Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Body Odor

I'm all about equal opportunity in the workplace.  I don't care what your age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, marriage status, or other categories are, as long as you can do your job and do it well.  You don't even have to be a particularly pleasant individual.

There are a couple things I don't tolerate well though. One is abusive behavior. This goes without saying.  But the other is body odor.  I'm not just talking about good hygiene here, although that is part of it. It amazes me that this is something that is legally protected.  If my coworker chooses not to use deodorant, or indeed chooses to not bath entirely, they don't have to and there is nothing their employer or co-workers can do about it regardless of how many complaints are received.  If my coworker chooses to swim in a sea of cologne or perfume, same thing applies. The best that my employer can do is move me to an area where I'm not sitting next to that person.

But what if that person is my boss?  What if the stench of their perspiration is so strong in their office that it makes me nauseous to attend one-on-one meeting with them there?  I often left at the end of the day with a migraine after dealing with the odor all day.  I scoured the Internet and found that I don't have any recourse. In fact, it was even worse than that.  It could have been deemed as discrimination on my part.  It amazed me.

As a consultant for many years, when I noticed new consultants with body odor, one comment to the account rep of the consulting firm resolved the problem. Well, you can't very well bring in prospective consultants to a client site when they reek of BO.  It will impact sales!  But come to find out, whatever they did to resolve these problems with those consultants, it was likely illegal.

The problem isn't so much about hygiene issues, but other factors such as the indirect link to cultural differences as they relate to body odor.  Apparently in other cultures, strong body odor is considered pleasant and attractive.  So by not being tolerant of the malodor of others, I am being culturally bias.

Additionally there can be links between body odor and medical conditions. Since privacy related to medical status is protected, the same issue applies in terms of medical intolerance. I don't think those odors smell like BO though.  I've smelled such things and have never felt the desire to complain about them as it was obvious to me that these people were doing everything in their power to try to stem the odor.  But still it plays a factor in the issue of tolerance in the workplace as it relates to body odor.

What it comes down to for me is that I don't care how you want to smell in the privacy of your own home, but not in the workplace where others have to be in close contact with you for many hours a day, if you have any control over the matter, such as bathing regularly and applying deodorant and limiting perfumes/scents. So here I am, realizing I'm a scent bigot.  How sad is that?

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