can my employer stop me from using the bathroom?

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A reader writes:

I hate to ask yet another “Can they do this?” question, but… can they do this?

Some backstory, I’ve been working full time as a salaried, non-exempt employee at my company for the past three years. Throughout the entirety of my time here, I have often stayed late, arrived early, and rarely (if ever) eat lunch away from my desk in order to complete everything on my plate. Basically, I work much more than the 40 hours a week I’m being paid for. I enjoy my job and pride myself on the work I do, so I do this happily and without complaining. I’ve also never received anything less than an excellent review.

I recently was pulled into a surprise meeting with HR, where they told me that I am taking too many bathroom breaks and it is becoming unacceptable. Now, without going too far into TMI territory, I will admit that I probably do use the restroom more often than the average person; I make it a point to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day, which, yes, does lead to that. However, I’d say that my bathroom breaks are usually no greater than five or six throughout the day, and no longer than 3-5 minutes at most. That would mean that at maximum, I’m taking a break of 30 minutes per day.

I did mention what I wrote above (spending more time at work than I am required and not taking lunch), but was told that that is my choice, and I am taking more time during work hours than I am allowed. They said that I should consider this an official warning, and that I am now allowed only three bathroom breaks every day, which I have to check out for, and if I need to take any more than that I need written permission from my supervisor.

I am absolutely furious about this. I am a grown woman who has been with this company for a good part of my adult life and now I am being treated like I am in grade school! Is it seriously legal and allowed for my company to monitor my the amount of time I go to the bathroom? Would it be different if it was due to a medical reason?

I have not talked to my supervisor yet since he was on vacation last week, but we’ve always had a good working relationship and I can’t imagine him caring about my visits to the restroom.

Run.

Seriously, run.

Not only is this ridiculous and degrading, but there’s also no way that there aren’t tons of other serious issues in your office. Any organization that would approach you like this has a load of other problems; you don’t get something like this happening within a well-managed organization.

Now, before I go any further, I’m obligated to point out that it’s possible that we’re not hearing the whole story here. In fact, Suzanne Lucas of Evil HR Lady recently wrote about a similar situation from the other side … but in that case the frequent bathroom-user had performance problems, and those were the real issue. You, however, have received consistently excellent reviews. (Of course, it’s certainly true that lots of bad managers give bad employees good reviews, because they’re wimps, and it’s possible that that’s the case here … but even then, your employer would still be awful, for lying to you about your performance and then trying to micromanage your bathroom usage instead of giving you straightforward feedback. And if that’s what’s happening, believe me, that is not a company you want to work for.)

In any case, back to your question. It’s almost certainly legal unless you have a medical condition that necessitates the bathroom breaks.

But the question should really be whether this is sensible or reasonable, not just legal, and the answer to that is a resounding no. Your employer shouldn’t spend even one second thinking about your bathroom usage unless it’s impacting your productivity, and if is impacting your productivity, then that’s what they should have addressed with you. It sounds like this: “Jane, I’m concerned because your productivity is lower than what I need from you. I need to see you start doing more A, B, and C , faster than you’re currently doing it.”

See that? No mention of bathrooms necessary.

People who instead respond the way your employer did are people without clarity about what you’re all there to get done, and how, and why. And a manager without clarity on those things is a Very Bad Thing, one that’s highly likely to make your life unhappy in other ways.

So I’d look elsewhere. But assuming that you don’t have the luxury of instantly changing jobs to one where you aren’t treated like a child, what should you do in the meanwhile? Personally, I’d sit down with the manager — not HR — and say this: “HR told me last week that I’m using the bathroom too frequently and they are limiting me to three bathroom trips a day. This seems bizarre to me, so I wanted to talk to you about whether something else is going on here. Are there concerns about my productivity or the quality of my work?”  And if she says no, then you ask, “If my work and productivity is good, why on earth would anyone pay the slightest bit of attention to my bathroom usage? Please tell me what this is actually about.”

(By the way, I also think it’s odd that HR handled this, rather than your manager. Did your manager even know about this? Either way, this isn’t something HR should be handling; your manager should. Which is yet another huge managerial problem with this company.)

But really, unless you find out that this was some rogue HR person who is now being dressed down in the sternest of terms, get out of there. You deserve better.

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 191 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    You know, while I was looking for that new job, I’d go to my doctor and get a written note from him indicating you have a condition that warrants your need to use the BR as necessary. You know…drinking lots of water necessitates more frequent BR use. This is just idiodic and I agree with Alison…what is REALLY going on?

    1. fposte

      A doctor’s note doesn’t actually give the OP anything legally, though, unless it’s related to accommodation under a relevant law, which obviously you’d have to be eligible for. And it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s going on here.

      Not that the policy isn’t grandly, copiously stupid; just that there’s not likely to be a legal defense against it via doctor’s note (or anything else, for that matter).

      1. Steve

        If you have a medical condition like I do (ulcertive colitis) american disabilities act protects you. I can go as much as I need and they cannot do anything about it.

        1. Paul

          When your productivity is lower than what my company requires because of your excessive BR breaks, I’d fire you. I manage a small fabrication shop, every employee’s productivity is important and I have been searching for what my rights as a company is for employees taking advantage of “bathroom breaks”. The comments in this thread and even the tone in this article is appalling. This is whats wrong with America’s workforce. If your bathroom breaks are even being discussed then 99.9% YES you’re in the bathroom too GD much. I have 2 kids in elementary school and I am friends with many teachers, I have discussed this matter with them and how they handle it with kids. They don’t allow 6-7 BR breaks in 8 hours!!! You have a RESPONSIBILITY to WORK when you are PAID to work. I have guys that clock in a 7 AM and go straight to the bathroom, GROWN MEN. That is taking advantage of your company and stealing time. I came out of the workforce and I’ve heard the jokes about getting paid to crap etc. . Don’t hide behind excuses like “you cant help but urinate 10x a day”. Whats happened is you’ve trained your body to go during work hours. I bet anybody who’s here complaining about a company restricting BR doesnt go 1/2 as much when they’re on their own time.

  2. v

    it is thin ice for HR to tread on because they don’t know if you do have a medical condition that requires more frequent than average bathroom trips. say something about “jeopardizing your health” see how fast they back track.

    But as difficult and as scary as it can be to do so, especially in this economy, sometimes you just have to tell your job to stfu.

    a coworker of mine recently told off a vice president for repeatedly taking over the worker’s desk. Yes, the VP has his own office but sometimes instead of walking down a 30ft hallway between his office and the conference room would sit at another employees station to work. Of course, the lower level co worker did not have the privilege of taking the VP’s desk when he did this. This left my coworker standing around waiting for the VP to be done and basically not working or trying to borrow time on someone elses station.
    the most recent and final time it happened my co worker basically told the VP off and said “this is my space, you don’t sit here. this is not for you.” everyone looked at what was happening the VP appeared mortified and hasn’t done it since.

    my point is something like monitoring bathroom breaks is so effing ridiculous you need to call them out.

    Tell them you are a grown woman and will go to the bathroom whenever nature tells you to. And no, you won’t be using their sign out system.

      1. Jamie

        I’ve been asked to develop and implement many metrics in my day…but this would be taking measuring and analysis to a whole new level.

        I love it though – and would do it if I were the OP. Sarcastic metrics…could be a niche worth exploring.

    1. Joe

      Hear, hear! Too many people put up with too much nonsense because they’re afraid to say no to The Powers That Be. Kudos to your coworker (though I might’ve suggested saying it a bit more politely, but maybe you were paraphrasing, or maybe the polite approach had already been tried and failed), and your advice to the OP is spot on. Tell HR it’s none of their business when you go to the bathroom.

      1. JOE

        I resently asked employees to cool it with Cell phone and text usage on the Job and no I have a spike of 25-30 min bathroom stops, give it a break people!!! i was out of work for 2 year, now im working! a 20 min break- 40 min lunch and I have a guy taking 2 to 3 bathroom trips at 15 to 30 min or more! thats not human, our right have nothing to do with it. FYI you work side by side getting paid the same money as the person next to you. they take an hour or more in the bath room and lets add 2 or 3 smoking breaks!!!! ( seriously) what would you do?? wake up people and work S%$t or get off the pot!! get a job from home

        1. Anonymous

          I work with a person who takes 2 breaks a day to have a bm each at 45 minutes. What if anything can be done regarding this ?

    2. Laura

      I was given a 4-week review and re-read it today. In the top, it says that I’m away from my desk a lot. I am NOT talking to other employees for long spells of time unless it’s work-related. So other than that, all I do there is bathroom and getting coffee (besides my lunch break), I wrote an email that I DID have a stomach issue in the last two days so I might have gone to the bathroom more. But to restrict my bathroom use for normal use is just not right. I can think of far worse things I could do.

      1. Laura

        Oh, and now, I’m making sure that I say “I’m going to so-and-so’s office; I’m going to the copy room, etc.” I’m thinking I might just say “I have to go do a poop in the toilet. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.” Geez!

    1. fposte

      I was wondering if the infamous pants-wetting guy worked at this office and had gotten the same warning.

    2. Aniau Jade

      I was also thinking, that maybe the OP should rent a port-a-john, and keep it next to their desk, then we will see if HR’s stink will match up. (Pun very much intended)

    3. HR General

      Ha ha ha ha…Just wait until you have found another job first to try this one. Seriously, this situation is insane. The only thing comparable that I have come across in my time in HR is a manager calling us (from an office in another part of the country) to request that we call a manager-level employee who reported to her, and tell her not to wear hats to the office anymore as they were “distracting”. Insane.

  3. Wilton Businessman

    Sounds like some nosy Nancy is peeved that you get some perceived advantage that she doesn’t and went to HR about it (assuming everything else you say is true).

    Personally, I’d make a running joke out of it. I’d stand up and say in the loudest voice I can, “It is now 10:15, I am going to the bathroom for anyone who is concerned. I will be back in approximately 3 minutes. Should you need to reach me in those three minutes, I will be in stall number 2!”

    1. Mike C.

      I suggest you take this one step further and conduct business/conference calls in the bathroom. Especially HR. Be sure to call and check in frequently.

    2. Kat

      This is totally what I am thinking. Another co-worker complained for some odd reason. That is the only explanation I can come up with as to why this would come up as an issue (still shouldn’t, but I’m just trying to think of a reason why HR would call OP in for that).

      And if I were the OP I’d immediately start taking my allotted breaks and lunch away from the desk. Go to the bathroom at those times while also giving herself the other 3 (allowed) pee pee times.

      1. HaHa

        And make it a point to make it very much understood that you will have to leave at 40 hours because you have used up you bathroom breaks for the day and you do not want to get in trouble for using too many breaks.

  4. Confused

    So, what…are they willing to offer you adult diapers or do you ‘hold it’ and risk an infection? Next up: limiting you to 5 sneezes a day and be sure you don’t go over your 12.3% allowance of oxygen in the office.
    As long as you are doing your work and getting back to the people who may have called while you were away from your desk, this is a red flag.
    Also, I wonder about talking to your manager.
    Alison, is it possible HR talked to the OP bc the manager didnt want to do it him/herself?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Very possible — but that’s a problem, because HR should have pushed back and told the manager that it was his job! (Well, and they should have pointed out that bathroom breaks are a non-issue. But they definitely shouldn’t have handled this type of thing for him.)

      1. Susan

        That was exactly my thought. The manager didn’t want to deal with the issue, so forced HR’s hand while s/he was on vacation (“this needs to be handled ASAP!”). I concur with other comments, that either this is a perceived performance issue that isn’t being addressed, or some whiny co-worker.

        Start visibly carrying an entire jumbo-sized box of Tampax back and forth from the bathroom. Just for “shame on you’s” sake.

        1. Erica B

          ^lol seriously.. there are times when women need to use the bathroom more frequently than other times. (trying not to get gross) But how bad would it look if a mess were made because a woman was forced to wait… or sometimes the coffee kicks in.. and then what?! This is crazy ridiculous

          1. mouse

            True story. A coworker started her period freaky early (she was one of those regular like clockwork people so it was a total surprise) and didn’t have any products on her, while wearing white pants. She was able to borrow the products from other coworkers. But when she asked her supervisor (another woman, for the record) to go home to change pants she was told that “smart women plan for these sorts of things”. She tried explaining the timing issue, to no avail. The trip home would have just needed a slightly longer lunch break than usual (and we had very flexible scheduling there).

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              What?! That’s crazy. And even if “smart women plan for these things,” that presumably doesn’t mean having extra pants with you at all times. I feel like this is a situation where you don’t ask permission; you just announce “I need to run home to fix this; I’ll be back within an hour.” And then you go.

  5. Anonymous

    Could the OP please clarify if they are exempt or non-exempt? If they are non-exempt and are working more hours than they are paid for, there is a much bigger issue here.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I meant to mention that and then got carried away with the bathroom outrage. Non-exempt employees can’t work extra unpaid hours “to be nice.” The employer has to pay those hours. And the fact that the hours were clearly brought to the employer’s attention and they just told her that was her choice — without either compensating her or banning her from working extra hours — is actually a problem (as it’s illegal not to pay her for that time).

    2. OP

      Man, I always get those mixed up, guess I chose wrong this time!

      I mean that I am exempt- the one where I don’t need to be compensated for working overtime.

      1. HaHa

        If you are exempt then they can still fire you for not getting your work done, but remind them that as a salaried exempt employee, if you work 5 minutes in a week you get paid the same as 59 hours. So if you are getting your work done, they cannot tell you how often to go potty. Sounds like a slave company.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Well, they can still put whatever restrictions on your breaks that they want and fire you if you violate them — they’d still have to pay you for that week, but it could be your final check.

          1. Exempt

            Absolutely they could fire her for violating their rule. But I would imagine their lawyers would be the ones needing to go to the potty after hearing she was fired for too many breaks and she is now suing because she does not fit exempt status because really how are you going to say they are making important decisions when you are saying they are not even competent to decide if they can go to the bathroom or not. Yeah, I would love to be in that room when they are trying to explain that to the guys from labor department.

          2. Sheesh

            Are bathroom really considered “breaks” as they are only 3-5 minutes (usually), whereas traditional breaks are 15 mins. Plus what idiot in D.C. gave co’s the right to be able to somehow forcibly regulate the human biological systems of their workers? If this is how workers are treated, then I want to start seeing convicted criminals out breaking rocks with a pick and axe, rather than pumping iron and watching cable all day (that my taxes pay for but which I can’t personally afford).

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              It’s less about D.C. giving companies the right, and more about not prohibiting it. Basically, people and companies can do whatever they want as long as a law doesn’t prohibit it, and in this case no law does (other than the already mentioned exceptions).

      2. Exempt

        Are you sure that you are exempt? That is to say, is your primary duty managing other employees? The reason that I ask is you state that your manager was out. That makes me wonder if you meet the job responsibilities requirement for exempt status. You may be in a learned profession, but that would typically mean you are doing the work of a profession, say someone with a license like an engineer or an architect who is actually signing the work, if you are not signing, you are more likely a technician which is non-exempt. A managerial exemption would require you to be allowed a say in the policies (and since they are telling you that you are not competent to decide when and how often you may go to the potty that would rule this exemption out). The final type of exemption would be administration. Obviously you are not HR, from the flsa website I got this:”Nor is administrative work exempt just because it is financially important, in the sense that the employer would experience financial losses if the employee fails to perform competently. Administratively exempt work typically involves the exercise of discretion and judgment, with the authority to make independent decisions on matters which affect the business as a whole or a significant part of it.” Again, since they decided that you are not allowed to exercise judgement, I would argue that makes you non-exempt. And if that is the case, looks like they owe you some money.

        1. akaCat

          I’m exempt and I’m nothing as rarefied as you seem to be saying, I’m a simple code monkey. And every other code monkey, software tester and business analyst everywhere I’ve worked is also classed as exempt.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yeah, it’s more complicated than the above. And if I’m remembering correctly, the definition of exempt says that all I.T. people are exempt, across the board.

            1. Jamie

              IT people can be hourly and exempt if they make over 27.63 per hour – and there are other criteria for salaried IT which depend as much (if not more) on the level of your knowledge and autonomy of your job.

              Tech support is typically hourly, not exempt – also many technicians.

          2. Exempt

            According to FLSA.com, “There is no general exemption for employees who “work with computers.” Many employees in the computer industry, or who work with computers in their jobs, will not be exempt employees. The following types of work are not likely to be exempt: Keeping tape libraries, inputting data, preparing flow charts or diagrams showing the order in which a computer must perform operations, preparing operator instructions, running computers, fixing computers (including “debugging”), staffing “help desks” (or “help lines”).” Further, from them (and they are labor lawyers), “There are, in addition, some special rules which apply to employees who work with computers and permit them to be classified as exempt even if they don’t meet the usual requirements for exempt executives or administrators. However, there are special provisions which exempt some computer employees who might not otherwise qualify as “professionally” exempt. These include systems analysts, programmers (who “write code”), or software engineers. More specifically, the special computer employee exemption applies to workers who apply systems analysis techniques and procedures to determine hardware, software, or system functional specifications, or who design, develop, test or modify computer systems or programs based on user or design specifications.” Basically they say that these positions, because of their specialized “learned” knowledge, makes them professional. Much like a Licensed Land Surveyor who did not go to school but learned how to survey under a mentoring system is exempt because they are professionals. But “(t)he special computer employees exemption does not include workers whose primary duties are manufacturing or repair of computer hardware, nor employees who are not primarily engaged in systems analysis, programming or software engineering even if their jobs are highly dependent on using computers. (An example might be drafters who use computer-aided design software.)” So, no not all computer people are exempt.

        2. Vicki

          no no no.
          Exempt has nothing to do with learned professions or managing other people. It has everything to do with whether you get paid by the hour and whether or not you are paid for overtime.

          However… “since they decided that you are not allowed to exercise judgement, I would argue that makes you non-exempt. ” does fit with what I understand. Also, if they are watching your breaks, that leans you toward non-exempt. And if you can prove that you SHOULD BE non-exempt, they owe you a lot of back pay.

          1. Exempt

            YES YES YES.

            According to Labor Law, it does have everything to do with this. It is called the Fair Labor Standards Act. Just because your boss does not pay you overtime does not mean that you are not entitled to it. At least not in America. My breakdown above was a simplified version of the FLSA. If you really want to know the brass tacks of it, start with a research of this law. You would be surprised the number of companies that think because you are salary that you are automatically exempt, this is not always the case.

  6. Laura

    Five’ll get you ten that one of your coworkers complained because you’re “never at your desk.” People are asshats who need to mind their own business but rarely do.

    1. Mamie

      Laura,
      You are so right; people seem to take pleasure in minding everyone’s business but their own. By pointing a finger at someone else, it takes the awareness off of them. Also, people are such control freaks anymore but it is really bad management. A good manager doesn’t have to be a control freak. I worked for the best of men and women and the worst of both as well. I would be careful if I was the one being watched for bathroom breaks. They may be setting her up and just using that as an excuse to get rid of her since her performance may be without fault. People always have their own agendas and someone may want to put their buddy in her job! (I’ve seen this kind of set up happen again and again–sad, but true!)

      1. tt

        I agree. It’s a power trip! There is something called human dignity.
        I have that problem as well. I can’t go 2 hours without a bathroom trip (which takes 2 minutes). Working with a full bladder is uncomforable and dangereous to your health. In addition, alleregy season makes it worse! One sneeze and if my legs aren’t crossed…
        This shouldn’t even be an issue. I work with kids and would be mortified if I ever had an accident in front of them. Remember we can’t just leave, so we have to time ourselves accordingly, so when that bell rings, wwe need to go and then we can deal with administrators who don’t seem to understand that when the bell rings again we have to be with the children again.
        What kind of society do we live in anyway? Are you sure an employer can tell you how often you can go?

  7. Anonymous

    Is it possible that this person has been spotted in the bathroom too many time re-applying make-up, talking on the cell, checking out physique, combing hair, clipping nails, shaving, sleeping in stalls, brushing teeth, changing clothing, and other non-essential bathroom needs on a daily basis? If that is the case, does that warrant HR to honestly do this?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If that were the case, they should still deal with it from a productivity standpoint. And if it’s not impacting her productivity, the manager should either give her more work or just deal with it. There’s nothing that would warrant limiting someone’s bathroom breaks; you deal with the bigger issue, whatever it may be.

      1. clobbered

        Wait, I read about this just today… here it is:

        “It’s difficult to make these qualitative judgements, but they’re still going to be more valuable than “did this guy put in his ten hours of work today”. Because as soon as you make it about hours, their job becomes less about code and more about hours.”

        http://zachholman.com/posts/how-github-works-hours/

      2. Wait wait

        Didn’t you say a few posts ago that employees excessively on facebook need to be talked to? Why weren’t you looking at that from a productivity standpoint? If productivity is fine why does it matter? Isn’t it the same thing?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Nope! I actually said “In most jobs, there are far better ways to assess productivity than to monitor employees’ computers.” Of course, later in the comments section, I said, “What I think crosses the line is staying logged into Facebook and Gmail all day (even if you’re not using it all day, being constantly accessible there/distracted by any new message notifications that pop up is contrary to the spirit of your employment agreement), IM’ing with friends, or other stuff that takes you ‘out’ of work for more than a few minutes total during the course of the day.” But I’d still approach it from a “hey, you need to be more focused on work / more productive” standpoint.

  8. Joanna Reichert

    Sure thing.

    Just tell your employer that you’ll comply with their demand, as long as they’ll agree that you don’t have to show up to work if you get chickenpox, or poison ivy, and that you cannot be held responsible for typographical errors, or fights with your coworkers, or billing mistakes that lose the company money – after all, you’re but a small child still learning to control yourself and deal with the real world.

    1. Aniau Jade

      I was thinking along of the same lines, but more in the direction of you have to take the “potty pass” with you, just in case you are stopped by the hall monitor.

      1. Kat

        Ah the big wooden paddle ‘potty pass’ that you had to drag through the halls – or basically the wooden version of the Scarlet Letter P.

      1. anon-2

        When our firm was taken over by another firm, we were given a complicated phone system — and we were given a list of codes to enter — ‘1’ if you are at lunch, ‘2’ if you’re out of the office, ‘3’ if you go to talk to another colleague, ‘4’ if you are in a meeting, I forget what ‘5’ was, and ‘6’ if you need to go to the rest room.

        I yelled out in the training session – I’m a professional. And I haven’t had to ask permission to go to the bathroom since I was in the third grade, and I’m not starting now.

        The session instructor was flabbergasted — but kept her composure and said “It’s up to your manager” who immediately chimed in, “I am not monitoring my employees bathroom habits.”

        What was scary is that someone was interested in tracking toilet time. WHY?

        1. Suzanne Lucas

          Aaack. That’s craziness. My senior management went through a phase where they wanted us to just categorize every phone call. This was not a call center, by the way. This was an HR department.

          So, we were supposed to enter a code after each call to describe why we were on the phone. Huge list. I asked, “Is the Sr. VP of HR required to do this?’ Of course, the answer was no. So, I said, “I’m not either.”

          And I didn’t. They gave out prizes for a while to the people who were most faithful, but then it all fizzled out when they realized it wasn’t yielding this fabulous helpful stuff.

  9. erin

    This policy is so completely ridiculous. I am like the OP and try to drink 64 oz a day, and that does result in more bathroom trips. How do they even know how many trips to the bathroom she is making? I wonder if it’s like someone else suggested: another employee complained because it seemed like the OP was never at his/her desk. And what if the OP were pregnant? When I was pregnant I think I had to use the bathroom every hour! It just can’t be helped sometimes. Something else definitely has to be going on here.

    This post reminds me of one of the reasons (among many) why I read this blog: my job really isn’t that bad.

  10. Kristin

    Ugh, that’s appalling. Do other employees have a limit on bathroom breaks? Do you have to get a hall pass to go to your manager’s desk to talk about it too?

    It can be really harmful to your health to hold it in- it can cause (and make worse) UTIs. I’d definitely try to leave the company ASAP.

  11. Cruella

    It does not say what this person does at the company. Is this a receptionist or a call center worker, where leaving to go to the restroom would leave a telephone line unmanned?

    1. erin

      Oh, good question! I used to be a receptionist, and if I had to use the bathroom, I had to get someone to cover the phones, which was both annoying and also like asking for a hall pass. Maybe that’s part of the issue here.

      1. Cruella

        Exactly! This might be a little more than HR playing “hall monitor.” We are only getting one side of the story, so it’s really hard to pass judgement on the HR department.

        Because some positions, such as receptionist, require someone be on post at all times, sending someone to cover the telephones, for what the OP admits is 30 minutes a day, could be problematic.

        Then, there is this. This person is being paid to work 40 hours a week. If this person is spending 30 minutes a day, away from their desk, that’s two and a half hours of company time lost each week. Perhaps someone has noticed that.

        Who is to say that the OP’s coworkers have not complained and HR has been dispatched to deal with it? If I had a dollar for everytime someone on my team complained about their coworkers over little things like this, I would be able to retire now.

        1. OP

          To clarify, I am not a receptionist nor do I work in a call center. The only phone I have to answer is my own :)

            1. saro

              No, she wasn’t saying that. A person at a call center or a receptionist has to have a person cover for them and therefore, taking frequent bathroom breaks may be a problem (I am not saying that they should not use the bathroom, just that s/he would need to work out a system to have someone cover for her). This is not the case here.

            2. Anon

              How the heck did you get that out of a 25 word comment? You are definitely reading too much into the OP’s comment.

          1. Mike C.

            You need to start making calls in the bathroom. Start checking in with HR at the start, during and after your bathroom break. Be sure to let them know when you have started washing your hands and the like. Separate calls for everything little thing you do.

        2. Vicki

          Again. no. An exempt employee is not “being paid to work 40 hours a week”. An exempt employee is being paid to get her work done. (Also, OP says she puts in more than 40 hours a week in any case AND she gets her work done.)

      2. Long Time Admin

        Me, too! Didn’t you just hate it? I always had trouble finding someone willing to come to the front desk when Nature called. Now that I’m old, when Nature calls, I run!

        1. Natalie

          Despite all of the things I dislike about my job, they’ve always been reasonable about covering the phone. I don’t even have to say why I’m leaving – if I want to run downstairs to the convenience mart and grab a soda someone will cover the phone for me.

  12. Katie

    My question to HR would be, “Who is the person who has so little to do with their time that they are monitoring my bathroom usage? Perhaps they’d like to do some of my work instead. It would be a much better use of the company’s money.”

    1. Dawn

      I agree. Some “hall monitor”-type employee who likes to keep track of other employees and their whereabouts at all times likely went to HR because he or she feels that OP is getting special treatment or is trying to get away with something. Obviously the person making the complaint has so little work to do that he or she has all the time in the world to log bathroom visits. I’m a manager and if someone came to me with a complaint like that, that’s exactly what I’d say. Then I’d make up the most tedious project I could think of and give it him, just to keep him busy.

      If I were in this situation I’d be sorely tempted to start up an Excel spreadsheet that tracks every possible violation, or percieved violation, of policy committed by every employee. Everything from too many bathroom breaks, to someone receiving or making a personal call, to someone cooking fish in the microwave. Then I’d turn the list in to HR and ask them to issue a warning to each and every person on the list. Just to show them what idiots they are. I realize that’s totally ridiculous, would make me look like the idiot, and would be a total waste of my time, but it’s nice to dream about.

      1. Dawn

        Oh, yeah – RUN, don’t walk, away from this place when possible. An HR department that would even consider making six bathroom breaks a day an issue is obviously comprised of a bunch of morons.

  13. Jaime

    My first thought was that maybe the OP worked in a call center with a phone system you have to “check out” of to go to the bathroom. Essentially, you always in queue until you press a button to show you’re on a scheduled break or “make busy” for something like a bathroom trip or grabbing a drink. I used to work in a call center and they monitored all of these. They didn’t monitor the specific number of trips to the bathroom but we were allowed a maximum amount of time in “make busy” per day before it was addressed by our supervisor. So, essentially the same thing. If I remember correctly, I think we had 10-15 minutes a day in addition to scheduled breaks/lunch. They also came right out and said that the fewer minutes in “make busy” the better.

    It’s ridiculous to count the number of times a person goes to the restroom, but in a call center type job they have to draw the line somewhere. I agree with Alison, it should have been addressed from a productivity if it’s really a problem. Even in a call center, I think anyone should be able to use the facilities as often as they need unless it is so excessive it is affecting their work.

    And I agree – run, start looking elsewhere to work. Did they even tell you why your bathroom trips were a problem?

    1. Anonymous

      I guess what I have learned from this discussion is that a call center position is the worst possible option for a white collar worker.

      1. Jaime

        lol … in a lot of ways, yes. It depends largely on the culture of the comany, the pay and your supervisor of course. Certainly not the worst – often casual dress codes, you’re not working in the elements, you don’t take your work home with you, sometimes clients send you gifts (haha, not really, that only happened twice to me), etc. Pros and Cons.

  14. Another Anon

    While I grinned at some of the snarky solutions, please don’t be snarky! A friend was put on warning when a misunderstanding led her to believe that her time off was approved when that was not what her manager intended. She felt it wasn’t her fault. She got angry and taped the conversation, implying that her manager went back on his word. She was fired, not for the unapproved time off, but for insubordination in her response. What a record to have a hiring employer seek out if you’re taking AAM’s advice and leaving!

    1. Emily

      Myth or not, some of us (*waves*) have to stay extremely hydrated or end up getting migraines, feeling ill, etc.

      I don’t know the OP’s reasoning, but it seems unfair to tell her “drink less water” when that’s not really the problem at hand here.

      1. Helena

        I’m reminded of this thread on smoke breaks: http://www.askamanager.org/2011/01/is-allowing-smoke-breaks-unfair-to-non-smokers.html Unless the OP is under doctor’s orders to drink that much water, the day’s fifth potty break is similar to a smoke break: being away from her desk as a result of a personal habit, not a medical necessity.

        Naturally, the advice from AAM in the smoke break thread is spot-on and consistent with this thread: management should be focusing on setting productivity targets and not quibbling over a few minutes if they’re not affecting productivity. However, AAM also agreed that giving more breaks to smokers than non-smokers was unfair. Extra breaks for water-drinkers (or caffeine addicts, or people who feel lousy without their mid-day jog) are in the same category, at least in my opinion.

        1. Anonymous

          Drinking water, which is necessary for life, and then having to empty your bladder, another necessity, is a personal habit? Wow. I didn’t know that.

          1. Anonymous

            It would be a personal habit if you were drinking water more than is necessary/ideal for life. Habits are not necessarily bad things – I look at them as things that can be adjusted, or things by choice. I got tired of waking up to use the restroom so I stopped drinking water before I went to bed. I’m certainly not dehydrated by doing so; it was just changing a personal habit.

            This post reminds me: there was a comic that had a set about the bottled water phenomenon. “Going across town is now like crossing the Sahara – you better carry your own water”

            1. Anonymous

              I agree that the amount of water can be adjusted, and drinking water isn’t a bad habit, but we don’t know if there’s some reason the OP drinks this much water. Could be personal preference, could be a medical necessity, or could be that she feels lethargic without it. My point is that, in my opinion, putting OP in the same category as a person who needs additional smoke breaks isn’t fair. It’s apples and oranges.

              1. Helena

                Smoking is bad, true, but there’s plenty of other beneficial or neutral habits that reasonable people would say should be adjusted for work hours. For example, I’m one of those people who needs more sleep than the average person; I get headaches and foggy-headed if I don’t. Would you defend a half hour nap every day on company time? I also feel lousy if I don’t exercise; do I get an extra half hour yoga break?

              2. Anonymous

                So is it okay to eat stuff that makes you fart or crap all day long? Just because it’s a core bodily function doesn’t mean it’s a free pass

              3. Anonymous

                I think they addressed it wrong, but it’s hard to pass judgment that so many bathroom breaks is okay when there might be some legitimate reason for the concern. Who knows maybe there’s one bathroom and the op is hogging it. The point is there could be a legitimate reason for it. But of course you’d have to get the other side.

              4. Anonymous

                All the OP wrote is that she makes it a point to drink 64oz (8 glasses) of H2O a day. We don’t know why she does this unless she just follows a lot of trendy health benefit tips.

              5. Anonymous

                Just want to clarify that I am NOT the “anonymous” that wrote this: “So is it okay to eat stuff that makes you fart or crap all day long? Just because it’s a core bodily function doesn’t mean it’s a free pass”

                *CRINGE*

              1. Helena

                I’m not saying she should “hold it in”. I’m saying she should consider drinking less water, something she has perfect conscious control over. The way her company is going about this is utterly ridiculous, I agree. However, employees shouldn’t ask their employers to give them extra break time for medical quackery – it just makes life more difficult for people who need genuine medical accommodations. If this employee has a genuine medical issue that requires her to drink that much water, that’s a genuine medical accommodation. If she’s doing it because she read a self-published book by an Iranian nutcase about how chronic dehyrdration unbalances one’s humors, that’s a personal habit.

        2. Miss Cystitis

          Oh, so someone doesn’t suffer from repeated UTIs that sometimes hospitalise them, then!

          Listen up honey, some people need to drink more than others. It doesn’t mean I’m sick at the moment, I’m just not like you. It’s not a prescription, it’s not a ‘habit’, it’s just what I need.

        3. Anonymous

          I get what you are saying.

          Smoking is a (bad) habit. And some people are so bad with it, they can’t function without the next drag. For some, they need to be weaned off of the cigs instead of cold-turkey.

          This does make me wonder if the OP has started a habit with the water. She’s “made a point in drinking 64 oz of water a day,” and we still don’t know if this is a medical issue. Yes, for a while there 64oz were the suggested norm for drinking water in a day, but it has been proven not necessary as an average piece of advice – people require less, some more. Going with that, I wonder how much of these bathroom breaks are becoming habit. For example, she might be going around the same times everyday so let’s say she goes at 2pm. Can her coworkers predict that at 2pm, she’ll be needing to use the bathroom? Sounds silly, but if you think about it, there are times when you go to the bathroom out of habit (maybe when you get up in the morning or before you go to bed).

          Does it make it anymore ok for the HR to talk to her like this? Hell to the NO! Just make it fair across the board, that’s all.

        4. mouse

          Small bladder means I pee a lot. I will do this in my office chair if you make me. And I will not be the person embarrassed by it; I will proudly walk out of the office for my lunch break in my peed in clothes and make sure
          everyone working there knows why I’m in such a state.

          As a food service person, I never lost a battle of wills against an idiotic and rude customer. I brought that trait over to office work with me. It applies to this situation. I pee when I have to pee. I hold it as long as I can when I have to. But when we’re at “that point” I’m going to the bathroom, whether you like it or not. I’ll do it on your nice office carpet while you ream me for frequent bathroom breaks if you insist I can hold it “just a little longer”. Becuase I assure you I cannot. And no I don’t have a doctor’s note; it’s been 15 years since I had medical coverage and when I did have it, the docs all told me the same thing, “this isn’t something we’d give a medical note for. Just mention it to your employer and you should be fine.”

  15. A. Nonymous

    This is absolutely ridiculous. I remember school days and knowing a teacher could not say no to someone having to use the restrooms.

    I can see someone getting a bit fed-up with someone constantly getting up and down to use the restroom or if they find someone in there grooming, applying make-up, or any other activity other than actually using the bathroom. But even so, it’s none of their business. As long as you are getting your work done and not dumping it on someone else, then I don’t see a problem.

    In the meantime, I suggest using the bathroom when you arrive, during your lunch, and when you leave. Those shouldn’t have to be monitored, and it allows you to use your allotted three times. Is your company all on one floor? Do you get a chance to escape to other floors if necessary? Well, there’s your chance possibly to use another bathroom where your nosy coworkers doesn’t see you using it!

  16. EngineerGirl

    This reminds my of the time I was being buillied by a co-worker. I was reprimanded for “stomping”. I was told that my stomping was threatening other employees. In truth – I had bought shoes when my feet were swollen and they were a bit too big. Since they were slip-ons they would sometimes slide off my foot and I would trip. It was made worse because I was on a false floor and it would echo. That office was a nightmare – and the project was notorious (still is) for mismanagement. I agree – with AAM – RUN! But give your manager a chance first by talking about it. Something is definately going on.

    1. Natalie

      Eep, I would have been fired from that workplace. For some reason I have a very heavy step even though I’m an average size and wear normal shoes.

  17. Nick

    My response to this situation would be this: I am happy to stop coming in late/leaving early/taking excessive breaks etc… but in exchange I am going to work exactly the number of hours specified in my contract and not a single second more. Start at exactly 9, take my entire 1 hour lunch break away from my desk, leave at exactly 5.30, ignore phone calls and emails out of working hours etc.

    I think HR at my company is smart enough to realise they are the ones that are going to be worse off if this were to happen.

    1. fposte

      Unfortunately, even if an exempt employee has a contract, it often doesn’t specify the number of hours to be worked per week (unless there’s some kind of CBA, I guess). That’s kind of the point of being exempt–you work till the job’s done, not till the hours are up.

      1. Nick

        I would still get my job done, but it would be the absolute minimum required. I could easily do that within normal working hours. I just wouldn’t put in any extra effort to get it done any faster or better, and would stop doing all the things that technically aren’t my job but that save other people lots of time. I would only need to do enough to keep my job until I found another one.

  18. Suzanne Lucas

    Yes, run. Well, first talk to your manager.

    I suspect this is an HR person with too much time on her hands, trying to solve problems that don’t exist so that she can show her boss how wonderful she is.

    HR people like this give HR a bad name. We are our own worst enemies.

  19. Cheryl

    I work in a call center and have worked in them almost all my life. In the past at various technical support positions, someone would come take our calls so we could do the potty run. Now since I work for the gov’t, that is not an option due to disclosure issues and there is truly no option other than to explode on the floor. We are also not to place a caller on hold for more than 5 minutes. So a quick run while waiting on a fax or “speaking with a manager” works most of the time.

    The last time, I literally hung up on the caller as I had no choice, course I called him back. But truly, how is it that we are now supposed to regulate bodily functions? If you have had a child or gotten a bit older or have medical issues or even obesity….its hard to deal with it on your own time table let alone someone else’s.

    1. Anon

      I work for a conference call company and it’s similar. We aren’t monitored, but if you’re on a call then you’re on a call. If there is no one free of the right gender (just in case you have to announce something) to take over for you for a few minutes, then you just have to hold it. Well, if you’re pregnant, taking water pills, suffer from IBS, etc then it can be difficult to make it through any given call in its entirety. Sometimes clients only have a 5 minute call and some calls last 3 hours, or all day! Bodily needs and schedules are both unpredictable from day to day, so most days you are fine but some days you’re calling someone to take over during every call on your schedule. Weird, but true.

        1. MissinLnk

          If I had to guess, they pick someone of the same gender so that the person on the other end is more likely to think it’s still the original person at the call center talking to them if they have to say something.

        2. Anon

          If you’re on an operator assisted call, then the operator may be announcing various parts of the call (typically an opening, QA instructions and closing) and so to minimize the potential impact to a client you’d at least try to have an operator of the same gender.

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          Oh, of course. That makes sense. I had missed the conference call aspect of it, and was thinking customer service calls where it would be really obvious if someone you’d been talking to all along was suddenly a different person!

  20. Long Time Admin

    AAM’s answer is spot on. The manager should be addressing the issue, and it should be about job performance, not potty breaks. But, once again, HR doesn’t know its own job, which would be to toss this to the manager.

    I also think the person who said some other employee thinks the OP is getting special treatment in some way, or simply does not have enough work to do and is tracking everyone’s movements, is responsible for the complaint to HR.

    The OP should also get her job search in high gear. If they’re picking at her about potty breaks, they’ll start finding other things to pick at her about. She deserves much more respect than that.

  21. wits

    One thing I am surprised that hasn’t been mentioned — if the OP is a woman, how does HR know the frequent bathroom breaks don’t have to do with her, um, cycle? I have known women have abnormal cycles where it lasts for more than a week or two and necessitates bathroom breaks once an hour.

    1. fposte

      I’m not sure it makes much difference–it’s a jerk move about dealing with people’s bodily functions either way, and since it’s only the one employee and not the other women, it’s not likely to e considered illegally discriminatory.

  22. Susan

    The more I think about this, the more curious I become in the specifics that HR must have outlined for this particular crazy procedure. For any break over 3, she must get permission. Who is she to ask, HR? Or a nosy co-worker? Or the manager, when they’re in the office; and how about when they’re not? Is she given a written and signed pass so she has a paper trail of approval to have as backup should the charge of overage come up during her review? My second delicious thought would be to ask HR who is monitoring said potty breaks vs. actual “allotted” breaks (some companies grant 1 or 2 15-minute breaks, but that’s usually only to non-exempt staff), so you can perfunctorily check out and back in. I’d be so darn angry that I’d make myself as annoying as possible.

    If you haven’t already, get this new “rule” in writing from the HR person as backup, but of course so you can ensure you are clear on the do’s and don’ts of this interesting new workplace ruling. Then delicious thought #3 would be to respond to said rule in writing, volunteering to be your department’s monitor for everyone’s bathroom breaks (because of course you want to be helpful) to ensure their new rule is applied fairly across the board. Maybe even suggest a swipe card for the bathroom door so people are checked in and out. (Ok, don’t suggest that – they might do it.)

    I could go on all day.

    1. fposte

      What about an airhorn blast followed by a megaphone announcement: “Alert! Susan is now departing for the bathroom! Repeat, Susan is now departing for the bathroom!” Then, of course, you could advise everybody “Stand down! Susan has returned from the bathroom!”

      I actually kind of want to do this now.

  23. Anoymous J

    I agree with AAM. RUN. I was treated the exact same way by my employer when I actually did have a medical problem. I’m still here, but only because I have not inherited a ton of money (that’s a joke) or found a new job yet. The relationship I had with my employer was forever damaged by my treatment.

    Even if your manager is great and takes your side and reassures you, trust me: You will never feel the same about your job again.

    Polish up that resume and find a better job. As AAM also said, you deserve better. We all do!

  24. Anonymous

    I agree, totally run from this organization as fast as you can. Looks to me like they want to get rid of you (possibly because you have been there so long, they want to get rid of higher salary employees because they are preparing to sell). There are a laundry list of issues that this could be the cause of, but like Alison said, RUN. This company obviously has some serious problems.

  25. Anonymous

    Clearly a manager / HR with nothing useful to do. As others have said – Run! But also consider adjusting the amount you drink. As others have also mentioned, the 8 glasses thing is something of a myth, and most of us would get most of our water from what we eat (accepting the point that some need extra hydration). If all else fails though, you can act like a film star:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/gerard-depardieu-urinated-in-planes-aisle-2339367.html

  26. Anonymous

    I’m sorry. I really am. I would have been mortified. I drink three liters of water at work each day. I use the bathroom a lot. I’m quick in-and-out but still, I do overhydrate. It keeps me from overeating. (True story…it’s part of how I lost 40 pounds – drinking a ton of water and realizing that hunger and thirst are connected in some ways).

    In a perfect snarky world, I would create a spreadsheet and insist that my manager sign me in and out of each and every break. I’d also start taking my full lunch away from my desk and taking each and every break I was given every single day.

    I’d be snide about it. I’d be vocal about it, and I’d likely ask my doctor to write a note that somehow would give me a medical excuse to use the bathroom as needed (risk of UTI, high blood pressure – I’d pull at any string I could get my hands on). I’d ask the doctor to indicate, how regularly I got my period and for health reasons, how frequently I needed to change my necessities. I’d want a very clear letter, so clear that it would likely make the HR asshat who sat me down feel totally uncomfortable.

    In reality, something like this would get you on the short list of “folks about to get canned.” I would call your manager out though. It’s a little fishy that this conversation happened while they were away. In fact, I’d ask that all three of you sit down and chat about the new bathroom policy. I’d also ask that it’s applied ACROSS THE BOARD (for fairness, of course).

    I just…I can’t wrap my mind around this lunacy. When my sophomore year math teacher (male) refused to allow me (female) to use the restroom after a lunch break (because I should have gone then, rather than a half hour later), I begged him in front of the entire class. He refused. I got up and left anyway. It was a power play on him and I was a sixteen year old girl who wasn’t going to risk peeing myself so his ego would be soothed. Upon return, he kicked me out of class and sent me to the Dean’s Office. When I got down there and explained to our female dean exactly what happened (I had a 98% average in class, fwiw), the look on her face was that of horror. He was instructed that he was never permitted ever again to refuse someone use of the bathroom. And his contract was not renewed the following year.

    1. Anonymous

      Like what someone wrote before, it is illegal practically for a teacher to deny the bathroom to a student. Sometimes, they can ask “can it wait?” in order for the student to not miss something (and in a lot of cases, the student says yes because they’re really just going to the bathroom to meet a friend, goof off, or sneak a cigarette).

  27. Chuck

    If OP was a close enough friend, I would point out that I’ve heard drinking so much water might be a symptom of diabetes and that a trip to the doctor might be a good idea for her.

    Otherwise, AAM’s answer – as it almost always is – was 100% correct.

  28. Anonymous

    Three things:

    1. Is this elementary school? Does the OP have to raise her hand so she could be excused for the bathroom? I find this fairly disturbing, and I do have to agree there’s something going on here – either a powerplay or a nosy colleague. I would be really interested in finding out more from the OP regarding her discussion with the manager once s/he returns from vacation. But this is the route I would go first.

    2. Drinking all of that water – are you sure, OP, there’s nothing wrong with you? Like someone has mentioned, drinking a lot of water can be a sign of diabetes. While some may find me out of line in saying so, but I do think you need to adjust your (water) drinking habits. No I’m not justifying the HR rep talking to you about this so those who are going to attack, save it. But try to figure out, if any, there are reasons for someone to consider your bathroom breaks are too numerous. Is there anyway you can save your water drinking for more at home? Or spread out how long you go between bottles or glasses of water? But if you must have 64oz of water a day, then perhaps a doctor’s note will be needed.

    3. How long have you been “making it a point to drink 64oz of water a day?” Has anyone mentioned it to you prior or have you heard any whispers in the office about “oh, there goes Shelly again to the bathroom?” I would think someone might ask if you are all right because you frequent the bathroom unless they see you drink water a lot. It just seems strange it’s out of the clear blue. I would think, sometimes, someone would catch on if someone didn’t like it. But some people are more intuitive.

  29. Jo

    I can sympathize with the OP for having to go thru this kind of sh*t at work, but the question is, do you want to be coming to work everyday for a minimum of 8 hours a day for these morons?
    It’s like being in an abusive relationship: you can analyse why and how and what makes someone do something horrible, but at the end of the day, you don’t have to be there.
    You said you’ve been rated as an excellent performer consistently, so a great worker like should not tolerate this kind of work environment. It’s not healthy no matter how you want to slice or dice it. Trust me, there are TONS of companies out there who are very reasonable and appreciate/respect their employees.
    I worked for a horrible boss last year (great company, but horrible boss and no one could do anything about it). I decided that I was going to stay there for one year for my resume sake.

    1. Jo

      Sorry I hit the button too quickly.
      So I left exactly at my 1 year and 1 month anniversary. I am now with a great company, wonderful boss and excellent team work. Of course I keep reminding myself all the time on how grateful I am.
      Great jobs with great companies are out there. You just have to find one that has the same values as yours.

      1. Esra

        I’m having that same issue right now, great company, love the work, loathe the management. They are the very model for micro.

  30. Samantha

    8 glasses of water isn’t *that* much. Lots of people routinely drink that much and there isn’t anything wrong with them.

    People who have undiagnosed illnesses (diabetes, kidney disease etc) drink a lot more than 8 glasses of water. A lot more! Plus they usually have other symptoms.

    And 6 bathroom breaks a day isn’t that much. Some people need to go to the bathroom more than others. Like every thing not what *you* experience is the norm for everyone.

    It’s not like she’s going to the bathroom every 15 minutes! Or spending 20 minutes in the bathroom each time. In a 8.5 hour working day 6 bathroom breaks is one every 1 hour 40 minutes. In a 9 hour day (8 hours of working plus lunch) it’s one every 1 hour 30 minutes. That hardly seems excessive.

    1. Long Time Admin

      “And 6 bathroom breaks a day isn’t that much. ”

      No kidding! I go at least 6 times before noon.

  31. Nonie

    I’m pretty sure we’ve officially beaten this topic to death. And then rolled its dead carcass around in the mud.

    1. Anonymous

      Yes, I’m starting to get confused with the different conversations and who is answer who in the comments above!

  32. Another Anon

    Just after you posted your catalog of weirdest questions, AAM, along comes this one! It’s a great reminder of how little the rest of us really have to whine about.

  33. Sandrine

    Ack, that reminds me of a job I held years ago.

    As a background, I will simply mention that if I sit down, I can “hold it” (whatever “it” is) for much longer than I would if I am standing up. This job was, of course, a stand up job (sorting out mail in a postal center) .

    One day I was feeling really bad and had to go more than usual. Some supervisor approached me about it, and I just said something along the lines of “If I need to go, I need to go. That’s all.” or something much tamer with the same meaning.

    And to this day, I swear that if ANYONE annoys me about this again , I am leaving my post on the spot. As in, if the supervisor insists, berates me, or becomes rude. A polite and constructive conversation, even if a little blunt ? No problem. A childish reprimand for a bodily function ? I’d get the hell out. Trying to avoid burning bridges, of course, but I’d still get the hell out, unless a clarification or apology of some sort came up.

  34. Long Time Admin

    I’m surprised no one else asked this, but if they limit one employee’s toilet breaks, don’t they have to limit all employees’ toilet breaks? If it’s not a performance issue about this particular employee, then how can they justify singling out just one?

    1. fposte

      Not really. They can, if they choose, but there’s nothing requiring them to. They can single this person out because this person’s the one they perceive as engaging in problematic excess.

      In other words, they’re not required to be fair or evenhanded or even logical.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Exactly right. The only way this would become a legal issue in that regard is if they were requiring it based on something like gender, race, etc. Otherwise you’re free to treat different people differently.

  35. MaryBeth

    During the summer, I manage a team of lifeguards at the municipal pool. When a guard is out on the water, she is out for 80 minutes at a time (sometimes less), with a 20 minute break in between each rotation circle. Guards need to be at their stations the entire time, unless responding to an emergency – this includes “holding it” if they need to go on a bathroom break. It’s a safety issue for the patrons. Obviously, we encourage the guards to drink at least half a bottle of water when they’re out on hot days. I can completely see needing to talk to someone about their bathroom usage in this situation and limiting their bathroom usage. Is limiting bathroom use at an office job appropriate? Probably not. However, with lifeguards and the way the job is, limiting bathroom use to once every 80 minutes seems reasonable.

  36. BobTheBreaker

    For the Record (because I personally see this sort of concern frequently in my crappy shift jobs): Can they do it? Yes, In exactly the same capacity that I can walk down a busy public street knifing random pedestrian. Its not legal, and there are consequences for my inappropriate actions.

    29 CFR 1910.141(c)(1)(i), OSHA’s regulation on Toilet Facilities, was “interpreted” ( April ’98)by, then, Director of the Directorate of Compliance John B. Miles Jr. to state that employees be allowed access to toilets when needed. Restrictions, if any, must be reasonable; and the burden of demonstrating the reasonable nature of the restriction rests solely on the employer. Because this is a Federal OSHA matter, Whistle Blower protections are a strong possibility.

  37. LB

    I cannot believe the ridiculousness of this situation. I need to drink a lot of water otherwise I feel ill and sometimes get more frequent UTIs. My mother has mentioned before that it concerns her how much water I drink, so I have been tested for diabetes multiple times. I do not have diabetes. My body just needs more water to function well.

    In a former position I supervised employees and whenever someone would ask permission to use the bathroom I would insist that they never ask me for permission to use the bathroom again. I was much too busy with my own work to monitor the bathroom habits of another adult. I cannot imagine what kind of a manager would actually be interested in tracking this.

  38. What a Joke!

    Some people just come up with every excuse in the book to walk away from their desk instead of doing their job. More than likely they’re on the phone or texting and not evening using the bathroom. If you need to use the restroom more than once per hour, you should adjust your lifestyle and not take it out on your boss if they question why you’re always away from your desk. Or, get an excuse from your doctor as proof that you really have a condition. Most won’t because they don’t. I’d really be curious to know of those that enforce a bathroom policy, how many of those same managers limit cell phone use.

    For those that say it only takes 3 minutes, whatever. Between the walk and the associated distraction of leaving your work space, that 3 minutes is easily 10. 6 breaks per day, that’s an extra hour of you doing nothing except hanging out in the bathroom. Over the course of a year, that’s 260 hours or 6.5 weeks.

    Plus, don’t forget the time you spend refilling your water bottle.

    Can’t hold it? Maybe consider retirement.

    1. Harassed

      Reviewing this thread due to harassment from HR.
      Informed my supervisor I was being harassed about my restroom breaks. They use to just track our total break time but now they schedule our time. We have a new system that tracks our time.

      Just E-mailed “29 CFR 1910.141(c)(1)(i), OSHA’s regulation on Toilet Facilities, was “interpreted” ( April ’98)by, then, Director of the Directorate of Compliance John B. Miles Jr. to state that employees be allowed access to toilets when needed. Restrictions, if any, must be reasonable; and the burden of demonstrating the reasonable nature of the restriction rests solely on the employer. Because this is a Federal OSHA matter, Whistle Blower protections are a strong possibility.” from this website to a supervisor who said I didn’t have to E-mail my restroom breaks out side of my scheduled break times.

      Personally I think we need some laws where managers who do this can be fined!!!

      I use to work at a jail and we couldn’t inter fear with bodily functions. Workers should have more rights then inmates!!!!

  39. Dee

    I worked for an employer who wanted an updated doctors note every year, insurance or not just get it. What is sad is a young lady sat at her work station because she could not afford to see a doctor and urinated on her self. I have also found that there are many that have a doctors release and abuse it. That work place doesn’t care of what the problem is. It is a messy environment.

  40. Anonymous

    I worked with someone who claimed she had a medical condition and needed frequent restroom breaks. Everyone suspected she was a time waster and it turned out she wasnt using the facilities at all. Our company was on the 2nd floor of a 5 story building. This woman would go to the 3rd floor and use that restroom to take a break and smoke a cigarette and talk on her cell phone with her boyfriend. Someone from an office on the 3rd floor reported to our company that she had been seen smoking in the restroom. Cigarette smoking is banned in the building. She lied and denied the whole thing.
    The supervisor warned her and said she needed a doctor’s note to take frequent restroom breaks. Once she got warned, her medical condition seemed to disappear and she took less breaks.
    This person took advantage of the situation until she got caught.

    1. Anonymous

      Oh, and not to mention everyone suspected she was taking breaks just to smoke but they could not find her outside. You could smell the odor on her clothes every time she returned from her “rest room” break. She was clever and went to the restroom on another floor of the building to do it. I was glad when she got reported for smoking.
      I only wish the supervisor had fired her instead of giving her a warning.

      She likes to waste time and avoid doing work. Now she sits in her cubicle texting and surfing the internet and updating her facebook page with her iphone while everyone else is busy working. I am not a fan of slackers and can’t wait until she is caught slacking off.

      1. Anonymous

        It’s slackers like this person that ruin things for those who actually have a serious medical problem and urgently need to take frequent restroom breaks.

  41. Jeannie

    To “Anonymous” This person hardly seems like a “slacker”. I work in in a call center where my employer deducts 5 minutes from my break time if I have to use the bathroom, which is located on another floor of the building. This seems abusive to me, considering that I arrive early to work and am always punctual in regards to break times. Is this legal?

  42. Anonymous

    I’m sorry to have to correct “the manager”, but it is Illegal. As a previous poster stated, OSHA says that an employee can use the restroom anytime then need, as well as drink as much water as they need. Just search for “OSHA bathroom break”. In the situation such as a lifeguard, as another previous poster stated above, the supervisor could require the employee to notify them they needed a bathroom break, and then wait a short period of time for the supervisor to send a replacement to cover for them. So in summary, it is illegal.

  43. Have to Pee

    Sounds like Stream Global Services if you ask me. They recently sent out a floor-wide email that states you are only allowed to use the restroom before or after your shift, or during a 15 min break. It is a call center we work at and, as such, need to drink water to keep our mouth wet, yet we are not allowed to leave our desk at all unless on an official break or have a doctor’s note.

    My suggestion if you live in central florida, never work at Stream Global Services.

  44. Same Boat on Yellow Sea

    I am dealing with a similar situation which is what led me to this discussion. I work part-time and since I transitioned from full to part-time, I have had nothing but hassles. Apparently, I am selfish and not partnering enough for the good of the company. Anyway, I work 5 hours each day with no break in my schedule. (It’s a call center.) I am allocated 8 minutes a WEEK for “personal” time which is to be used for restroom breaks or personal calls. I have timed myself and the quickest I can get from my cube to the bathroom, pee, wash my hands and get back is about 3 1/2 minutes. Which means that in my 25 hour work week I can only go to the restroom twice without affecting my stats and suffering disciplinary measures. I do not have health problems but am doing WW and trying to get in 48-64 ounces of water a day. My attendance, productivity, etc are all in the highly successful or excellent range. Typically, I have always held it but since my diet began I have to go more. I began this diet a week ago and so last week, I actually used personal time for the first time in my 7 months with the company. Well, first thing this week, my manager comes to me with tracking sheets. Seems I am to track my personal time used each day for the next two weeks and turn those sheets into her by the end of each week. So add to the injury of holding my pee the insult of this degrading, punitive tracking. It has not been made clear to me if this is just them being their illogical selves or if I am having to do this to avoid some sort of disciplinary measure. I have an excellent work ethic but the sheer ridiculousness of this issue has me p%$# off.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Since originally writing this post, a commenter has pointed out that OSHA has rules on bathroom breaks. OSHA has ruled that policies prohibiting employees from using the bathroom outside of scheduled break times create unhealthy working conditions, and has ruled that employers cannot do that. OSHA doesn’t have a policy stating that employees must be given free and constant access to bathrooms, or that X breaks must be allowed per hour/day, but simply says that employees must have reasonable access. Cases are considered on a case-by-case basis, but yours certainly sounds like it violates this rule.

      Additionally, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employees be paid for any break that is shorter than 20 minutes. Assuming your bathroom breaks are shorter than 20 minutes, they must be paid.

  45. trudy

    can my employer fire me, if i don’t sign a contract saying i will work 32 hours a month for free, even though i am working 40 hours a week for the company already?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      This sounds really sketchy, and they’re almost certainly breaking the law with this. What’s the context, and are you an exempt or non-exempt employee?

  46. adrienne

    I have had. Six kid and iamb on number seven.recently atwork I got confronted. By a different superviser at work( mines on vac) and he told me to watch my logouts off the phone work in a call center…I told him fui if u haven’t yetseen my extended belly ism six months pregnet.now before my kids I have always had problems with mybladder. Now after so many kids ism running to the restroom like a race horse.every 45 Mins he said nothing about a doc note so when I complained to another sup hesaid just bring a note I advise him u have a note on file about me. Vomiting non stop for. 8 weeks yet I need another note.after I told that superviser same wise guycame to me and said watch ur logouts u will ne written up I went to om and she said ya bring a note two days later I was so frustrated. I started having contractions. And decided to quit.over the bathroom.

    1. same boat but no longer on a yellow sea

      I had posted earlier with a similar situation. And I did the same as you, I quit. The whole bathroom issue was just the last straw. Good luck to you!

    2. Harassed

      If they ask for a Dr note they should have to pay for the apt. Just added the insurance and plan on going to get a physical and I will ask for a note. Had IBS a few years ago and personally even asking for a Dr note is HARASSMENT in my book; but, right now my number 2 is fine; but, just peeing due to my sore is increasing my intake of tea, coffee and water. E-mailed HR that I shall need a job reference. Should have been looking for something else anyway because this commute is to far anyway. I would like to win the lotto buy the company and put the supervisors who harass out for a week or two with out pay to teach them a lesson!!!

  47. Anonymous

    I do HR for a small company and I have a feeling that the whole story may have not been told here. I have an employee who has created a schedule of her own bathroom breaks. And the thing is she takes them right before each break. So before her first 15 minute break she goes to the restroom comes back sits for a minute then takes here regular break. Same for the rest of her other breaks. She is obviously doing this on purpose to kill time. Breaks were made so that an employee can take care of their personal stuff. So she’s killing roughly only 30 minutes of time right ? NO! Not only is she she wasting her own time but now that the other employees have picked up on her scheme and seen that nothing has been done about it at least 3 other employees have picked up on the same habit. At roughly 30 minutes lost production per employee that now amounts to 2 hours of lost production time DAILY. Might not sound like a big deal but this company has only about 10 people. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

  48. commonsense

    Here is another scenario: Employee takes several bathroom breaks a day (outside of her normal breaks) and other employees have to answer her phone; leave their desk, when she takes breaks (receptionist). It isn’t fair to the other employees, especially if this individual does drink fluids all during the day, volutarily as there’s no health issue, to leave their desk to answer the phone? Additional time is take from more than the employee taking excessive bathroom breaks. Sometimes you have to find out since others may be complaining of the disruption several times a day – again, outside of normal breaks and lunch.

  49. Amy

    I also work at a call center. They do have suggested guidelines about limiting restroom use, but fortunately they are not being enforced. Nevertheless, when the call volumes are high I usually just have to cross my legs and grin and bear it. My fluid intake is on the high side, so my bladder does get very full frequently. It is definitely a struggle to keep my composure as I’m on the phone and have a desperate need for a restroom break. Related is the added time needed for a BM which can easily be 5 or more minutes. I know a lot of employees at the call center will hold in a BM until their shift is done; I’ve certainly done this too many times when things are busy and it can get mighty uncomfortable. Whatever my situation, it is always such relief to use the restroom if I’ve been holding it in.

  50. Daniel

    I just had hemorrhoid surgery a few weeks ago, which is extremely painful, and made my bathroom breaks more messy and time consuming. My boss has been less than sympathetic concerning this, and at my 90 day review (yes, I’m a new hire) said to me “I’ve noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time in the little boys room”. Fortunately I’ve recovered and am spending less time in the bathroom, but I was mortified and embarrassed when he brought this up. Yes, he did know about my surgery, of which I didn’t even take a day off for. Who, outside of grade school teachers call the bathroom the “little boys room” and would have the gull to time bathroom breaks. It’s not like being a new employee, I’m heavily swamped at work, and I always timed my bathroom breaks for when I was done with pending assignments. He also said I wasn’t listening to him, and threw a bunch of instances where I misheard him as examples. I had to explain to him that I have half a right eardrum, and often times I physically couldn’t hear him. Between these two things, he gave me a negative review, and told me I needed work on spending less time in the bathroom and listening.

    Since, I can’t even look at the man without feeling disgusted by him. I’m starting to feel like I made a big mistake taking the job here, which by all accounts is a decent job, but they underutilize me and have be doing the work that should be delegated to an intern. Mind you I have 2 degrees, one of which is a engineering degree, and my immediate supervisor is a salesman with no formal technological training. Gossip is thick in this office, and it’s hard to fly under anyone’s radar, as it’s such a small business. I can’t see myself staying much longer, with as much as jerkwad is micromanaging me.

    1. Anonymous

      Boy, that “not listening” thing really chaps my ass!

      My boyfriend is deaf–literally DEAF–and he told me that one of his ex boss’ complaints against him was that he “had a listening problem.'” Ya think?! This same ex-boss was apparently also a racist. BF says that soon after he left, he found out this boss was gone. That is so ignorant!

      As for the bathroom issue, I’d throw it back in his face and embarrass him right back: “Well, yes. I DID just have hemorrhoid surgery, you know…” I had to use the TMI technique on my own supervisors when they started being jerky to me around the time I had surgery (female-type surgery.) They make me keep a work log now, because dontchanknow, going to the doctor a lot and having tests run to see what is wrong is totally slacking!

      I hope you can find a better job and get out of there. This all happened to me about 3 years ago, and it does not get better. :(

  51. Anon

    Been there. Done that. They can and will fire you for any way they want, as long as it doesn’t violate your civil rights.

  52. Blood Lust

    If your employer wants to play work to rule then you should also work to rule –
    1. Dont come to work early.
    2. Dont do any overtime or stay late.
    3. Take your breaks to the exact minute and tell them no if they try giving you a job during break time.
    4. If a manager asks you to do a job when you’re about to walk out the door tell them no because its home time.
    5. Dont work hard but work at the normal rate for the staff in your office. If things dont get done because of it then they dont get done.
    6. Dont go out of your way to help others just focus on your tasks.

    As the manager demotivates other members of staff (in addition to you) it will become harder for them to meet their management targets. Bad managers always hang themselves you just need to wait it out. If the manager gets arsey with you for no longer going that extra mile then get yourelf signed off for stress for a couple of weeks by your doctor.

      1. Anonymous

        I have to agree with this. Granted, when I went through my stuff, it was TEMPTING to take this approach, but it is not the answer.

        Plus, as someone with a strong work ethic, I just wouldn’t feel right about some of these.

    1. Anonymous

      Actually, you’re onto something here. We have an employee who disappears frequently (every 45 – 1 hour) for a bathroom break without telling anyone (we need to have coverage in our business, it’s not like OP’s calls going to voicemail) so her frequent bathroom breaks and lack of communication ARE a business issue. But she basically performs in the above way that you’ve outlined in addition to the extra 45 minutes of bathroom breaks every day. I didn’t realize what a horrible overall employee she is until I read your list!

  53. Chuck McDonald

    OK…what about a warehouse employee who takes 3 to 4 bathroom breaks that last a minimum of 30 minutes up to 50 minutes at a time. To me, it’s as though he’s stealing from the company but I’m not at all sure how to approach the subject.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      “Joe, I need you to be at your work station the vast majority of every hour. Recently you’ve been taking multiple breaks of 30-50 minutes.” If he says it’s a medical issue, you can do a formal ADA process, but you’re not required to make unreasonable accommodations.

  54. Joe

    I work at a call center and it so happens that I take a diuretic – and even WITH a note from my doctor saying that I need to use the restroom frequently I am still getting in trouble for ‘adherence’ if I take an unscheduled break – they want me to get ANOTHER excuse from my doctor saying HOW FREQUENT – wtf? I had to stop taking the medication – or risk a write up -

    1. Anonymous

      Many call centers and tech support places in general expect you to take endless calls all day. If they cannot understand that you have doctors orders I’d consider a different job with a different company. My current job has a problem that is just as bad; we are allowed one unschedueled bathroom break at only 3 minutes at the most…not joking.

  55. fearful

    The real issue is that u are non-exempt and do not get paid overtime. US department of labor- wage & hour division. Check that out and find a new job.

    1. kacey

      I was just about to comment the same thing. The advice that this employee was given is completely wrong because OSHA says that since there is such a large variation in the amount that people need to use the restroom, since women tend to need to use it more frequently during certain times, since medications and medical conditions can affect how frequently a person needs bathroom breaks, and since there are actual dangers/medical issues that result from holding when someone needs to use the bathroom, OSHA states that employees must have access to bathrooms whenever they need to use them. (By access they mean your employer must allow you to leave your workstation and use it.) They do allow your employer to make you wait while someone comes in for you (if you work on an assembly line or somewhere else that requires someone else to come on for you in order to leave your workstation), but this cannot be longer than what is considered reasonable (a couple of minutes) they cannot say no, or make you wait too long, or force you to hold it until your actual break. They cannot tell you that you are taking too many bathroom breaks. I, on average, go once every hour because of medication I take and also because I exercise daily so I drink a lot of fluids and even my employer cannot tell me I use the bathroom too frequently.

  56. Mandy

    IRS monitors every bathroom break and how long you are in the bathroom (through what they call an aspect phone) and they get away with it!! It should be illegal. The man that sat next to me at work actually got a note from his doctor saying he can take as long as he needs in the bathroom when going number two. IRS WOULD ONLY ALLOW US THREE MINUTES!

  57. Pete

    You people sicken me. The reason why a lot of young people don’t have jobs is because they still have some self respect. If you even have to ASK if it’s okay, when you already feel like it’s NOT, then you have really become a tool. It’s because of people like you who keep competing to be the best SUCK UP and “Model Employee”, who are nothing but yes men butt kissing brown lips, that they keep making more and more ridiculous demands that no longer even treats you as a fellow human being but a slave and an animal and a PET. If people had a sense of self worth and just did as they see fit as a HUMAN BEING, instead of an ANIMAL, then we’d be far better off as a society.

  58. Jay

    Not wanting to read 186 comments from a post this old, but I still want to make a clarification. An employer can not monitor and deny restroom visits. The administration has to prove that the restroom visits are for other reasons than a restroom need. Employees don’t have to prove that they really have to go.

    If it can be shown that the employee is unable to do the job description because of the frequent restroom breaks and there is no way to modify the job description, move to another department, etc. then the employee might have resign due to physical and health reasons. But when the job evaluations are all superior, it would be impossible to make that kind of claim.

    The kind of job that would fit this would be a toll road operator. The restroom is clearly too far away unless there is a team that has one spare member that fills in for the others as is needed and also the regular coffee breaks. Except in very small businesses which have few employees, this is an example of making a problem that is not there.

    OSHA if I have the letters right is a federal agency that enforces federal rules which also include the right to the restroom when needed. That company can be fined in the millions for causing duress. Let the management block her from going and she has an accident, the management plus the owner can be sued for in the millions on top of the fines that OSHA imposes.

    It is the US Constitution that guarantees this right. Not so well known is that the Supreme Court has ruled that the rights in the US Constitution apply to minors of course considering the age such as preschool. The key determining the application of the US Constitutional rights is not age, but the mental and emotional ability of the person to understand, make a rational decision and be able to evaluate the situation.

    If a first grade teacher that announced that students could only go to the restroom at the assigned times, and if a student can’t wait until the next assigned time he will have to have an accident in his pants, the teacher could be sued. It can be argued that a typical first grader is capable of making and understanding these kinds of decisions.

    Restroom misbehavior including going to the restroom for other reasons than because there is a need certainly can result in negative consequences. But misbehavior is a different issue from a need to use the restroom. They need to be kept separate.

    If it is illegal to deny a child in school a visit to the restroom if the student really needs to go, surely the same would be for adults in the workplace.

    The lady mentioned being treated like she was in elementary school. I suspect that the US Supreme Court made this ruling became well known As far as I know, no student has won a law suit from toilet denial at school. However, I suspect the reason is that the principals’ unions are well aware of this and keep their members up one what actions can cause them to be sued or lose their jobs. I’ve had several administrators refer to the fact that if a teacher denies a student and there is an accident, the teacher faces a law suit.

    Also, I suspect there have been some out of court settlements.

    I’m wondering why employers seem to be totally in the dark concerning the US Constitutional rights concerning restroom needs of adults.

    There may be a gender issue as in some kind of assault on this lady by what it appears to be male superiors.

    I suspect that there is some kind of power play in the administration. Her immediate boss was on vacation so the vultures moved in. Most likely it is he who they really are after.

    This lady is a pawn in this power struggle.

  59. Tara

    I was suppose to get off at 1pm, per doc note. I had acall.that last ober two hours past my end of shift. I had an emergency bathroom , That following week, I was told, fired for using bathroom, never got sny write ups, I did send emails to my teamleaders, supervisor, etv. Nobody ever responded.

  60. Mike

    Hi, Can a boss check up on you while in the restroom. He would go and check if you really using the restroom everytime. ( for any employee) its harassment!

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