HR Snapshot – Talking to an Employee About Smelling Like Cigarette Smoke

The pros at HR Answer Center provide valuable insight on how to address many sensitive workplace issues. A recent HR Snapshot that we shared with our clients focused on the delicate issue of how to address employee odors.

Employee Management – Offensive Odors

HR Answer Center Addresses OdorsWe have a new employee who started today and we noticed she smelled like cigarette smoke. Is there a delicate way to ask her to not smell like smoke?

Employee odors, whether natural or artificial, are a common and complex workplace problem. Telling an employee that their scent (whether from perfume, smoke, or body odor) is not acceptable in the workplace can be a difficult conversation for both the employee and the company. We recommend approaching these issues with sensitivity, but also in a straightforward manner.

Please note that in many states an employer may not discriminate against an employee for using lawful products, including cigarettes, off the worksite during non-working hours. Even in states where this protection is not specifically spelled out, we do not recommend trying to dictate employee use of legal products outside of work hours. While employees’ smoking may be protected, the resulting odor or residue brought to the office is not. To complicate matters, a tobacco addiction can sometimes be a covered disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Generally, the best first step is for the employee’s direct supervisor to have a conversation with the employee about the odor that results from their off-duty smoking. Remind the employee that they are free to do what they like when they are off the clock and away from the work site but all employees need to be free of disruptive and allergy-inducing odors while in the workplace.

You may want to ask the employee if they have any ideas to reduce the tobacco scent or smell. For example making sure they smoke in a well ventilated area, a change of shirt or jacket, washing hands, gum, or an electronic cigarette all might reduce the odor. If the employee helps to come up with a solution, a long-term successful resolution of this issue is more likely. If the problem persists, the employee may need more formal discipline to conform to your policies.

An employer should also have language about unacceptable odors in the general appearance or dress code policy such as: “Odors that are disruptive or offensive to others or may exacerbate allergies are unacceptable in the workplace.”

Whether you are looking for insight on how to address delicate employee issues or need assurance your paperwork is in compliance with HR laws, you need the pros at HR Answer Center. Call us today at 214-442-5888 for information on the valuable services provided to PayVision Online clients.