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Dealing with someone's body odor at work

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Eranda posted 9/16/2013 14:06 PM

Ok, so the title of this thread is a bit of an understatement.

Like most workplaces, we have a 6 stall women's bathroom. This bathroom does not have a door, it has a partition at the entrance for privacy. There are probably 40 women employed here.

Sometimes when I walk into the bathroom, there is an odor so bad it turns my stomach. There are times that I can smell it before I even get into the bathroom- it's so strong that I smell it OUTside the bathroom door partition.

It's not plumbing related, or related to normal activites that occur in a bathroom. This is body odor. Lack-of-female-hygiene odor. Lack of ANY hygiene odor. And it's SO STRONG that it literally makes me gag. Like hold-your-breath-because-you're-going-to-hurl strong. REALLY bad.

It's clearly one person because I've had the experience of walking into a stall and having the stench hit me like a wall of nauseating disgustingness.

Seriously, it's that bad. If I have to use the bathroom when it smells like that I will spray air freshener in each empty stall before I will even stay in there another minute- or I will walk out and come back later. It's just disgusting.

Yes, other women have smelled it too and yes, they're grossed out too- but no one knows what to do about it. I am about 99% sure I know that it's one particular person who's the source of the stench- but I'm not 100% certain because you can never be certain.

I don't think I should have to be subjected to someone else's revolting, overwhelming crotch body odor in the workplace.

I've considered going to our HR lady about it but I'm not even sure what I would be asking her to do...? I mean she can't go to everyeone's home and make sure they take a proper shower so they don't offend the rest of the employees. I suppose she could send an email to all the women here stressing the need for proper hygiene blahblahblah but I just can't see her doing that.

So if you were me, how would you handle it? I seriously cannot take it anymore- it's just SO gross and offensive. I can't really avoid it because I don't know who's in the bathroom before I go there. I only find out when the smell hits me and at that point I've already walked all the way across the building.

I also don't want to be mean. This person doesn't appear to realize that she smells so bad that she is making people gag. I just want it to STOP.

Any ideas??

Lalagirl posted 9/16/2013 15:06 PM

Can you smell this odor near this woman's cube/work area? I would think that an odor of that magnitude would carry with her - even clothed. (I am asking so it may be easier for you to confirm the source/person before going to HR.)

And yes, go to HR. They are trained to handle these sorts of things - which makes it their job. And what you say must be held in confidence (they cannot reveal who "turned them in").

If the odor is that bad, I truly wonder if she has some sort of infection?

We had a similar incident here but it wasn't body odor, it was massive perfume from hell. HR handled the situation discreetly and the issue is resolved.

Eranda posted 9/16/2013 15:18 PM

I don't work anywhere near her so I can't answer whether the smell is there. I only smell it in the bathroom.

I thought the same thing about some kind of infection- but seriously- if you had a medical condition that made you smell that bad, wouldn't you be aware of it and take drastic measures to eliminate it? The smell- to me- is recognizable as just a hygiene problem. But I could be wrong.

Lalagirl posted 9/16/2013 15:27 PM

but seriously- if you had a medical condition that made you smell that bad, wouldn't you be aware of it and take drastic measures to eliminate it?

Oh god, yes! I had bacterial vaginosis years ago and at first whiff, my ass was at the gyn. No sooner than my feet were in the stirrups, doc says, "YUP....bacterial infection!" EMBARRASSING...but it had to be taken care of. And no, I was going nowhere in public until it was GONE.

But definitely say something to nor your coworkers should have to deal with that...

idkam posted 9/16/2013 16:17 PM

Oh hell yeas she knows unless her sense of smell is completly gone... I hate body odor.. I too gag when i have to go into a stall that has a bad BO....i put vinegar in my bath water and if im showering input some in my wash cloth with water and wash down yonders...i also keep clensong wipes in my purse and little black bag that i keep in my desk... It also contains tooth paste, mouth wash, tooth brush, and deodorant...

Sad in AZ posted 9/16/2013 16:45 PM

Talk to HR; it may be a known issue, or it may be something they are not aware of. If it makes your worklife uncomfortable (an understatement), they should know about it.

As you say, there may be nothing that can be done about it, but you won't know until you bring it up. In fact, it could have something to do with the design of the ladies room holding and trapping the smell. It could even not be a personal issue but at problem with the drains. I've experienced something like this in another office; the smell was like a body odor, but it was coming from a drain in the floor.

hurtbs posted 9/16/2013 17:58 PM

I will say... my mother has a women's health issue that causes a terrible odor when it flairs up. I mean nauseating. I've literally washed clothes right after spending time with her because it's the kind of odor that... sticks. If you go into the bathroom after her, it's overwhelming.
When she has a flair up, it's not a hygiene issue. It's related to her health problem and it can last for days. It is rancid. And bathing does nothing to help at all.
In her case, it's a vaginal bacterial infection, related to her weight (she's about 150lbs over weight). Apparently, it's a common problem for menopausal, obese women (the things you learn at Christmas Dinner).
My mom is very much aware of the issue and the smell and is very embarrassed by it.

I'm just putting this out there so that you know this person could be aware of the issue and it may not be a readily fixable and embarrassing problem.

[This message edited by hurtbs at 5:59 PM, September 16th (Monday)]

Eranda posted 9/16/2013 18:32 PM

Well it seems to me that if she was aware of it, she could use the disabled bathroom and spray to get rid of the smell afterward. But she doesn't.

If you all think HR is the way to go, I will work up the nerve to tell the HR lady that someone has really disgusting crotch odor and it's making us all sick LOL. I guess then it will be her problem- but my guess is that she won't do anything about it.

In the meantime- what the hell do *I* do to avoid it??? I mean... I've taken to turning around and leaving the bathroom if I smell it at all. I don't want to have to hold my breath for the entire time I'm in there!!

GabyBaby posted 9/16/2013 20:23 PM

Can you use a bathroom on a different floor instead?

Eranda posted 9/16/2013 21:15 PM

We have one bathroom for all the women, plus a handicapped bathroom that I try to use but of course everyone wants to use it so it's not often empty.

And you know I was thinking about it- I would go with the whole "medical problem" scenario- but this is not a new development, it's been like this for almost a year. Seems unlikely that a medical issue would that caused that kind of symptom would go untreated for that long.

hurtbs posted 9/16/2013 21:26 PM

My mother's medical issue has been a recurring issue for many years. It's pervasive.

Eranda posted 9/16/2013 21:55 PM

hurtbs- and there's no treatment?

Eranda posted 9/16/2013 21:55 PM

sorry double post

[This message edited by Eranda at 9:55 PM, September 16th (Monday)]

tushnurse posted 9/17/2013 08:24 AM

Many larger (morbidly obese) women become a fungal/bacterial factory. Especially if they are diabetic, and not doing a good job of managing it.
Bacteria and fungus both love warm, moist, dark areas. So the crotchetal region along with skin folds of the bellly, and panus (the hangy down part of a belly that goes over the tops of the thighs, and crotchetal region).

If she has had this for a long time, she may have become accustomed to the smell, and not realize she has it, or she just doesn't care. I would definitely go to HR with this concern. That smell you are talking about (I know exactly what that smell is) doesn't go away with plain old soap and water, you have to kill the bug, so frequently when the infection is pervasive the afflicted person needs to use antifungal creams, and take a roung of oral antibiotics, and oral antifungals.
If she isn't the smartest bulb in the box, she may have no clue how to deal with it, and may be embarassed to even go to the Dr.
The only other thought I have is to place an anonymous article on her desk related to this issue, and ways it is treated.

Kalleigh posted 9/17/2013 09:06 AM

Yeah i think someone should say something. She may not notice anymore.

I am sure glad I work alone most of the time.

and this reminds me i didnt put deodorant on.

[This message edited by Kalleigh at 9:06 AM, September 17th (Tuesday)]

Edith posted 9/17/2013 09:59 AM

Hi Ernada, Sorry you are dealing with this. I have had two instances of similar problems, once in high school and once in the workplace. HR is definitely the way to go, though sadly in my situation, the mgr had a talk with the person, TWICE, which made no difference.

I used to keep a small jar of Vick's Vaporub in my purse and put it under my nose when this person was in the vicinity. It did help.

I hope you get some resolution.


circe posted 9/17/2013 10:02 AM

We have someone similar here, only it's a dude and it's a very, very strong stench mixed with.. fish? Something that smells like fish oil mixed with airplane bathroom smell, mixed with leather (but not the nice leather smell, the kind of rancid animal leather smell, like the skin wasn't cured long enough?) And then you can smell soap and deodorant balancing on top of the stench. So it's like he tries to keep clean, but the smell is so pungent it can't be washed away. It clings to the back of my throat and I feel like I'm DRINKING it sometimes. And I have literally gagged before in the summer when it's humid and the smell is stronger. I can't help it. Some scents are meant to make us sick because they are scents we're meant to avoid. But of course then there's the paycheck issue...

In our case, we all just brought aromatherapy stuff in and so now we have stench competing with lavender, orange peel, coffee and whatever other scent someone brings in to outcompete the stench. Nice mix.

edited to add - I know it's not the man's fault he smells that bad. You really can smell soap and cologne on him as well, and he's not dirty looking. It must be something he can't wash away.

[This message edited by circe at 10:04 AM, September 17th (Tuesday)]

EvenKeel posted 9/17/2013 10:14 AM

IDK - she might not really know. I just say that because I use to share an office with a guy that was taking garlic supplements when they first hit the fad market.

The smell would literally ooze out of every pore of his body. It didn't even really smell like garlic.....just an awful, awful smell.

I tried air freshners, etc but nothing helped at all (yum - lilac covered garlic )

He was clueless and finally after much hints, he got it (or maybe the garlic fad ran its course).

Is your HR male or female? Real question is, does your HR personnel use this bathroom??? If so, they have to know, right?

Maybe in your letter to HR, you can request an air purifying system in the bathroom??? I mean, if they can't do anything about the source due to medical issues....they can address the air?

damncutekitty posted 9/17/2013 14:11 PM

I would actually consider talking to HR. Most companies have a page in their employee manual about hygeiene, advising people to shower daily and wear deodorant.

Usually all it takes is an email (sent to everyone) reminding staff of certain policies. The culprits get the hint and problem solved.

DeadMumWalking posted 9/17/2013 14:39 PM

I know it's not the man's fault he smells that bad. You really can smell soap and cologne on him as well, and he's not dirty looking. It must be something he can't wash away.

Diet has an impact on BO, and it is also often the case that the person in question is not drinking enough water. These ARE things that are under a person's control, at least to some extent.

I hope you can get HR to deal with the issue. Foul smells are unbearable, plain and simple.

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