Q: We’ve had some complaints about pungent leftovers. Can we tell employees not to heat up stinky foods in the office breakroom microwave?
A: Great question! While there are no legal guidelines you have to follow, I would recommend sensitivity when addressing this issue. You definitely want to avoid making comments about certain types of food that could be interpreted as being directed at any ethnic populations in your workplace. Here are a few ideas you might consider:
- Ask employees to refrain from microwaving pungent foods—in policies of this sort, we typically see mention of foods like fish and microwave popcorn.
- Place the microwave in a space away from the break room and working areas.
- Create an alternative break area for those who are sensitive to smell.
"While there are no legal guidelines you have to follow, I would recommend sensitivity when addressing this issue."
Ultimately, employees should be cognizant of the fact that they share a workspace with others who may have different food preferences. Not all food aromas can be eliminated, but some common courtesy from all parties can go a long way. It’s not unheard of for employers to remove the microwave from their workplace because of the issue you’ve described, but I would not recommend this step unless you have exhausted other alternatives.