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GROSS TALES FROM HR: When lice, bedbugs, OSHA, ADA and more collide

Posted on: May 18th, 2017 | Category: Employee Relations, Government Regulatory & Compliance Issues, Human Resources, Our Blog, Talent Management

EWWWW!!! Not in the office! Gross issues at work

Ewww!!!! Not in the office!

Gross issues at work: it’s what employers live for!
OK, maybe not. Yet one of the most popular blog posts from our archives deals with gross issues that need to be addressed in the workplace. We are sharing this gem again because it still offers valuable information for employers. The takeaway: don’t violate any government regulations during uncomfortable conversations in the workplace.
While we hope you never face these kinds of icky issues, we also hope this information serves you well in the event that you do. 

If they want to avoid regulatory issues, employers should take note of certain problematic human resources issues. Including ones that you can file under…um….gross.

Literally. You can.

That is the point of a very informative Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article entitled “Handling ‘Gross’ Things Tricky for HR Pros “.  It covers all things icky, smelly and otherwise cringe-worthy about human bodily functions that can cause problems in the workplace.

When gross stuff can get you into trouble

The problem goes beyond being awkward to talk about. Some of these personal hygiene issues can lead managers dangerously close to crossing certain lines in regards to regulatory violations. For example, the SHRM article discusses the issue of bedbugs and lice:

Situations involving employees who have or are suspected of having bedbugs or lice pose unique challenges, particularly since employers have a duty under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act to keep the workplace free of recognized hazards, according to Danielle Urban, a partner in the Denver office of Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm.

Employers need to be careful not to stifle any conversations related to possible infestations, since doing so may cause them to run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.

If an employee reports that he or she has bedbugs or lice, the employer may ask the person to seek medical treatment, provide leave and allow the employee to return with proof the infestation has been treated. If the employee hasn’t disclosed the issue, but a colleague reports it, HR should ask for “credible evidence” to ensure it’s not a bullying or harassment situation, Urban said.

With credible evidence, HR should approach the employee in a “straightforward and discreet” manner to discuss the issue, Urban said.

Businesses should keep complying with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in situations like these top of mind. If there could be an underlying medical condition or disability causing a disturbing habit or odor, accommodations may be appropriate and necessary. When you approach employees about these matters, remember to avoid asking questions about medical conditions or recommending a medical evaluation. Instead, try to focus on the observable behaviors and how they are impacting the workplace.

Consider getting some help with those difficult conversations.

You can provide more of what your employees want and need to do their best work with the help of our myHR DirectLink services. Our ongoing HR services are targeted and customized, and can include important employee relations and support needs. It’s a customized HR service so integrated into your environment that you’ll think we’re sitting in the office next door!

Interested in learning more about managing your talent to meet your company’s goals? Email us, or call us at 610-443-0119 to discuss how myHR Partner’s Services can help.

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