If You can’t get rid of Bad Breath, can an Employer get rid of you?

Halitosis in the workplace: It’s one of those things that can instantly put you off your lunch or, if you’re the one with the odor problem, may get you in hot water with your superiors. But can it get you fired? Should you get rid of bad breath before your boss starts toying with the idea of getting rid of you?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers here, which is why eliminating halitosis should be a top priority. Freshen your mouth, banish bad breath and keep your superiors happy.

Of course, before federal law made it illegal to fire people for physical disabilities, it seems possible (if not likely) that a person could have been fired for having halitosis. That’s certainly the drift of the propaganda that used to be slipped into ads for ineffective mouthwashes.

Around 1930, alcohol-based mouthwashes were marketed as being the only thing standing between you and the bread lines. Here’s some choice copy from a couple of the hokier ads:

- “Get rid of halitosis – It may get you fired!”

- “You can’t blame a man for firing an employee with halitosis to hire one without it.”

- “Don’t fool yourself! Since halitosis never announces itself to the victim, you simply cannot know when you have it.”

That last bit is certainly true. Your oral odor doesn’t exactly formally introduce itself every time you get it. Instead, you have to be extra vigilant in order to notice when you’ve got halitosis. This may mean occasionally licking the back of your hand and sniffing it to see if you detect a scent.

If you do, try popping a mouth-wetting lozenge or a piece of oxygenating specialty gum into your mouth. That can get rid of bad breath in seconds, right at your desk.

But really, could halitosis ever actually get you fired? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that it’s illegal. But stranger things have happened, and right now few employers are being very forgiving. Consider a story that appeared a few years back in the New York Daily News: A 60-year-old doorman was suspended for having halitosis, even though he used mouthwash and mints (once again proving that specialty products are a must).

Even though he’d had the job for 40 years and used it to support his 81-year-old mother, the man received an unsympathetic letter from his employer stating “we can no longer tolerate the fact that you have severe breath odor while on duty.” Yeesh.

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