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Flatulence and Body Odor in the Workplace

The Smoking Gun reported on a Social Security Administration ("SSA") worker in Baltimore who was reprimanded for passing gas in his cubicle. Apparently this is conduct unbecoming of a federal officer. (Really, and yet cheating on taxes, lying, and promiscuous activity among elected politicians -- also federal officers -- is not unbecoming? Go figure.)

It's a very interesting article. If you have time, check it out at http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/coworkers-attacked-by-gas-645132. There is even a photo of the portly federal officer with his wife standing next to Pepe Le Pew at an amusement park.

The SSA kept a log of the worker's flatulence over a two-month period. The letter of reprimand included the dates and times of his smelly offenses. (Can you believe that some sucker had to endure the gas and take notes on it as well?) The reprimand was for unprofessional and discourteous behavior toward co-workers.

The worker indicated that he would try Gax-X, an over-the-counter medication to help his condition. He also suggested turning on his fan to dissipate the odor. Apparently, this was unacceptable to others in the area. (Those far enough away not to smell the gas, did not want the odors fanned to their cubicles.)

The SSA has now withdrawn the letter of reprimand. I don't know whether or not this is because the man is no able to control his outbursts. Perhaps the SSA is attempting to avoid a lawsuit based on the ADA. Or perhaps the union was just successful in negotiating the withdrawal of the letter.

Unfortunately, bad smells coming from a particular person is not an uncommon occurrence. I have had the situation arise with clients on multiple occasions. Can an employer do anything about it? Sure. The only complication arises when the smell is the result of a disability as opposed to a bad habit. For example, to the employee who does not shower regularly, a reminder, or reprimand is acceptable. However, if a medical condition gives rise to a problem, then an employer must also consider reasonable accommodations. I don't think this means allowing a certain amount of flatulence per hour. Perhaps measures could be implemented such as more frequent breaks to visit the restroom, an office in the "north 40", communications between the worker and others via telephone or computer, or air fresheners or other devices to eliminate or trap the odor.

It is never a pleasant experience to confront an employee with a smell problem. But don't let the problem linger. Address it quickly. Get moving quickly on a solution.

And thank your lucky stars that you do not work for the SSA in Baltimore!

The information contained in this blog is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.No recipients of content from this site, clients or otherwise, should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in the site without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient’s State. The content of this blog contains general information and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts, or settlements. Doug Larsen and Fishman, Larsen, Goldring & Zeitler expressly disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this blog.

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