Ask Amy: Personal hygiene issues stump workers

February 24, 2013

DEAR AMY: There is a lady who works in our office who never washes her hands after using the toilet. She comes out of the stall, turns the water on and off quickly so it sounds as if she is washing them. Lately she has not even been using water. She just runs her hand over the auto paper towel dispenser and wipes her hands on the towel.

She also has a very bad hygiene problem. She smells so bad that you can hardly be near her. You can plainly see that her clothing is dirty. She also has chronic infections that add to the odor. This is a very delicate situation as she is also physically challenged, and she comes from an agency that helps place challenged employees. She is a hard worker and everyone likes her.

At Christmas, all the employees took up a collection and put together a basketful of household items like soaps, detergents, towels, shampoos, etc. Our human resources department contacted her agency and informed them of the situation. They were supposed to have talked with her, but we have not noticed any change.

We even had our health and wellness department come talk to the entire department about the importance of washing your hands properly. We have exhausted all possible solutions, all to no avail. We don’t want to hurt this lady’s feelings, but we don’t feel we should have to be exposed to unhealthy working conditions. Do you have any ideas? -- Baffled at Work

DEAR BAFFLED: A basket of products doesn’t help if the person in question doesn’t know how (or is unable) to clean herself or her clothing, but I give you all a lot of credit for being so sensitive and generous about it.

I have spoken to professional managers who have had to tackle the hygiene issue with workers. Your manager or HR representative should do this privately with your co-worker and be compassionate and specific about what she needs to do. If this co-worker doesn’t have laundry facilities where she lives, this might be a significant obstacle. The placement agency should be proactive and helpful and should follow through with the employee.

DEAR AMY: You answered a question from a “Mom” regarding her 13-year-old son losing his retainer. She wanted him to be financially responsible for its replacement.

I think your answer was a little off-base — merely telling kids that if they lose something they are financially responsible gives them little incentive to replace it, especially if they didn’t want it in the first place.

In this case, if the son doesn’t pay for a new retainer, guess what? He doesn’t need to wear the stupid retainer anymore.

What is at issue here is not the cost of the retainer, but the responsibility of taking care of something. I’d tell the mom to make this about responsibility. “If you lose your retainer again, I’ll have to assume you’re not responsible enough to do X.” Taking away something the kid actually wants will probably go further than trying to have him pay for something — especially because this young kid doesn’t have access to funds. -- Lisa

DEAR LISA: I agree with your solution. The child needs to see the connection and understand that this is about responsibility. Thank you.

Dear Amy: “Joan” was a 50-year-old reader who wants to spend her parents’ gift (money) on a trip to India. Her retirement fund is less than half of what she will need for retirement. It’s also clear that she hasn’t budgeted monthly for car repairs and other out-of-pocket expenses. In your answer, you encourage her to go.

She’s 50 and the clock is ticking! How will she feel about the trip she took when she turns 70 when she can’t afford to retire? Maybe there are other ways she can experience Indian food, culture, history and art without spending the entire sum of money. When her “health slows her down,” she may wish she had kept a rainy-day fund. -- Realistic Reader

DEAR REALISTIC: Your argument is very logical and realistic, but there are also times when you have to go for it. I hope she does.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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