Employee odors, whether natural or artificial, are a common and complex workplace problem. Telling an employee that their scent is not acceptable in the workplace can be a difficult conversation for both the employee and the company. It is recommended that you approach these issues with sensitivity, but also in a straightforward manner.
Please note that in New Jersey, an employer may not discriminate against an employee for using lawful products, including marijuana and cigarettes, off the worksite during non-working 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 smoke 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.”
Contact Marzano Human Resources Consulting should you or someone you know want to discuss this matter in more detail.