Human resources questions: what do you do when a coworker's perfume is too strong?

Sept. 10, 2011
Tim Twigg and Rebecca Crane of Bent Ericksen & Associates explain the best way to broach the subject of strong odors with your coworkers.

Question: One of my employees consistently wears perfume. Occasionally, it is very strong, even to the point of making me feel nauseous and causing my eyes to water. Other employees have commented about this problem as well, and I imagine it could be objectionable to patients. How do I best approach this employee?

Answer: A lot of times, as with other types of unpleasant body odors, the employee may be unaware of the problem. Due to the job-relatedness (the fact that it affects you, other staff, and potentially patients, and thus it is your business), you can intervene to address the matter. Approach your employee somewhere private, where the conversation cannot be overheard by others, and talk to him or her in a candid, yet caring, manner. Most employees appreciate the feedback and will make immediate changes.

You should be aware that if you allow this problem to persist, it could lead to other work-related problems. If, for example, another employee has an allergic reaction to the perfume, then you could experience problems due to recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provide a far more liberal definition of a disability. It is, therefore, advisable that the problem be corrected immediately.

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The opinions expressed above are based on the writer’s comprehensive background as a human resources professional and the policies in our Bent Ericksen & Associates products having been reviewed by legal counsel. The writer is not an attorney, and the advice provided in this message should not be construed as a legal opinion. If you have legal questions after considering the advice and reading any materials referenced, it is recommended that you consult with your attorney.

Author bio
Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Crane is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit