The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

January 12, 2013

Fed agency retracts reprimand to flatulent worker

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 reprimand letter, which runs four pages and is dated Dec. 10, 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 says coworkers didn’t want to work with the person because of the problem, which the employee seems to have attributed to lactose intolerance. The letter also contains a chart documenting 60 instances of flatulence, nine on one day in September.

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

Social Security Administration spokesman Mark Hinkle said Friday in a two-sentence email that the reprimand was rescinded a week after it was issued “when senior management became aware of the reprimand” and that the agency, which has its headquarters in a suburb outside of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 get to the bottom of the smelly situation with the employee beginning in May, when the employee’s supervisor brought up the topic during a performance discussion.

The author of the reprimand letter, a manager, confronted the employee in July, noting several coworkers 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 happened, but the letter writer says that solution wasn’t 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 letter writer chastises.

Later, 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 also asked that the employee 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 work place,” the letter says.

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

“It is my belief that you can control this condition,” the letter writer says.

The employee’s flatulent episodes were then documented by date and time over a three-month period beginning in September. The letter does not explain how the record was made.

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