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How to Discuss Poor Hygiene with An Employee

Published April 8, 2021 (last updated on May 15, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator


An employer has to deal with many difficult issues in the workplace; sometimes these issues cross over into very personal territory, such as when dealing with a bullying or harassment complaint.

There’s not many topics that are more personal and more embarrassing than discussing an employee’s poor hygiene. Poor hygiene can negatively affect other employee’s happiness and productivity and may also impact the health and safety of your workplace.

If this is the case, you’ll have to discuss the issue with the employee. So, how do you?

Respectfully Discuss the Issue with the Employee

The discussion with the employee will be awkward. When you approach the employee, do so subtly. Pull them aside into a private space and talk to them one-on-one.

If other workers have raised concerns about an employee’s poor hygiene with you, keep the information confidential. Generally, with these types of matters, the employee should not be told about the specifics, rather take ownership of the concerns and let the employee know that their poor hygiene may be affecting the workplace.

It wouldn’t be recommended to issue any formal outcomes following the conversation, but request the employee improves their hygiene. If you believe their poor hygiene is impacting workplace health and safety, let them know specifically how.

You should always document sensitive discussions with employees as much as possible. When you do, you can also ensure those documents are safe and secure with BrightHR’s unlimited cloud-based document storage.

What If There’s No Improvement?

If you’ve given the employee a reasonable amount of time to improve their hygiene, and their hygiene is still not at acceptable levels for the workplace, it’s time to have another chat with them.

If they’ve made no progress, you might consider issuing a letter setting the expectations moving forward. If they’ve made some progress, perhaps give them some further stern encouragement.

It may then be time to initiate a formal disciplinary procedure with the employee if the issue doesn’t abate.

It Might Be A Medical Issue

Medical issues may affect an employee’s personal hygiene. An employee may disclose this information to you.

When this is raised, you should consider commencing a welfare process with the employee to discuss the issue in further detail and how their medical condition impacts their hygiene.

You can also request the employee provides a medical certificate detailing their condition. Again, this document can be stored securely and safely with BrightHR.

Poor Hygiene Can Include Many Things

What falls under the umbrella of ‘poor hygiene’ is not formally documented, but it could include the following things:

  • Bad body odor

  • Unclean behaviour in the kitchen or bathroom

  • Spitting on the ground

  • Improper sneezing or coughing technique

  • Dirty clothes

These examples of poor hygiene need to be dealt with differently, as some may more actively impact health and safety (e.g. improper sneezing, especially during COVID) and some may cause more discontent with colleagues (e.g. bad body odor, spitting).

Employers must be aware that when dealing with these concerns, their management actions must be proportional to the actions of the employee.

Bright Can Help You Too

BrightHR has a super useful absence tool to help you and your staff lodge, track and approve sick leave or other absence requests.

With BrightHR you can:

  • Record an absence with ease and instantly spot when someone takes too much sick leave.

  • Use the free iOS or Android app—wherever you are—to arrange cover and update senior staff or managers.

  • Scan fit notes, self-certification forms and hospital letters with your phone into your unlimited storage space.

  • Get push notifications to remind you to check how someone’s recovery is going, so you can prepare well in advance for when someone’s due back at work.

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