Several months ago, we advised a suffering employee in “My Co-Worker Has A Major Flatulence Problem”. In case you missed it, a similar air quality issue was recently covered in The Smoking Gun and then picked up by the Washington Post, Associated Press and NPR after a government agency reprimanded a “flatulent federal worker”.
I thought, “At last! A definitive way to handle a chronic office complaint!” Then I read the story and thought, “Something still smells.”
For those of you too “busy” to read the articles, here are the main points:
- The Social Security Administration reprimanded an employee for creating a “hostile working environment” by regularly passing gas at the office.
With my investigator hat securely placed on my head, my first question was how one distinguishes between hostile flatulence and “Whoops! I did it again!”
- The reprimand letter described the repeated flatulence as “conduct unbecoming a federal employee.”
[Insert your own joke about members of Congress here].
- The reprimand contained a chart documenting 60 instances of flatulence – including exact times, nine on a single memorable day in September.
I am dying to know exactly how they gathered this information. Was it an audio test? Olfactory? Both? I have a mental image of some poor clerk hunched over and following the gassy employee around all day with a clip board, pen and strangely sour facial expression. As the panelists on NPR said – Worst. Job. Ever. There is no report (yet) of the documenting employee filing his or her own harassment claim or perhaps a request for early retirement due to such hazardous working conditions.
Before any of you Super Organized Supervisors start issuing reprimands to anyone spreading strange smells around the workplace, read on. Once it became aware of the situation, the SSA’s senior management revoked the reprimand and refused to comment about the matter due to “privacy concerns”.
That makes sense. Flatulence should not be labeled as harassment unless management can prove it is a well-controlled variety that can be released at Will. Or Grace. Or anyone by any other name.
Readers – let loose. When (if ever) do you think it would be appropriate to reprimand or otherwise discipline an employee who regularly passes gas at work?