updated 4/19/2005 4:23:40 PM ET 2005-04-19T20:23:40

It's a uniquely vexing issue: A worker has a personal odor problem, and something must be said. Nightmare scenario, right? What to do?

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At most companies, this unpleasant chore is falling to the HR staff, according to a poll of human resource professionals. Nearly three-quarters, 74 percent, of the 633 respondents said they had been forced to confront an employee about an offensive body smell issue.

"When our subscribers pose questions to us, it's striking how often they ask for guidance on how to deal with this issue," said Kevin Flood, an editor with HR.BLR.com, an online subsidiary of Business & Legal Reports Inc., a publisher of compliance information based in Old Saybrook, Conn.

"They need to address something that's disrupting the workplace, but they also want to do it with a minimum of embarrassment — to themselves and to the employee," Flood said.

To that end, the company has compiled a list of tips for employers:

  • Talk to the employee. An anonymous note, e-mail or deodorant on one's desk doesn't cut it. Have a private, discreet conversation — with as much sensitivity as possible — and acknowledge before that the topic is extremely uncomfortable.
  • Realize that a diet or medical condition might cause the problem. Gently suggest a visit to a doctor.
  • Stress that the issue isn't merely a personal matter, as it is a workplace disruption that must be addressed.
  • Don't become upset if the employee is extremely embarrassed and tries to end the discussion as rapidly as possible.
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting in a few days to ensure the problem is being resolved.

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