coworker is wetting his pants regularly — what do I do?

A reader writes:

I found your blog while searching for help with a very uncomfortable and embarrassing problem. My co-worker has started wetting himself during work. I’m not kidding, this is not something to joke about as it could be a sign of serious health problems.

He wears beige colored pants and around the middle of the day, when he stands up, you can see a very large stain running down his pants. To make matters worse, he does not wash his pants, so one can see dried urine stains from previous days – by Friday it’s pretty bad.

What do I do? It’s very uncomfortable, it doesn’t smell good but besides the selfish thoughts of how it makes me feel, what about his health? Shouldn’t someone say something to him, based on health concerns alone?

I’ve mentioned this to his manager, he refuses to do anything. I’ve mentioned it to the HR director he said he would take care of it. Yet the problem persists.

Please advise – this is not something that is a very common problem so not getting much help by googling it.

Um. My first thought is that there’s no way this guy doesn’t know that it’s happening, but I suppose it’s possible that he really doesn’t. But it pretty much has to be a medical problem, right?

My next thought is that HR didn’t handle it even though they said they would because they’re too uncomfortable, which is a lame cop-out, and you should go back to them and tell them that they’re doing this guy a disservice by allowing this to become a noticeable thing in the office

Normally I would say that if you are at all close to this coworker, you could consider talking with him yourself … but realistically, few people would have the balls for that, and anyway, this is a job for HR and they should do it. How about enlisting your own manager in helping you push for them to handle it?

You might also show HR this post, which has tips for talking to an employee about body odor, and there’s some stuff there that could be adapted.

One thing I mention in that post is that I think when there’s something really awkward to be addressed, it helps to think about how you’d want it handled if it were you. But I really have no idea how I’d want someone to say this to me (and I’m feeling pretty grateful to have bladder control just thinking about it).

What do you guys think?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Mneiae*

    That is one of the most disgusting things that has been posted so far. It is worse than the interview-poo incident. I hope that she takes your advice to approach HR and the guy's manager again to take care of the problem.

  2. utterfolly*

    This could definitely also be a mental health problem – letting personal hygiene slip is common in serious depression and other mental illnesses. It may be purely physical, but either way, somebody needs to step up and address the issue, for his sake and his coworkers' sake. It's unfortunate that his manager and HR both seem to be unwilling to do so.

  3. Deirdre*

    I am just curious. Why does HR need to address this? Where is the supervisor? Surely this guy works for someone and that someone is responsible for this in part responsible for the resolution of this issue. Certainly HR can be part of the conversation but is not the only part.

  4. Barbra,*

    good answer, and I'd like to second what utterfolly said "This could definitely also be a mental health problem"

  5. Joseph Marsh*

    I wonder if I'm the only one thinking "Someone is pulling your leg"? I'm all for a good prank, and this definitely smells like one (pardon the pun).

  6. Anonymous*

    It does sound like a major health problem. Prostate problems could cause a loss of bladder control, but that wouldn't be the cause of him then wearing the same soiled pants every day. I would suspect a mental health issue, especially if there are other signs of depression or another mental health problem.

    And if HR refused to do anything about it, I would honestly look into contacting social services, to see if they could make a house call and confirm that everything is all right. I realize many people wouldn't want to interfere in a co-worker's private life or involve the authorities but that's what I would do.

  7. Anonymous*

    Reply by the Original Poster – Concerned and Grossed Out

    I don't know how to make it say it's from the person asking the question without signing in and betraying my identity…

    This is not a joke, no one is pulling anyone's leg. I can't tell you how disturbing it is to have to work with this problem. The person I'm speaking of works in the same room I do, so it's something I get to see 40 hours a week.

    This person has had mental issues in the past, plus he's diabetic. I'm thinking it has to do with both issues – physical and mental.

    I guess I just have to suck it up and ask HR about it again. I've mentioned this more than once already to his supervisor, he basically said "No way am I touching that one". HR just said "Thanks we'll take care of it".

    It's really awful because I feel extremely disgusted by it but then I'm also very worried about the person, so I feel quite conflicted and kinda guilty for being so grossed out.

    I assure you, this is not a joke, I wish it was. If it wasn't a violation of privacy, I would post a pic.

    Thanks for the comments, I will have to ask HR about it again – maybe even take it to the owners.

  8. Anonymous*

    This is not a physical health issue. Someone with serious bladder control issues would be mortified, and do the utmost to keep themselves and their clothing clean. The fact he does not indicates either mental health issues or the fact he's doing it on purpose. He may have a sexual fetish about urination and wearing soiled garments, and is deriving stimulation from the stains, the smell, and knowing that everyone knows. If this is the case, HR should surely be involved, since his subjecting you to his arousal is sexual harrassment.

  9. Athena Marie*

    I second what an anon poster mention above. I work in a urology office and not being able to control your bladder is a HUGE sign that something is wrong and maybe you could approch the coworker in that manner. Mention that you are concerned for their health and suggest that he may want to bring in a spare pair of pants just for accidents. I'm not really sure how to bring up the subject of him possibly wearing adult diapers, but it would help so that the problem isn't visable to everyone.

    Those are my suggestions. Please keep us updated on this. I'd love to know how it goes.

  10. Anonymous*

    If this is indeed a real letter, it reminds me of a woman who used to work on my floor. She had bladder/incontinence issues, and she seemed to be in denial about it.

    My friend who shared the office with her said that you could smell the old, dried urine from across the room. But due to denial, the woman would not clean her office chair, would continue to wear the same pants after an accident earlier in the day, etc.

    As someone who has dealt with medical incontinence issues myself, I know how easily it can happen at work, at the store, or anywhere else where you would rather it not. However, I keep fresh changes of undergarments in my purse, and the (blessedly) few times that it has happened at work, I have gone to the restroom immediately to clean up and change if necessary.

    Sounds like this co-worker is just not dealing. And yes, it's unfortunately HR who will be called to step in. They, presumably, should have the discretion and know-how to address this with the employee.

    1. Original Poster*

      I appreciate your lack of belief but it is in fact really happening. I was going to post an update because it’s been 2 years since I originally posted and still nothing has been done.

      The only thing that has changed is he now wears dark colored pants so we can’t see the stains, but we can sure smell the urine, in fact, today it’s so bad it hits you like a ton of bricks when you walk into this office.

      I know it’s hard to believe, I wish I could upload a photo or give some other kind of proof. It actually hurts my feelings that when I tried to seek assistance for this issue, I get called a liar. I’m one of the ‘victims’ in this situation and it just rubs me the wrong way to have to try to prove that this is really happening. But I guess it is pretty fantastic to think this could actually happen in a work place in this day in age, so I can understand the doubt.

      1. bb*

        Something about the odor must give him pleasure. It may be that someone in his life was a bed-wetter and he relates the odor to some memories. So bottom line is that it is indeed mental health.

  11. Anonymous*

    If this is for real, I have two suggestions:

    1. Would having other people in the office mention this to HR make some people move faster?

    2. While you wait for someone to take him aside and handle it properly, is there any chance the rest of the office can pool some money and buy air freshners and plug-ins to make the office smell any better? Maybe when he's not around, Febreze his chair (thinking it's got some fabric instead of just being wood)?

  12. Anonymous*

    How many times can I say this is NOT BS?!?!?!?!

    Good God! I feel persecuted already. What do I have to do to prove that I go through this every f*ing day???

    Thanks guys, to the ones who are calling me a liar. Do you think it's impossible for someone to have this problem??? That I have to be lying about it???

    I would post a picture if I could. OMG, really????? Not only am I having to deal with this sh*t on a daily basis now I have to deal with being called a liar??????

    Great – really motivates me to approach HR again. Everyone can see the piss stains, they're f*ing disgusting. The guy is a programmer with a PhD in Nuclear Chemistry but does CFMC programming because that's all the job he can handle because of his mental illness.

    Thanks a lot to the folks who are calling me a liar. Really appreciate the support. Way to go, a-holes.

    -Original Poster

    1. Grace*

      I hope since you posted the situation with your co-worker has been taken care of. I’m sorry that some other people posted here and gave you grief. I can believe that, well, just about
      anything can happen in the workplace. Best wishes to you.

  13. Anonymous*

    The last post about putting in air fresheners is stupid.


    Seriously. I can see posting this problem here was a waste of time. I have tried to get help with this problem and I get responses just like this. Fabulous.

    Thanks for the support and F-U to the folks who doubted the sincerity of my original post.

    What the hell would you do when seeing someone going through a serious health crisis? Spray FeBreeze?? Really??? If that is any indication of how you handle your life, it must not be doing well.

  14. Anonymous*

    To the OP –

    I don't doubt the person you wrote about has a serious health problem. That is quite evident. However, you apparently like to write condescending words when you are in disagreement with others, including myself. I do not appreciate your choice of words, including "If that is any indication of how you handle your life, it must not be doing well." I understand you are angry and frustrated and are saying hurtful words, but it is still quite disrespectful when people are trying to help you and offer advice.

    Now, if you had calmed yourself down and taken a moment to actually put thought into reading what I wrote, you would see that my suggestion for clearing the air in the office is a "time filler" while you and your co-workers wait for an action taken by either your manager or HR (or both). It's to make it bearable as work continues. I'm not saying it's the end all solution – far from it actually. It is obvious you aren't going to say anything to him or any of your coworkers, but does that mean you have to subject yourselves to the stench? No.

    Now if you continue to think I'm stupid and don't have a handle on life, then there's nothing more I can do and wash my hands of this; I don't need to subject myself to someone's abusive tones online, especially from someone I don't know. I'm sure a few people are already there since you decided to use vulgar language and names to those who have voiced opinions. I wouldn't be surprised either if AAM thinks she wasted her time in answering this after your interesting choice of words in response. The situation really stinks no matter which way you look at it.

  15. Anonymous*

    Out of respect for the man's privacy, I would think HR and/or his manager would not say anything to OP about the action they take–or even acknowledge that any action is being taken.

  16. Anonymous*

    I wonder – does the coworker suffer from incontinence or hyperhydrosis? Overactive sweat glands would also produce the stain/discoloration described in the original post – and is equally difficult to treat.

    Personally, I'm the person that would invite the individual out to lunch and say "Hey, we noticed. We're worried something is wrong. It's none of our business, but if we can help, please let us know."

  17. Anonymous*

    Original poster – I'm sorry you're feeling beaten up.

    Here's my advice: document, document, document. Take the problem back to HR as soon as you have five more instances of it. Just start a notebook, and jot down the time/date you notice an incident.

    "Mon 5/24, 10:00 a.m.
    Strong urine odor coming from Joe's chair
    Mon 5/24, 2:30 p.m.
    Joe had accident, returned to desk with pants still wet" … and so on. Show them that this is a serious and ongoing problem.

    Frame the issue as something that is severely affecting YOUR productivity and concentration, and let HR deal with the mental/medical issues.

  18. Anonymous*

    Maybe you could leave an anonymous note "I've noticed _____ and am concerned that you may have an undiagnosed medical problem." Include the name and number of a local family physician AND a local urologist. After that, nothing else to do.

    You could be commended for your concern. Shame on those who thought this was a joke. Sometimes people cannot help themselves and need sympathetic folks like our concerned co-worker who are trying to help and be kind at the same time instead of just turning a blind eye.

  19. Anonymous*

    Hi All,

    I'm the OP checking back in. I apologize for my hasty words. Yes, I felt beat up on and the Febreeze comment sent me over the edge.

    I requested air freshener – a glad plug in. I have also mentioned this to the HR Director twice since I posted this. I will keep on saying something, every day, until someone addresses this issue.

    The HR Director and the Director of the of the person in question or equal level, so one cannot tell the other what to do with his employees. The person in charge of the person in question refuses to address the issue, flat out and no one is going to make him talk to his employee.

    All I can do is continue to point out when the stains are present, which is every day once before noon then once again around 2pm.

    I don't know what's going on with the person in question. I don't know if he knows and doesn't care – could be that because he's been asked to wear clean clothes to work because the smell was bothering people and he just became irritated that he was being imposed upon.

    For me, this person's health is the biggest issue here. He is a diabetic and this, to me, is a symptom of disease progression. While I feel for his situation, I have rights too and am no longer afraid to say something. I should not have to work in this environment. It's truly disgusting.

    Thank you to all who have offered genuine advice, I appreciate it. I apologize to others who thought this was a hoax, I can see why people would think that, this is an extraordinary situation and I have to admit, I snickered a couple times to myself when writing my original post.

    So, will continue to report the stains, on a daily basis. I think the only place this can go is to the owners, eventually. They are going to have to be the ones to order the director in charge of the person in question to address this issue.

    1. Grace*

      I am so sorry that you have to put up with this kind of grief and
      that your managment has done precisely zero. While documenting everything, why don’t you file an OSHA complaint?
      Bodily fluids are a workplace hazard, violate the health code,
      OSHA, etc. If nothing else gets your management’s attention,
      an OSHA investigtor knocking on their door will embarass them into getting into gear and they will have to do something. (Note:
      I’ve ridden commute buses where the bus drivers wouldn’t let
      someone on with this kind of problem because it’s called
      “a biological hazard” and they are required to stop running the commute bus and bring in a clean bus. I’ve been on the commute bus and every now and again something like this happens, the bus comes to a screeching halt, the person has to be taken off, and a clean bus has to be brought out or we have to wait for the next clean bus behind us to pick us all up. The drivers are taught to handle biological hazards this way.

  20. Anonymous*

    OP –

    It's good you are now calm and taking this into your own hands. I think that's where the frustration lies – you feel rather helpless because the superiors of the company weren't handling the situation. Thank you for writing back with an update.

    Hopefully the plug-in is making it bearable although the sight doesn't go away with that. You have to do something while you work because you can't be in HR all day complaining. That just makes a bad situation worse.

    I wouldn't have equated this with diabetes. How old is the man? Is it possible he's developing a form of dementia? Don't laugh. Incontinence is a symptom of dementia; my grandmother suffered through that.

    Although I'm curious about one thing – you say he has been told to wear clean clothes in the past? Who told him? This is more than a medical issue now; it almost sounds like defiance now. That might be a second issue coming forth.

    What about your other coworkers? Are they taking the same measures as you? Is it possible you can all collaborate on an office letter to the owners – a letter of complaint written gently in case his eyes ever see it?

    I hope this works out. Whatever result comes about, please let AAM know.

  21. Anonymous*

    I knew a girl who had a weak bladder. Whenever she would laugh, she started peeing. Once she started doing Kegel exercises, she didn't pee in her pants. I would recommend this to your friend.

  22. Anonymous*

    Why is everyone so involved in other people’s business? If he wets his pants and HR doesn’t seem to mind that it could be getting on furniture, then you should do nothing. It is an invasion of his privacy to “Narc” on him, and I’d consider the snitch someone evil for not being able to talk to him directly, but instead go rat him out, etc… Personally, I think maybe he is testing other people to see who the rats are… He has the right to wet his pants if that’s his choice. To the writer of this post, do the world a favor and stay out of other people’s business, especially their crotches…

    1. Anonymous*

      Seriously? That’s pretty darned funny. You don’t have to spend 40 hours a week in an office filled with urine stench, and if you did, I bet you would be a touch more sympathetic to being imposed upon like that. It becomes my business when I have to sit 15 feet from it, all day, every day. I have a right to a clean work place free from the stench of bodily fluids.

      Since when is it a peer’s responsibility to deal with another peer’s behavioral issues at work? That’s what managers and directors do, but I guess you wouldn’t understand that, too complicated…

      If standing up for myself is considered being a rat, then I proudly wear that badge. You obviously have no appreciation for personal responsibility to the community to which one belongs. Sorry to see that. Please, feel free to crawl back into your hole now.

    2. Another Job Seeker*

      This could be an issue of health and sanitation, also. If the co-worker is wetting his pants and then sitting in places outside of his personal workspace (chairs in meetings, chairs in the breakroom, chairs in the cafeteria, etc.), he is potentially passing germs on to others who use the same chairs. I think it is absolutely the OP’s business. OP, I am sorry you are dealing with this. I know that the job market is terrible. I have been looking for a job myself for some time now – so I don’t say this lightly. Have you considered looking for another job? And possibly calling social services to help this person? Maybe calling social services after you leave – if you do not feel comfortable doing so while you are there. Best wishes to both you and your co-worker.

    3. Grace*

      Anon at 12:09 am:

      You can’t be serious? It is other peoples’ business. Human
      waste is called “a biological hazard” and is an OSHA violation.
      I’ve ridden commute buses where someone has this kind of
      problem and: 1) is not permitted on the bus because the operator
      is required by law to bring the entire bus to a halt and report
      the biological hazard and have a new bus brought out; or 2)
      some kind of accident like this has happened to a passenger
      and the bus operator is legally required to report it, everybody
      has to get off the bus, a new bus has to be brought out (and
      we have to wait for the bus behind us to pick us up).

  23. Anonymous*

    “He has the right to wet his pants if that’s his choice.”

    Wait… what? No, no he does not have the “right” to do this, as it is seriously impeding productivity for all of the other employees. By your logic, an employee should be able to do whatever he or she wants to do during work hours, as it is his or her choice. How far are you willing to go with this? Is it okay for an employee to poo on the floor by their desk because it is their choice? Is it okay for an employee to urinate on other employees because it is their choice? What about an employee engaging in sexually explicit activities at their desk? After all, it’s their choice! All of these actions would impede other employees from completing their job activities. Everyone has the right to a safe, clean, and productive workplace, and the OP is clearly in the right to be upset about their coworkers’ issue.

      1. Anonymous*

        Well pooping on the floor would require you to do some form of indecent exposure. Unless you have incredible finesse with your pooping abilities. I guess maybe if he peed on you through his pants, it wouldn’t be indecent either. Could still be considered an assault though. And for sexually explicit, that would require you to violate whatever office policy would be as far as sexual harassment goes.

    1. Anonymous*

      Thank you! It’s amazing the range of responses on an issue that seemed so clear cut.

  24. Anonymous*

    omg i am having the similar problem. i have a co-worker that i work with and I’m his boss, and have brought this same issue to the worker, the district mgr, and hr and still today he is employed. the worker feels like he doesn’t have a problem. but with in the 2nd hr of his shift he smells like he is siting in his dirty diaper, nor does the person wash his hands when he uses the restroom. what do i do because i dont know how much longer me and my other 10 co-workers can handle working with this 1 person who is so gross.

  25. Paula*

    I work for a major pharmaceutical company and have a female coworker (who wears a diaper) also urinating on herself and it soaks into the work chair. She then takes the soiled chair and moves it to someone else’s cubicle. This has happened at least 4 times in the past 18 months. This woman smells horrible because I know she doesn’t bathe on a regular basis and just sits at her work station all day. The only time she gets up is to go to the cafeteria to get food. She has rheumatoid arthritis and has had 2 hip replacements. She walks with a limp and is handicapped.

    The problem is management. They seem to be working very slowly to resolve the issue. I don’t know if HR is involved but she’s creating a very hostile work environment and she’s making huge mistakes in her work. They put her on a
    Performance improvement plan. She’ asks those around her for help with her work all of the time. They’re sick of it and I’m sick of it. The woman hardly works all day, makes a 6 figure salary and is allowed to make overtime but the work isn’t getting done.

    What should I do?

  26. bb*

    Mental health. What can you do? Just like cookies and cake or flowers it could be that he is experiencing flashback or old memories from the odor of a stained bed of a childhood bed-wetter.

  27. Office Manager*

    I hate wimps who can’t deal with issues like this. It may be difficult, but basically they are mistreating all other employees for one person. I’m sure your employee handbook clearly must mention hygiene. The other point I’d like to mention is what if this guy has some other disease? Plus the fact that someone has no care about their personal hygiene. I have no sympathy for that person at all because others are at risk in my opinion. Letting something go when it happens once is one thing, but an everyday occurance? The supervisor and the HR department are incompetent. Maybe they are the ones that need to be replaced.

  28. In Denial*

    This is exactly what’s happening at my work place. We work with a 600lb woman. She is unable to move on her own without pushing a chair around (the ones with five wheels). She has too much pride to help herself and get a walker or wheelchair. Everyday, she has a routine to push her chair to the car and either one of the co-workers or supervisor will retrieve the chair from outside and put it back in the office.

    Recently, we’ve noticed that she’s been sitting in the chair and scooting it around the office and when she leaves. We’ve also noticed that the chair is stained and wet but would be covered by a bag. It is obvious that she’s wetting her pants at work.

    It’s such an awkward thing to address and it’s becoming even more ridiculous that the supervisor is not addressing it with per or find alternative methods to assist her. Shouldn’t the employer be more involved – for the sake of the other people working in the office. How about sanitary reasons or just having a comfortable working environment – shouldn’t those reasons be enough to raise concerns? IDK. So difficult.

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