Employers expect you to always present yourself in a professional manner. It’s a large part of appropriate business conduct. Unfortunately, some people need a little guidance in a very basic part of this department -- dress and personal grooming. For this reason, companies have personal hygiene and dress code policies.
Open almost any company handbook, and you’ll find a workplace hygiene policy. Some of the more basic policies ask employees to “maintain personal cleanliness by bathing or showering daily,” “minimize body odors by using deodorant,” “maintain oral hygiene by brushing teeth daily” and “wash hands after using the restrooms or eating a meal.”
Companies, however, aren’t shy about including personal grooming habits within their hygiene policies, urging employees to “wear clothes that are clean, pressed and in good condition.” They may also request that staff “wear socks or hose at all times” and that “all clothing fit appropriately.” Sometimes, you may even find policies for appropriate hair, such as “well-groomed mustache, beard and sideburns” or “no artificial colors such as blue, pink or purple.” It’s also not uncommon to see prohibitions against heavily scented perfumes or colognes — largely due to potential allergies of other employees.
Including a hygiene policy in a company handbook is easy. Enforcing it, that’s another story. As with any performance issue, use tact and discretion. Pull the staff member aside and leave the discussion for the end of the day when she can make an attempt to rectify the situation by the next morning. Keep to the topic at hand, and avoid any assumptions on why her hygiene has slipped below company standards. Reassure her that she’s not guilty of any wrongdoing, but stress the need for a change. If she wants to respond, listen. She may have a reason for the poor personal hygiene or grooming. From there, the two of you can create an action plan of sorts with clearly defined goals for hygiene and grooming.
Blanketing all employees under the same workplace hygiene policies can become problematic. You must be careful not to word policies in such a way that they discriminate against an employee’s race, culture, ethnicity, religion or disability. Accommodations should be made for anyone who falls within these categories. If, for example, flexible scheduling could help to correct hygiene or grooming problems for an employee with a disability, an employer should offer this accommodation.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.