Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers.

Q: For the past few months, my co-worker has been cooking frozen fish and vegetables in the common work microwave every day for lunch. He cares deeply about nutrition and is also very busy, so keeping a stash of frozen food at work saves him time and energy.

The smell that this cooking process creates, however, is potent, lasts for at least half an hour, and makes me and many others feel nauseated. The smell is worst in my co-worker's office, but the entire open space where we work also reeks. Clients come to our floor sometimes, and I think it is embarrassing and unprofessional that they are greeted by the stench of microwaved fish.

I do not feel comfortable bringing this up with my co-worker. I also don't really want to be identified; is it crazy to send HR an anonymous note about the situation before I go? I am leaving the office soon, so part of me wonders if I should drop it.


Oh, fer cod's sake. Plenty of busy, health-conscious professionals understand that they are not entitled to sicken their co-workers for the sake of convenience. That's why you won't find me standing in front of the open office fridge, wearing sweatpants and eating peanut butter from the jar with a plastic takeout knife.

But, as with dress codes, some people need explicit guidance on office-kitchen etiquette.

Without naming names, explain the problem to HR - or to your boss, if that would be more effective. Be sure to cite the effect on productivity and professional image, especially if you can convey actual client reactions. Then ask for an official microwave policy that sets comprehensive standards. Surely you have co-workers who incinerate popcorn or leave red-sauce stalactites for others to clean up.


If that feels too passive-aggressive, or if your resident pescatarian really is the only offender, you can always take a deep breath (through your mouth) and politely ask: "Would it be possible for you to cook something other than fish for lunch, or to bring in precooked seafood that doesn't need reheating? The smell tends to be overpowering, even over where I sit." I imagine the gratitude from the rest of your soon-to-be-former co-workers would more than outweigh any resentment you may stir up with him. That is, until he starts leaving unrinsed sardine tins to ferment in the trash.