Government Agencies

Reprimand Scrubbed for Workplace Flatulence

Ben Popken, TODAY contributor
Hostile Work Environments: Flatulence in the Office

It sounds like a "Dilbert" cartoon come to life, but the Social Security Administration has taken back a reprimand it gave to an employee who was written up for "passing gas and releasing an unpleasant odor" that created a "hostile work environment."

The official charge was "Conduct unbecoming a Federal employee." More specifically, "On September 7, 2012, and continuing, you disrupted the work floor by passing gas and releasing an unpleasant odor."

A copy of the letter, along with a picture of the employee at an amusement park standing next to an actor in a Pepe Le Pew costume, was published on

The letter included a time-stamped log accurate to the minute, documenting 60 separate-gas passing incidents from the employee in his office in three months, or about 9 per day.

The average person passes gas 14 times per day.

Medical conditions such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance, can cause sufferers to have chronic gas problems. The employee told management he was lactose intolerant.

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"You have submitted medical evidence that you have some medical conditions," the letter read, "however, nothing that you have submitted has indicated that you would have uncontrollable flatulence. It is my belief that you can control this condition."

Several of the employee's coworkers in the "module," or work area, had complained to management about the smell. A supervisor, Deputy Division Director and a Module Manager all spoke with the employee on separate occasions about his need to control his flatulence.

"You said that you would try to pass gas and that you would turn your fan on when it happens," the Module Manager wrote of a discussion that took place on May 18, 2012. "I explained to you that turning on the fan would cause the smell to spread and worsen the air quality in the module."

On August 14 the employee promised to purchase Gas X in order to limit his gas output.

Another incident, dated August 15, noted: "You have continued to release the odor and it has become intolerable to work in the module creating a hostile work environment for all your coworkers."

The letter quoted guidelines from the "Annual Personnel Reminder" and "2012 SSA/AFGE National Agreement" which the Module Manager claimed the employee had violated, including "courtesy and consideration while dealing with coworkers" and "refrain from coercive, intimidating, loud or abusive behavior."

If the "misconduct" was continued after the reprimand letter, it could lead to "more severe disciplinary action ... including, removal from federal service."

Reached for comment, SSA spokesperson Mark Hinkle told TODAY, "A reprimand was issued to the employee; however, when senior management became aware of the reprimand it was rescinded on December 17, 2012. The agency cannot comment further due to privacy concerns. "