Flatulent worker's reprimand rescinded

Sunday, January 13, 2013
The Social Security Administration's main campus is seen in Woodlawn, Md., Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. The federal agency issued an official reprimand to an employee after months of flatulence problems, but the agency says it has since retracted the rebuke. A four-page reprimand letter dated Dec. 10 charges the employee with "conduct unbecoming a federal employee" and "creating a hostile work environment" because of the repeated gas passing. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON -- A federal government agency did more than wrinkle its nose at an employee's flatulence problem, issuing an official reprimand after months of malodors. But the agency said Friday that it has since retracted the rebuke.

The four-page reprimand letter is dated Dec. 10 and charges the Social Security Administration employee with "conduct unbecoming a federal employee" and "creating a hostile work environment" because of the repeated gas-passing.

It said co-workers didn't want to work with the person because of the problem, which the employee attributed to lactose intolerance. The letter contained a chart documenting 60 instances of flatulence, nine on one day in September.

The letter was posted on The Smoking Gun website with names blacked out.

Social Security Administration spokesman Mark Hinkle said in a two-sentence email Friday that the reprimand was rescinded a week after it was issued "when senior management became aware of the reprimand" and that the agency, which has its headquarters in a suburb outside of Baltimore, could not comment further because of "privacy concerns." He declined to say the employee's gender or where the person worked.

According to the letter, at least three people tried to address the situation with the employee beginning in May, when the employee's supervisor brought up the topic during a performance discussion.

A manager who wrote the reprimand letter confronted the employee in July, noting several co-workers had complained and asking if "you could make it to the rest room before releasing the awful and unpleasant odor." The employee apparently offered to try not to pass gas and to turn on a fan when it did happen, but the manager said that solution was not satisfactory.

"I explained to you that turning on the fan would cause the smell to spread and worsen the air quality in the module," the manager wrote.

After a conversation with a deputy division director, the employee blamed the problem on lactose intolerance and offered to purchase Gas-X. The deputy division director asked the employee to investigate a medical explanation.

"He asked that you check with your doctor to see if there are other options to help you address your flatulence and that you could not pass gas indefinitely and continue to disrupt the workplace," the letter states.

The employee submitted information about medical conditions but nothing indicated "that you would have uncontrollable flatulence," according to the letter.

"It is my belief that you can control this condition," the manager wrote.

The employee's flatulent episodes were then documented by date and time for three-months beginning in September.

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