Someone smelling bad at work can be a distraction for everyong.
But on the popular subReddit "Am I The A**hole?," Redditor Cordirdor wanted to know whether they were in the wrong for telling an employee he would be fired if he didn't get his act together and clean himself.
The story was titled "AITA For telling my employee he either needs to shower and use deoderant or I'll fire him?"
"So I am an office manager, I am the boss of roughly 40 people, I have no hand in who is hired, but I can fire people (Dumb system but alas.) and in the past 3 weeks my employees have been complaining about one guy and the way he smells and looks."
"Now Drew has been working at the company for about 3 years and was recently transferred to our part of the company."
"Now at first I figured people were overreacting and just being rude to the new guy because they do not like him(Which is not uncommon.) So I invited Drew to talk in my office and honestly I feel like I need to get my office steamcleaned, the dude smells like musky old sweat mixed with unwiped a**, he was also unshaven, his hair looked gross and oily etc."
"I mean the sweat would be forgiveable, he is very overweight so that is just a matter of more deoderant but the rancid a** smell means he does not clean himself properly added to that I don't think he washes his clothes often."
"Now I told him in the nicest way possible that I have gotten multiple complaints about him concerning his personal hygiene and asked him to pay more attention to it, figuring he would get the hint, he didn't. We had 4 more of these meetings in the next few weeks and I also kept getting complaints, each meeting was harsher as he was not getting the hint."
"So yesterday I invited him again and clearly nothing had changed, he smelled terribly, wore the same clothes he did during our previous meeting with stains and everything, unkept, neckbeard, sweatstains, rancid a** musk all around etc as a result I told him he has to be clean and well kept the next time he goes to work and if he isn't I'll fire him on the spot since at this point it is just godd*mn disgusting."
"Now here is where my doubt set in, the dude nearly started crying and I have been wondering whether I was just way too harsh, never meant to make the dude borderline cry, but I also don't want everyone else especially those who work close with him to suffer with his smell."
QueenMoogle thought the original poster had done what they had to do.
"NTA. I think you did everything correctly. Had you just come out of the gate with the "firing" thing, then you'd absolutely be an asshole. But you started off slowly and politely, asking him to kindly look after himself as it's becoming a problem in the office. Hell, you tried to five times. There's only so much you can do in polite mode if someone is not getting the message."
"If he does fix the issue, I'd approach him again and thank him for listening to your concerns, and reassure him that he's a good worker."
Moni3 wanted to make sure OP was totally clear in their meetings.
"When you say repeatedly that he 'didn't take the hint', did you actually hint that he needed to shower and use deodorant? Because that isn't effective management."
"My MIL had to explain American hygiene standards to immigrants hired at their first job. It was an awkward conversation every time, but they thanked her because they didn't know. This guy might know, but has problems with depression or anxiety. Maybe he has a shit home and lives with hoarders."
"NTA for demanding he showers and uses deodorant but you have to be absolutely explicitly clear. 'Shower before working. Launder your clothes. Use deodorant. If you don't I will fire you.'"
blair84 had a similar story to tell.
"About 10 years ago I was a manager for a utility contractor in PA. I needed another lineman to fill in while one of my guys went home for family reasons. So I was sent a guy named Phil for 2 weeks. He would come to my office in the morning to get his work orders for the day. His odor was so bad that the office admins would go to the warehouse until he left. They even asked if they could burn incense because his odor lingered after he left. I spoke to him to no avail. Finally I sent him back to a different site."
"A few days later I received a call from a friend at the new site. He said that Phil's manager told Phil that he thought about him this morning. Phil smiled and said really. The manager said yeah on my way to work I saw a sign that said clean fill wanted and isn't that what we all want. Phil was odor free after that."
Jenius20 thought there might be some deeper reason for what was happening.
"I 'knew' someone in my college class who stunk so bad every class. A few months later I saw him sleeping in his car and it all made sense. your employee is acting nonsensically, I wouldn't be surprised if there is more going on. It can be incredibly difficult to keep yourself clean when you are severely depressed."
Much_Difference also agreed there was probably something psychological at play.
"Five meetings about the same unresolved issue is bananas. I don't think OP is TA but I'm curious how each successive meeting differed. By the third time you call him in, it'd seem obvious that whatever you're doing isn't working, and maybe you should try something else instead of doing the same thing but with more emphasis."
NinjaSmock thought professionalism was a priority.
"NTA. You made him aware of the situation, and that he was causing problems in the workplace. You asked multiple times to change the situation or consequences would follow."
"If you had fired him on the spot without all that, you would be the AH, because you didn't clearly specify the reason for firing and assuming he was aware of the situation."
NothingsShocking told OP to be careful about discrimination laws.
"Need to be careful depending on your location. In California for example, employee protection laws are strict and to protect yourself you need to document all your warnings so you have proof you did attempt many times to warn the employee. Verbal warning not good enough, he said she said."
"Document in detail and my old company went so far as to write the warning up and pull you into a one on one meeting, explain what they are doing warning you about and make you sign and date your understanding on the write up so there is absolutely no confusion that you were warned. Everyone kind of knew that if you were starting to get a few of these warnings that you were probably about to get fired."
I-like-Bubbles thought the employee had gotten enough chances.
"NTA. You gave him sooo many chances to remedy the situation. Maybe the way in which you delivered your ultimatum was a bit harsh, but he does need to get his personal hygiene in order.I'm wondering if you've asked him about why he's having a hard time keeping clean? Is he maybe struggling with money and doesn't have a place to clean himself? Maybe he's depressed and hygiene is the last thing on his list? I'm not sure how you could help him otherwise."
cryptidinthesea said to respect what might be happening in the employee's life, but also do what must be done.
"NAH. The dude could have some serious depression issues and may be using all his energy on work, and by the time he gets home, has no motivation or energy to clean his clothing or himself. On the other hand, as his boss, it's your job to maintain the professional setting. Maybe instead of firing him tho, you can have a real heart to heart and ask him if he's struggling in some way. If he isn't though, and he's just dirty, that's when you fire him."
It's an important lesson for all of us—make sure to bathe regularly, especially before work.
But it's also a good idea to check on someone when their hygiene becomes this problematic.
Are they homeless? Are there bathroom facilities, running water or laundry where they live? Are they depressed or have other health issues?
The manager's story said they told Drew to take care of his hygiene, but never said they asked why Drew was having this problem or asked if there was a way to help Drew.
Many employer's have employee assistance programs (EAPs). Offering Drew help is what a good manager should do first.
While that's not Drew's fellow employees' job responsibility—unlike the manager—offering help instead of just ridicule is what decent human beings should do too.