Q & A: This Month’s Sweaty Issues


Question Corner

This Month’s Sweaty Issues

By Jason R. Mau

Q: One of our employees has run into economic hard times. Unfortunately, he has started having body odor problems. I understand this is a delicate issue—e.g., it may be due to illness. To me, it’s obviously body odor from sweat. How can we encourage him to recognize the issue and clean up his act?

A: As long as there is no possibility that it is related to a religious practice or caused by an underlying medical condition that would prompt protection (i.e. accommodation) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the best way to resolve the issue is to privately and discretely (with sensitivity) address the body odor issue directly, ideally with reference to the company’s dress and grooming policy.  Make sure the employee is allowed an opportunity to respond and give an explanation for the recent problems so that you can work together to find a reasonable solution, following up if necessary.  If your company does not have a dress and grooming policy for reference, focus on the distractions it may cause to co-workers or the overall effect it may have on workplace morale.

Q: We recently placed a manager on a performance improvement plan, and she responded by resigning (with a two-week notice). Because she is negatively affecting team morale, can we make her resignation effective now and forgo the two-week notice period? If so, do we need to pay her for the two weeks?

A: As long as there is no company policy or practice in place to the contrary, or an employment contract stating otherwise, the law places no requirement on your company allowing her to work the entire two-week period or to provide compensation for the period if no work is performed.  The two-week notice does not displace the protections of the at-will presumption in Idaho.

Q:   If an employee quits and fails to return his badge and uniform, can the cost of the items be deducted from his final check? If not, what can we do?

A: Idaho law only allows for deductions to be made from an employee’s paycheck for failure to return company property where permitted under law or written authorization was given prior to the deduction (i.e. authorization form at time of issue), and only where the deduction would not cause the employee to receive less than minimum wage for that pay period.  If no such authorization exists, you would need to pursue the loss separately under the property laws of Idaho.       

Q: If an employee comes to work sick (as in the flu, fever, or vomiting), do we have the right to send her home and make her use paid time off? Or are we obligated to pay her if we decide to send her home?

A: Under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, an employer has a duty to make the place of employment free from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.  If the illness can be potentially harmful to the health of one or more employees, this duty extends to directly protecting your employees.  Thus, policies preventing the spread of communicable illnesses and diseases that are enforced consistently are allowed.  Before you make her use her paid time off, keep in mind that depending on the circumstances, this employee may be eligible for Family or Medical Leave, short term disability, a flexible work arrangement, or other benefits under your company’s policies, or under any applicable employment contract or collective bargaining agreement.   

Jason R. Mau is an attorney with Greener Burke Shoemaker Oberrecht, P.A.  He can be reached at 208-319-2600 or jmau@greenerlaw.com.