Gas attack: employer raises stink over worker flatulence

by Caitlin Nobes11 Jan 2013

From telling an employee they smell to enforcing the dress code, HR is all about tough conversations. Unfortunately for one Baltimore man, a stern 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 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?


  • by John 11/01/2013 2:26:40 PM

    Would 'firing' him send the whole place up in flames?

  • by Chris Walter 11/01/2013 2:30:56 PM

    Why is this a HR issue? And why are difficult conversations constrained to HR, also?

    This is clearly a local leadership issue.

    I wonder if the logged activities came from his supervisor in order to duck-shove the issue 'up the chain' thus abbrogating one of their responsibilities to correct undesirable workplace behaviours.

    I honestly feel for HR types burdened with this type of increasing nonsense.

    HR's job is not being a dumping ground for 'too hard' or uncomfortable human relationship issues, or their direct resolution.

    Their job is not putting out frontline spotfires, but providing advice to the frontline and their management on best practice.

  • by Maria Crabb 11/01/2013 3:21:31 PM

    A very tricky situation which needs to be handled carefully. Education in my view is always the best starting place. Also good to link it to your organisations values i.e. the behaviour is not in line with teamwork or respect.