Odors in the office: Don't raise a stink

Last year, at a Michigan AT&T customer service center, a 58-year-old man who was enjoying a garlicky salad at his desk told police his co-worker complained about the pungent scent and sprayed Lysol in his face.

The alleged Lysol sprayer said the salad-eater hit him in the chest and tried to choke him.

Assault by aroma leading to assault by Lysol is a pretty rare occurrence in the office, but "the issue of scents or smells in the workplace isn't so uncommon," says John Holmquist, who practices employment law at Foley Mansfield in Ferndale, Mich.

One person's afternoon ritual of microwaving popcorn may smell good to one colleague but be distracting and unnecessarily tempting to another.

It's no wonder the office smells of food. A spring 2009 survey by Working Mother magazine and Oscar Mayer found that 66 percent of working mothers bring their lunches from home, and 69 percent eat at their desks.

But you're entitled to stand up for clean office air. The way to deal with offending odors from food requires tact and graciousness.

Tell your co-worker that you are irritated by the smell. Avoid making negative comments that reflect on someone else's taste buds. If your co-worker starts eating elsewhere, say thanks.

If you can't handle it yourself, ask a manager or human resources professional to get involved.

There may be a need for a companywide directive to avoid eating at desks. It's not just because of wafting food smells, but because eating at our desks can mean liquids get spilled on expensive equipment and we leave behind crumbs that lure pests.

- Detroit Free Press