Smelly Co-Worker Driving you Mad? Accommodating Competing Rights in the Workplace

Smelly Co-Worker Driving you Mad? Accommodating Competing Rights in the Workplace

The topic of accommodating competing rights in the workplace is a complex one. To help demonstrate the appropriate process of finding a solution to complex problems such as these, lets use Ryan Berger’s recent example (Ryan is a Partner at Lawson Lundell) of body odour in the workplace.

Whether you’re an employee with a heightened sense of smell, one that has a sensitivity or allergy to certain odours, or one who’s just tired of smelly co-workers, you might want to seek out a solution, and it’s not always easy to find.

How do you know if it’s appropriate to say something to the individual you suspect is stinking up the place? You obviously don’t want to offend anyone, or make them feel embarrassed; but, when is enough, enough? For starters, there are key principles that can assist employers in determining whether or not an accommodation is necessary, and how this accommodation should be implemented.

According to Berger, every workplace has unique challenges. But, it’s important to take a solutions-based approach to resolving competing claims by employees. The solution, after all, should result in a win win situation for everyone involved. Berger elaborates with some important points to remember:

  • Are the issues being brought to the employers attention affecting actual rights of employees? It’s important to understand the issues at hand before coming to any conclusions about what the appropriate solution might be.
  • Employers should understand that all rights have equal status in the eyes of the law, and each issue should be addressed with this in mind.
  • It’s important to understand the context of the issue or concern. Employers need to know where the issue falls in the scope of the right potentially being infringed upon.
  • In certain cases, where a right is being infringed upon, there may be an understanding that minimal interference may be warranted. This would only be observed once a thorough analysis of the circumstances of the issue has been completed, and the balance of rights taken into consideration.
  • Sometimes there is no solution that satisfies every party involved – in these cases it’s important to compromise, or offer a “next best solution”.
  • Decisions must be in line with workplace health and safety standards, and other laws, and regulations currently in force.

What Employers can do for Due Diligence:

According to a policy on the Duty to Accommodate from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, in order to best prepare for an accommodation, employers should:

  • Understand that the duty to accommodate is informed by three principles: respect for dignity, individualization, and integration and full participation.
  • Understand that each and every accommodation case is unique and should be treated accordingly.
  • Work with an expert accommodation provider or Occupational Therapist on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation process.
  • Accept requests for accommodation in good faith, and take an active role in exploring traditional, and alternative solutions.
  • Conduct open discussions about possible accommodation solutions to gain more insight.
  • Be aware that an accommodation may be necessary even in cases where the employee has not made a formal request.
  • Implement accommodations in a timely manner.
  • Be discreet, respectful, and maintain trust and confidentiality.

How Gowan Consulting Can Help:

  • Provide support for policy and procedures development.
  • Train managers and employees on the duty to accommodate.
  • Provide objective Occupational Therapy assessments for accommodation requests.

If you would like to learn more about workplace accommodations, please check out our services for Providing Early Intervention and Return to Work planning.

Gowan Consulting has many resources to assist employees with accommodation concerns. If you’d like to learn more about workplace accommodations or return to work, check out our upcoming RTW Facilitation Skills Workshop happening this November 11-13, in London ON

We also have webinars on Accommodation, Mental Health, Return to Work and several other topics if self-learning is more your thing!

Want to know how we can assist you personally in the workplace? Contact Us!

Works cited:

Ontario Human Rights Commission, Duty to Accommodate,

Ugh, My Co-Worker Stinks! Do you Have to Accommodate Competing Rights in the Workplace?, By Ryan Berger, Lawson Lundell,

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