Reader Asks for Advice about a Foul-Smelling Situation

Reader Asks for Advice about a Foul-Smelling Situation

Dear Building Indiana Business: After reading your article last spring about cringy comments in the workplace, I thought I’d write to you about how to deal with a cringy situation we’ve been experiencing in our new office. We’re a small medical practice that’s recently bought another small practice in a new city. When visiting the new location for the first time to conduct employee training, I encountered something very gross and concerning.

Right upon entry, I noticed a strange foul smell. I didn’t say anything about it immediately, thinking that maybe it was a patient situation. But later in the day while training one of the front desk admins, I realized that it wasn’t a patient – it was the person I was training. Specifically, it was her teeth. They were completely rotten and would literally wiggle as she spoke. I was shocked.

The odor is noticeable from several feet away, even when wearing a mask. This woman’s position requires some interaction with almost every patient. I’m worried about how this will affect our business.

Do you happen to have any suggestions about how best to handle this? Or have you heard about others who have dealt with a dental issue this bad?





Dear #Grossed-Out: It’s sad but not surprising this situation has apparently been allowed to go on for some time. It’s a subject that many people are too uncomfortable to raise, but certainly requires intervention.

Only about 14% of people would tell a friend or colleague they have bad breath, according to survey data from UltraDex, a UK-based manufacturer of dental products.

Since most people are unwilling to talk about it, bad dental hygiene can lower productivity. The same survey found that 1 in 5 people admit there’s at least one coworker they won’t talk to because of their bad breath.

The situation you’ve described sounds extreme and needs to be resolved, especially since the individual is in a role that puts them in close contact with your patients. HR experts across the board recommend that a manger be direct in this situation, despite the awkwardness.

Sit down with the employee privately and compassionately describe the problem. It’s alright to begin by expressing that this is an uncomfortable conversation, but it needs to happen because you’re concerned for their wellbeing and the impact this is having on the business.

Since this is a medical issue in addition to being a hygiene issue, it’s important not to offer your employee specific recommendations or a diagnosis. You should also generally avoid asking questions about their medical conditions, although asking isn’t necessarily prohibited under the ADA in a situation like this.

Guide the conversation toward a mutually-achieved solution. Ask your employee what support they’ll need from your company to solve the issue.

Under the ADA, it’s an employer’s responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations so the employee can perform their job. Beyond that, companies have a range of options they could consider, including contracting outside HR services or designing an employee assistance plan (EAP) to help the individual get the treatment they need.

The important thing is to work together to discuss the most appropriate course of action. The best results will be achieved when an employee feels like their employer is on their side. If you want to retain this individual, be compassionate, forthright, and understanding.



1 in 5 people have a coworker they won’t talk to because of their bad breath.

Source: UltraDex

Category Features, Health