Carter said...

I'm not kidding on this one. It appears that there is a seat cushion on the market designed to absorb the odor.

See if you can get HR to pay for it and write it off as an accommodation.

http://www.gasbgon.com/wt_paper.htm

Regards,

Michelle

Ashwin said...

"Now, if the woman has no medical condition and she's doing it on purpose to torment her co-workers, then yes, she should be fired. (Can you even do that on purpose? I guess I should ask an 11 year old boy. He would know.)"

I am really very sorry... but I burst out laughing so hard after reading the dialog part that my stomach started paining.

Oh well, life's little humor comes in strange ways!

Vercingetorix said...

I think the best way would be to tell your manager and move to a new place. Let somebody else enjoy the odor. hah.