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by Abigail Van Buren

Outstanding but Maladorous Employee Stands All Alone

DEAR ABBY: We desperately need your advice. A female co-worker (I'll call her Ethel) has poor hygiene. This is particularly difficult in a bank such as ours, where professional working relationships sometimes involve working in close proximity.

The human resources director has discussed the problem with Ethel. Also, during the annual personnel evaluations, the boss made brief, but firm, comments that she must practice better hygiene. However, her efforts were short-term.

Abby, we cannot fire Ethel. She's a longtime employee with tremendous amounts of knowledge and experience, but it has reached the point that some of our younger staff have threatened to quit if Ethel doesn't clean up to "normal" standards. Is there a solution that won't offend her or make her defensive? -- STAYING DOWNWIND IN IOWA

DEAR DOWNWIND: Regardless of her tremendous knowledge and experience, it's unfair that the rest of the employees must tolerate this. If it's difficult for them to be close to her, it must be equally so for your customers.

Ethel must be told that many complaints have been registered, and the bank is in danger of losing other personnel because she hasn't resolved her problems. She should also be advised that, as valuable as she is, if she doesn't resolve her poor hygiene problem, she will be terminated. Harsh perhaps, but necessary in the best interests of the bank and its staff.