Employee Hygiene: How to Tell Someone Politely to Improve

Hygiene is essential in the workplace. Poor hygiene can spread serious disease, and it can do a lot of damage to an employer's credibility with staff. If you have a staff member who doesn't know the rules, or doesn't observe them, you have no choice but to require that person to improve.

Employee hygiene issues 

Employers usually make staff guidelines for hygiene. The employer guidelines are also the basis upon which you speak to staff about hygiene. The guidelines are enforceable, relating to conditions of employment. These guidelines include:

  • Proper disposal of all waste in appropriate receptacles.
  • Food must be stored in containers and old food removed from fridges or cupboards.
  • Cooking facilities must be kept clean by users.
  • Personal hygiene standards are specified in general terms, requiring staff to keep staff washrooms tidy.
  • Cleanliness may include clothing and workspace requirements.


A person breaching hygiene guidelines is a potential liability in more ways than one. There are occupational Health and Safety issues that must be considered. If this person is exposing people to contagious diseases, the onus is on the employer to take appropriate action. A person showing sudden deterioration in health, along with poor hygiene, may be seriously ill. The employer may be held liable, and prosecuted for failure to observe OHS and health laws.

A new staff member may be ignorant of the hygiene guidelines, but it's a reasonable expectation that the employee acts in accordance with normal standards of personal hygienic practices. An established staff member doesn't have many, if any, excuses for a prolonged lapse in standards, unless there's a very good reason.

It should be noted that the requirement for appropriate standards of personal hygiene applies at all levels of any organization. The "office slob" should never be tolerated. Managers and supervisors should if necessary be ordered to set an example, and deal with any unacceptable behavior.

Speaking to the employee about hygiene

As a manager or supervisor you are obliged to be strictly fair and courteous to the employee. The employee is entitled to be told the issues, and allowed to make a response. Please also note that you need to verify the situation. If complaints from other staff are involved, some complaints may be malicious. You may have another problem, more serious than a fictional complaint. This is how you approach the employee:

  • Explain the situation to them.
  • Ask if they're aware of office guidelines.
  • Ask for an explanation.
  • Ask what they intend to do to rectify the situation.

At all times, when asking your questions, allow time for a proper reply, not a brief response. This will tell you if the staff member understands the seriousness of the issues.