“I can’t come to work today, the customers smell too bad”

I don’t mind my job. My boss can be a little trying at times, but on the whole I get to work pretty much solo, listen to BBC radio all day long, make friends with the old people, be creative and design cool things, and even the occasional photography field trip. I don’t call in sick – I’ve finished my shift having thrown up on the job, I’ve dragged myself in with man flu and even showed up with a broken arm before being sent to the hospital. But there’s been an issue recently that’s made it pretty much – no, absolutely – unbearable to work.

The Lady That Smells Bad.

This isn’t a regular case of B.O. we’re talking about here. She looks like a homeless person, and comes in off the streets with numerous bags housing goodness only knows what (open cans of 6-month-old tuna is what I’ve settled on). She’s dressed in a tilly hat covered in poppies pinned on from the last fifty years, an oversized man’s coat, a pair of glasses that look like they belong to Trevor Horn, and accompanied by the worst smell I’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering. I can’t even describe it. I seriously doubt she’s had a bath in the last twenty years, and her clothes are stuffy and musty and just outright dirty. My boss’s husband stands by me on this and last time he was in, he opened the back door, despite it being minus 20 degrees outside.

She sits in here for hours at a time, cutting and pasting together little posters for church events that happened 2 months ago so she can make photocopies and put them up again. She was in here yesterday for two and a half hours – the latter half hour of which I could no longer stand, and after coughing and involuntarily gagging several times, I begged my boss if I could work in her office until she left. This morning she and I had a talk about how we’re going to deal with this. I looked up on a few sites as to whether or not you can actually ban someone from your store for smelling bad. Concensus was that if it’s your store, and you’re not discriminating based on age, race, religion or whatever, and it’s actually disruptive to your workplace – you can kick them out.

But the boss told me it’s my job to do it.

She came in again this morning. I was in the middle of helping someone and so I asked my boss if she could help her. Seeing who it was, she said to her “Emily will have to help you, she’ll just be a minute.” Thanks boss. Thankfully she was in and out today in 5 minutes so I didn’t have to bring it up. But who knows the next time she’s going to spend the afternoon here? Sweet suggested writing a note and handing it to her so I don’t embarrass her out loud, which I thought was a pretty good idea. I’ve also had suggestions of blatantly spraying air freshener when she comes in, or even bringing my own gas mask to work. Seriously though – how do I politely and tactfully tell someone they can’t be here because they smell so bad I can’t work? It’s pretty much the rudest thing you could say to somebody. And I have absolutely no idea how to do it.


  1. Giving her a note would be the nicest thing to do. I mean, she would probably be offended enough to not come back with that, but at least you wouldn’t have to embarrass her in front of everyone. That, and in your note, you could mention that it’s bad for the business as well as your work ethic. I mean, you don’t really have a choice but to stay there. Do you notice that more people leave when she’s around?

  2. I don’t think that giving her a note is better – it just means you don’t have to say it, and she has something she can take away and show people about how “rude” you guys are if she feels that way. If she’s there for too long or just goes to set up her little area to past things I would let her know that she can come in to photocopy – but that you guys are trying to set time limits on how long people can be in the shop.

    You guys can impose those rules just as easily, and then you don’t have to say anything to her about her hygiene. If you have to tell her anything about her BO I would just say “I’m sorry I have to ask you to leave, my supervisor feels that you’re disruptive to our clientele.” And if she presses you, say that your boss mentioned that she could smell her and it is disruptive. Not fun either way!!

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