Gas attack: employer raises stink over worker flatulence

by |

From telling an employee they smell to enforcing the dress code, HR is all about tough conversations. Unfortunately for a Baltimore man, one conversation wasn’t enough to prevent him being formally warned about his gassy problem.

A Social Security Administration employee received a five-page letter addressing the issue, complete with a log of dates and times when he was caught passing wind. No word on who was responsible for keeping track, but it does indicate that his “busiest” day was September 19, with nine incidents recorded between 9.45am and 4.30pm.

The December letter accused him of “conduct unbecoming a federal officer,” and claimed he had created an “intolerable” and “hostile” environment for coworkers, several of whom lodged complaints with supervisors. It also outlined conversations he had between May and August 2012 with his supervisor and other managers, one of whom asked him if he could make it to the bathroom before “releasing the awful and unpleasant odor”. The 38-year-old man reportedly told the company he suffered from lactose intolerance and intended to try an over the counter product to fix the problem.

The author of the letter, the man’s module manager, said he didn’t believe a medical condition was causing the problem, specifying “nothing that you have submitted has indicated that you would have uncontrollable flatulence. It is my belief that you can control this condition.”

A SSA “Deputy Division Director” also reportedly told the worker he “could not pass gas indefinitely and continue to disrupt the work place.”

While it’s a funny story for those who aren’t dealing with it, here’s a serious question: as HR professionals, what would you do about this situation?

  • Doris Wagner on 2013-01-18 12:30:05 PM

    This is a tough one. I guess in this instance the employer could ask for medical proof (diagnosis,prognosis) and maybe think about accommodation if a true medical issue is present?

  • Anna Zappia on 2013-01-25 10:57:51 AM

    Wow! I'm surprised that it took so long for H.R. to follow-up with the employee and get him to seek medical advice for his 'problem'. Of course, the company's benefits administrator (or H.R.) should have medical 'proof' for the disability'. The next step, in my estimation should be either an accommodation, if feasible, or a visit to the Employee Assistance Program providers for assistance. If the company does not get a diagnois within a sepcified time, they should start down the performance management trail. Sounds like this guy might just be passing bad behavior along with his wind.

  • Bonnie Reid on 2013-01-30 9:15:33 AM

    We accomodate scents in the workplace for those folks with sensitivities; and here we have a man whom passes gas (we all pass gas); help him out; get some medical help and then have him attempt to accomodate his fellow workers by passing gas outdoors/in bathrooms or non-busy areas... common courtesy to both sides is in order. A hostile environment? Give me a break, intolerable, open a window... sounds like they are ganging up on him.... Respect from all parties are required; as I'm quite certain it has nothing to do with his actual job performance....

HRM Online forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions