In one of the more novel federal disciplinary actions that I have encountered, a federal employee in Baltimore was given a formal reprimand for excessive workplace flatulence — a reprimand that involved a remarkably wide range of reviews and supervisory interventions. The 38-year-old Maryland employee, who insists that he is lactose intolerant, was the subject of an actual log recording his “release [of] the awful and unpleasant odor.”
The December 10th letter detailed the flatulence basis for the change of “conduct unbecoming a federal officer” by the Social Security Administration employee and how his “uncontrollable flatulence” had created an “intolerable” and “hostile” environment for coworkers. The letter states that, despite his claims of a medical reason for the gas, there is no evidence of a medical condition by the employee to establish “uncontrollable flatulence.” The employee is represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which has supplied the gaseous worker with a lawyer (and presumably a breathing apparatus). One site has shown the employee posing with a Disney character. You guessed it, it is Pepe Le Pew.
The letter details a series of meetings with supervisors over the course of months. Interventions sought to stop the employee from turning on his fan during eruptions which tended “to spread and worsen the air quality in the module.” In another meeting a third supervisor was called in and this SSA “Deputy Division Director” warned the worker about his “continuous releasing of your bodily gas and the terrible smell that comes with the gas.” The worker told the manager that he was thinking of buying Gas-X after
He was finally presented with a log showing “the time of your flatulence” — listing 17 separate dates (and 60 specific times). Notably, on September 11th, the worker was accused for releasing gas on three separate occasions.
Now here is my question. How does the SSA quantify or measure the level of flatulence as the basis for a formal disciplinary measure? I am not sure of the baseline if some flatulence is considered normal and permissible. We have seen actual flatulence-based criminal charges which have the same interpretive problem. Moreover, if the employee is lactose intolerant, does this make the gas a medically protected condition or disability? I assume that lactose intolerance is considered a controllable condition and does not constitute a disability — except to those around you.
If this is considered controllable, would the continued release constitute a form of battery or negligence or nuisance or even an intentional infliction of emotional distress?
What do you think?