update from the reader whose company was monitoring her bathroom breaks

Remember the reader whose HR department limited her to three bathroom breaks per day and required her to get written permission from her manager if she needed more? Here’s her update:

My story sadly does not have a very happy ending, although I’m sure your readers will find it interesting.

A lot of comments were saying that it sounded like something else was going on, and I’m pretty sure they were right.

As you might remember, my boss was out when HR decided to pull me aside for that little chat. I had planned on talking to him about it when he got back, but he never came back to work. No announcement was made and we’re still not entirely sure what happened there. In his absence, HR decided that I would have to sign out for the bathroom through them. I forgot once about a month later (it was an emergency!) and was let go the next day for not adhering to policy. They’ve also denied my unemployment, which I’ll be fighting since I don’t think think going to the bathroom without permission can be considered being fired for cause…

Anyway, from my perspective, they were looking for a reason to fire me. Possibly my boss as well.

I have not yet found a new job, although I have been on several interviews. I’m struggling with how to answer the “why did you leave your last job” question, though. I’ve tried a few different tactics, either telling them everything, or keeping it more vague. So far neither has worked.

I feel like this was for the best, though, and hopefully soon I’ll be in a job where they don’t treat me like a pre-schooler!

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. v*

    I’d be interested in advice as to how to answer “why did you leave your last job” for this situation as well. I am flabbergasted by the policy.

  2. arm2008*

    I don’t think it’s a policy when it applies to only one person.

    You can simply say you lost the job due to elimination…

  3. Joey*

    The only time I’ve ever asked employees to check out anytime they leave their work area is if there’s been problems finding the person or they’ve been known to leave without arranging coverage.

  4. Dawn*

    I don’t know if I’d go with being vague about the reason for leaving. You don’t want it to seem like you’re hiding something. I would be up front about it. Tell them what happened and be as neutral as possible. Stick to the facts.

  5. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Re: how to explain why you left:

    “After my boss left, HR suddenly announced they were limiting bathroom breaks to three a day and more would require written permission. I took a fourth one day and forgot to get written permission ahead of time and I was fired.”

    I would NOT mention that this policy only applied to the OP, as that’ll raise questions about whether HR was reacting to a habit of wasting time. If you phrase it the way I have it above, you should be fine.

    1. Samantha*

      Yeah I’d go with what AAM said. Any reasonable person would hear “limiting bathroom breaks” and go what?!!!

  6. Joanna Reichert*

    There are different ways to explain your situation to potential new employers (though I’m sure AAM’s is the most level-headed), but surely we can ALL agree that there is a special place in Hell for people who undermine, cut down, belittle, lie, and force other people out of employment? Because if there’s not, I’m petitioning God.

    : )

    Reading this story is pretty unbelievable – but people are nuts, I’m sure this is actually happening. OP, please keep us up-to-date with this story. I truly hope you eventually have your happy ending.

  7. Chris*

    In this economy, new jobs aren’t exactly plentiful.
    It really really saddens me that an employee could potentially lose their home, car, not be able to feed their kids etc. over this kind of garbage.
    When people propose change state and local laws to include “just cause” for termination language – these stories are why. Employment at will has seen its time come and go.

      1. Anonymous*

        Hear hear! The abuse of workers behind the fig leaf of “at will” has become completely ridiculous. “Just cause” is not too much to ask.

  8. mishsmom*

    OP, it’s obvious they wanted your boss out and therefore you too for whatever reason. you never know, you might find the explanation sometime down the road. good luck!!

  9. Anonymous*

    To the OP make sure that when you fill out your UI appeal you do it with as much documentation and as professionally as you can. This is a legal document! Treat it as such. Give specifics. And hopefully the UI staff who review it will be as appalled as we are and find in your favor. (And don’t be afraid to appeal if you get denied.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You might also mention (as a commenter recently did on the original post) that OSHA requires free access to the bathroom. It’s possible that the company was just barely on the right side of the law here (they allowed the breaks but required written permission first), but it’ll probably bolster your case to mention this.

    2. Nichole*

      I second that-when I worked in UI, I frequently saw denials overturned and often told claimants that I didn’t see the state favor one party over the other, each was decided case by case. The original denial is based on limited information, so once they went more in depth, overturning a denial on appeal was not uncommon at all.

      1. Anonymous*

        If things being overturned on appeal was quite common, then perhaps the initial process needed a little tweaking.

    3. Tami*

      Documentation beats conversation every time, however, in my experience UI usually requires the employer to have more documentation than the unemployed worker. They have the burden of proof here.

      Did you happen to sign some sort of document, such as a last chance agreement or performance improvement plan in which you agreed to this “policy” in writing? Something that said “I, OP, am aware that I am only to use the restroom three times per day. If I am to required due to medical condition to exceed the bathroom visit limit, then I am to provide a written request to do so, and supporting medical documentation. I understand if I violate this policy, I will be subject to immediate termination.” If you did, and the employer has it, it will make your case more difficult because they have proof that they made you aware that there was a problem, and you agreed to follow their procedures, and that you would be terminated if you did not follow it. If they do not have that, and they truly applied this rule only to you for whatever random reason they dreamed up, they will have a difficult time making that sound reasonable to a hearing officer with the state. Everyone has had bathroom emergencies, and no reasonable person is going to see this as a fair policy.

      With that being said, no company policy, no matter if you agree to it or not, can violate the law, and it sounds like there may be an OSHA violation or perhaps an ADA issue here. Have you thought about consulting an attorney?

  10. HR General*

    Wow. Just wow. I am so angry on this person’s behalf. Huge respect for realizing that you’ll be better off in a non-pre-schoolish environment! I am ashamed to share a profession (nay, a universe) with HR people who would be involved with such an idiotic scenario.

  11. Anonymous*

    I would love to hear Evil HR lady’s response to this. I would think she’d be irrate with these people who make her industry look so unprofessional.

  12. Sabrina*

    I’m not sure exactly how UI denials work, but I had an employer initially challenge my UI. It delayed it a few weeks but they asked for my side of things and really seemed to listen and I eventually did get UI. I also have a hard time with “why” I left there, I didn’t quit, wasn’t fired, wasn’t laid off, wasn’t asked to leave. Just given an end date and that was that.

    1. Vicki*

      Where I Live (San Mateo County, San Francisco Area), the local Bar Association has a co-op sort of thing. People can talk to a lawyer for an hour for $25. If that shows they need more, they pay full price.
      When I was in Sabrina’s situation, I talked to one of those lawyers. He told me I might have a case against the Co, but it would cost more to find out than it was probably worth. But that I should tell them I wanted a document that said they would not fight an UI claim. I did that. The Co gave it to me (I think they were stunned). The UI office was surprised.
      Btw, at that Co, I learned that over the next month at least 40 people were let go the same way – didn’t quit, weren’t fired, weren’t laid off, weren’t asked to leave. Just given an end date (of “now” in fact) and was that. Some sort of housecleaning. That sort of thing shouldn”t be legal.

      1. Kathleen in AZ*

        Because you think your boss was let go, you could say
        that your boss was let go and you think they are now going
        to downsize his direct reports.

  13. Anonymous*

    In 2010, various employees of GEICO have said that they have to get a supervisor’s permission to use the bathroom.

  14. Jen M.*

    OP, I am so sorry about what happened, but at the same time, I’m glad you are away from what sounds like a terrible, terrible organization!

    My fingers are firmly crossed for you to find the awesome job you deserve!

  15. Anonymous*

    I also worked at a place that required permission to use the restroom and timed breaks. One day, I wasn’t feeling well, so I took my restroom break. In the bathroom, I discovered I was having a miscarriage. I spent more than three minutes in the restroom.

    When I came out, my supervisor was furious. I told her I was having a medical emergency and needed to go. She let me leave to go to the doctor’s office, but still wrote me up for spending too long in the restroom.

    Some things take longer than three minutes. I left that job two months later, and now have a healthy baby. It all worked out, but my bitter feelings remain. I am now a purchasing manager for a different company in the same industry and would never, ever use my former company to handle my contracts or provide services.

  16. Anonymous*

    The OP should stop being so whiny. Why is this person so upset over being monitored for bathroom breaks? Just do what your boss tells you to do 100% of the time.

    1. Faith*

      Sometimes individuals have health/physical reasons why they need to take a bathroom break more often than the average person. A reasonable manager will work with his/her employees to understand why there may be a need to do so.

      1. Whatever*

        I probably go the bathroom about every hour and a half. I’ve been to my dr. about it, she said basically I have an unusually small bladder and unusually efficient kidneys. *shrug*

        If my employer wanted to limit my restroom breaks, they’d have a mess on their hands, because there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m never gone more than 2 minutes from my desk. Fortunately my employer isn’t a jerk.

  17. Ctoby*

    Our customer service department instituted a policy about bathroom breaks due to what they said was ‘excessive’ breaks occurring frequently.’ This is a call center, and people have a quota of calls to answer as well as other work that must be done. Keep in mind–none of the people who were ‘excessively’ using the bathroom had ANY problems with productivity, tardiness, absenteeism, or any other work related issue. I should know: I was their team lead. Our department head made the unilateral decision that no one could use the restroom other than on their scheduled breaks unless they brought a note from their physician (many of these people were on diuretics for high blood pressure…not surprising, given the nature of the job). In addition, these ‘extra’ bathroom breaks were to be taken in lieu of their ‘regular’ 10 minute breaks. So: you want to use the bathroom four times a day instead of three? Doctor’s note, and no more two 10 minute breaks for you. Can they do this? You bet your bootie they can. Welcome to Texas, the Right to Work state. There is no requirement that Texas employers give their workers 1o minute breaks in the first place, unless they are construction workers–and they only made that law two years ago because so many of them were dropping dead of heat stroke. I’m not kidding, this can all be verified.
    As for the company…? Well, just one more reason why I A) changed departments, and B) am continuing to look for other work. I don’t wish to be associated with these kinds of people.

  18. Dcinnv*

    I am appalled at this, did you ever find a job? I hope you are happier. I use to think the Unions had outlived their purpose, but find in todays economy if I could join one I would.
    What a horrible place to work. I am amazed that
    -Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 5:21 am- will just blindly follow a childish and stupid idea with no questions asked. Just do it, I am sure this person has no ability to manage or be a basic adult.

    It is ludicrous to think I would have to get permission to go to the bathroom.
    I hope all has turned out well in the end.

  19. Donna*

    My unskilled manager used to roll her eyes or tell me to “hurry up” whenever I had to urinate so I started holding it in and got an infection. She became resentful and hostile toward me when I told my doctor who then told her manager that I was being encouraged not to use the restroom. Hello OSHA!!

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