Should it be handled as a health problem that needs remedying? Or a deliberate nuisance worthy of reprimand?
Washington Post writer Josh Hicks recently wrote about a Social Security Administration employee accused of continuously “passing gas and releasing an unpleasant odor” that created a “hostile work environment.” The story prompted more than 800 online comments from readers, from those who joked “Don’t ask, don’t smell,” to those who suggested possible health reasons, like undiagnosed lactose intolerance.
The federal agency officially reprimanded the Maryland man with a letter in December citing “60 documented instances of the worker passing gas in his office during a period of about 12 weeks.” But when the letter was publicized on the Smoking Gun website, the agency rescinded it, the Post reported.
According to the Post, the employee said he would purchase Gas-X for the problem, and he provided the agency with proof of medical conditions that could prevent him from working full days at times, but the disability operations manager told him in the letter: “… nothing that you have submitted has indicated you would have uncontrollable flatulence. It is my belief that you can control this condition.”
As the Post’s Hicks writes, “it’s hard to keep a straight face on this one,” but this kind of digestive problem is no laughing matter—especially if you’re the one sitting nearby.
Diet is the most obvious culprit. Certain foods can cause flatulence because they are hard to digest, including beans and lentils, certain vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage), dairy products, and foods or drinks sweetened with sorbitol, according to WebMD. The Mayo Clinic says excess intestinal gas—belching or farting more than 20 times a day—can also be a sign of an intestinal disorder, including gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance or acid reflux.
Less well-known is that flatulence can be a side effect of certain prescription drugs, including some cholesterol-lowering medications (Questran, for example), heartburn medication and some diet drugs.
Although producing intestinal gas is a normal occurrence, doing it excessively—to the detriment of those around you—can be a sign of a serious health problem. Instead of a reprimand, maybe the employee just needs to be required to see a doctor for a cure.