Several coworkers and I share a rather small working area (not absurdly tiny, but small enough to cause this problem). Most of us usually eat lunch in the cafeteria area, and sometimes at our desks. One coworker, though, always eats lunch at her desk. I'm not sure what exactly it is that she is eating, but it has a rather strong (and unpleasant) smell to it, which some of us find nauseating/distracting. It often lingers in our workspace until mid-afternoon.

What can we do about this? Our coworker obviously has the right to eat whatever she chooses for her lunch, but it's causing an unpleasant work environment for the rest of us. We should be comfortable in our own environment to be able to do our job, but we can't really force her to change her daily lunch to accommodate that, can we?

  • 4
    Does she have a manager?
    – Oded
    Jul 27, 2012 at 18:58
  • Yes, she shares the same manager as some of the other people we share this space with.
    – yoozer8
    Jul 27, 2012 at 19:42
  • 5
    Have you even tried talking to her about this yet? I wouldn't go to a manager until you try to talk to her first Mar 19, 2013 at 11:41

4 Answers 4


Have you tried talking to your coworker?

I think you should should pull your coworker on the side, and ask her if she would mind eating in another area. I would leave out the nauseating part, and go with something along the lines of it being distracting since the smell is so strong.

Going to management would be your next step, but if you do that first it will make her feel like she is not part of the group or being singled out. I find it is best to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and treat them like adults until I am given a reason to think otherwise. Sometimes this does backfire, but it helps me sleep better at night.

  • 4
    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Thanks, I do realize it can be an uncomfortable situation, but I have found over my career that trying to handle things like this with out management if possible fosters a better work environment in the long run. Jul 28, 2012 at 3:13

Have you tried taking the issue up with the manager?

If this is something disruptive (and your description of the issue certainly applies), then as a manager it is their responsibility to remove disruptions.

If a number of those who suffer each have a quiet word with the manager (don't do it in a group, as this may devolve into something less than civil), the manager will then know the problem is real and not something that only one person is perceiving. At this point it will be up to your manager to take it up with the offending party.

This should be your first avenue.


I would suggest the following.

  1. Change your own habits: You and all your friends should always eat lunch at the cafeteria. You can't ask someone else to change when you yourself follow the same thing.
  2. Ask her to change: After about 2 weeks of applying step 1, ask her to have lunch in cafeteria. When you prove that everyone in the office except her eat lunch in cafeteria, she may feel guilty and improve herself.
  3. Speak to Manager/HR: When step 2 fails, speak to your Manager or HR. Say that this employee is not following a rule of lunch break.
  4. Room freshener: You may skip step 3 and use this. Your co-worker will be humiliated by the act and may change herself.

Step 1 and 2 will take at-least 3 weeks and I'm sure your co-worker will change. This will be a healthy way to deal the situation. Include step 3 when absolutely necessary. I do not recommend confrontation between co-workers at work place.

  • 4
    What rule did she break? And you would rather humiliate her than have a potential confrontation? I do not see how that builds a professional relationship in the workplace. Aug 1, 2012 at 20:49
  • 1
    Downvoted for using the word "humiliated" at step 4. We need to be constructive, not destructive. Humiliating is synonym of bullying. Despite the good reason, you are not allowed to bully anyone. You can ask maanger/hr for a formal complain to the employee Feb 15, 2016 at 11:03

your options for responses range from passive aggressive to secretive.

You can talk to this co-worker directly, and ask that they try to take some steps to reduce the odor. This is the best solution.

You can speak to their boss and request that the boss speaks on your behalf. This is less optimal, as it's very impersonal and quite likely to sow discord and dissent.

You can organize a group of your fellow office workers and ask as a group. This again, brings about dissent, mostly due to the appearance of 'ganging up'.

If you're interested in passive aggressive, keep a can of lysol or febreeze at your desk, and spray behind the individual whenever they walk past carrying their lunch. febreeze often and hard. If the co-worker inquires as to why you're doing so, tell them that something always smells bad around lunch time, then look thoughtful and mention the sudden epiphany that you seem to notice it whenever they walk past. say 'huh, whatever' and turn back to your work.

  • 4
    Sorry, I do not think being passing aggressive and trying to be cute by having an epiphany is very professional. People pick up on passive aggressiveness pretty easy. It will just make them self-conscious at work, which will make them less productive, and unhappy. Good work environments are not made just by the companies, but by the employees who also try to foster that environment. Aug 1, 2012 at 20:54
  • hence why it was one of several options. it all depends on the individual.
    – acolyte
    Aug 2, 2012 at 3:25
  • 1
    I guess my point was to make clear the potential consequences of choosing said option. Aug 2, 2012 at 18:40

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