update on employers who want to monitor your bathroom usage

Since answering this question from a reader whose employer was limiting her to three bathroom breaks a day unless she got written permission in advance, a commenter pointed out that OSHA rules are likely at play here.

OSHA — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — says that prohibiting employees from using the bathroom outside of scheduled break times can create unhealthy working conditions … and while it doesn’t require that employees be given free and constant access to bathrooms, or that X breaks be allowed per hour/day, it does require that employees have reasonable access to bathrooms.

The agency notes: “It would be difficult to set a specific interval for breaks, because the need to use toilet facilities varies from person to person and even with respect to the same person. Some of the variables that can affect a worker’s need to urinate are: diet, stress, pregnancy, prostate health, other medical conditions, medication use, weather temperature (working in a cold environment makes people need to urinate more frequently), and the amount and type of fluid consumed. Also, in some workplaces the nature of the work or the tasks being performed may require constant worker coverage/attention. In such situations employers need flexibility in developing procedures that will allow all of their workers access to toilet facilities as needed. A specific schedule for breaks might not allow the flexibility needed to address all types of work situations.”

It’s also worth noting that the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employees be paid for any break shorter than 20 minutes, so employers shouldn’t be requiring people to clock out to use the bathroom (assuming that you’re not taking more than 20 minutes for it).

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. NJB*

    On behalf of the OP, how I wish she had know this when it happened.

    We had an employee file an OSHA complaint (diff department) because she did “not feel safe at work”….no real details on the specifics. But I had worked with crew she was dealing with prior (lets just say screaming at each other, beating on walls and poking each other calling while them ethnic names is a no go in most work places) and gave her a silent cheer and hat tip.

    She is still employed and and the suspect parties, including the Manager have “moved on”…AKA: all hell broke loose…

  2. Lee L.*

    I’ve worked in telesales where you are “clocked in/out” by your computer log in. This means if you are not calling, your hours are not adding up. So if you are having a bad bladder day you could end up loosing a lot of time even though you were there. Wish I had known about those OSHA rules then.

  3. TJ*

    Wish I had known about the paid breaks years ago. I clocked out as a young adult working in fast food & grocery, bec everyone said we didn’t get paid breaks.

    Also, since I now have doctor’s orders to drink a lot of fluid/day (80-100 ounces) I end up in the bathroom a lot. Knowing I can rely on this law gives me confidence if I decide to re-enter the workforce. Thank you AAM!

    1. Natalie*

      When I last worked retail we had to clock out for every break, but our 15-minute breaks were added back into our paycheck. They used the clock to monitor how long our breaks were.

  4. Anonymous*

    I don’t know if any of you are from NYC or its surrounding area, but let me tell you what was in the news last week.

    A teacher in a NYC public school was fed up with her students constantly needing to use the bathroom while in her class. Therefore, she gave them 3 vouchers/passes to use during the week. In other words, you can’t use the bathroom two days out of the week. Now, if a student didn’t use any of his/her passes, s/he would get a prize at the end of the week. Many parents were angered, and the school’s administration asked the teacher to discontinue this particular classroom policy.

    I understand the teacher’s frustration. If these students are rotating classes between teachers, she might be frustrated that they are always waiting for this class to use the bathroom instead of the prior class or during change of class. But she still went about it the wrong way and should have had discussions with the parents.

    Read about it: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/rules_pee_kids_hUaig4klf3L3cNQcKmi0ZK

    1. krzystoff*

      3/week seems a little harsh, but at the same time, paediatricians encourage some parents to ‘train’ their children with toilet breaks, most healthy people can ‘train’ their bladder to go for longer breaks between toilet visits. if you drink a lot of water, that can be tremendously challenging.

    2. Anonymous*

      OSHA does not regulate restroom availability and usage for students, only workers. This is still a weird scenario for the students, though.

  5. krzystoff*

    if you become aware that your employer is ‘monitoring bathroom usage’ by installing hidden cameras of any kind, you should definitely talk to the police.

  6. Former Call Center Employee 3 times over*

    I have worked for some big name companies that have let people go for “attendance” issues related to bathroom breaks. Generally in the call center realm you are only allowed 3 breaks. Two 15 minute breaks and one 30 min or hours lunch. Should you make it a common practice to need to used the restroom, have a drink etc. outside the alotted 3 break max you could be written up for poor attendance. An excess of these practices could result in dismissal under the mask of poor attendance. I contacted the local EEOC in my area and was told that an employer could do that. I was livid. That is why I went to school and got a degree in HR and moving in the direction of law to stomp out undercover practices such as this.

  7. matt*

    hi, my new job is telling me that I need to clock out if I have to go #2. I understand that people can take advantage of bathroom breaks but I belive that the wrong doings of the few shouldn’t ruin life for the many. can you please tell me where in the Fair Labor Standards Act that is states that they must pay you for a bathroom break that does not exceed 20 mins. I looked over that whole site and used the word sure in tools and very rarely found the word bathroom in that document.

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