Q. Smelly jacket: I work in a small law office. My desk is right near the coat rack. One of the attorney's jackets smells so bad—like old, musty mothballs. He's really nice and kind of new here, so I don’t want to embarrass him, but the smell is really overpowering my area. Since we are so small, we don’t have much in the way of an HR department. (My boss’ wife serves as HR, which is a question for another day.) Is there any way to politely let him know his outerwear reeks without us both dying of mortification?
A: I think you can either solve the smelly-jacket problem or avoid embarrassment, but not both. I understand not wanting to go to your boss’ wife about this small but overwhelming problem, and I think the only way out is through. You can:
- Tell him kindly but clearly that his jacket needs to be washed and hope that he both does it and survives the embarrassment of being told his clothes smell so badly they’re preventing his co-workers from getting their jobs done.
- Tell your boss’ wife to tell him that his jacket needs to be washed and hope that she does it.
- Wash the jacket yourself and return it to the coat rack after your lunch break.
- Destroy the jacket and pretend you never saw it in the first place.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each method. No. 3 is perhaps the safest choice but puts a heavy burden directly on you. No. 1 seems the most reasonable to me. Seeing as how your co-worker seems friendly thus far, odds are good he will react appropriately. But if you choose option No. 4, I’ll never tell anyone.