my coworker keeps taking the office’s magazines into the bathroom

A reader writes:

At our office, we have subscriptions to various newspapers and journals that we keep in the entry hallway for staff and guests to read.

I just noticed today that a certain coworker will pick up one of these subscriptions and bring it to the bathroom to read while using the toilet. When they are done in the bathroom, they put the newspaper or journal back on the table for the next person to read. This is so gross, unsanitary, shows a huge lack of social awareness/consideration for fellow coworkers, and is not at all why we purchase those subscriptions. The receptionist confirmed that this has been going on for a while.

Should I tell their supervisor? Address the person directly? Or have the director make a statement to everyone at the next staff meeting without singling them out?

Don’t take it to their manager. It doesn’t really rise to the level where a manager needs to get involved.

Either say something to the person directly or ask the receptionist — as the person presumably in charge of these subscriptions — to tell the person to cut it out.

If you say something to the culprit directly, it doesn’t need to be a big formal talk. It can just be a matter-of-fact, “Hey, can you keep the magazines out of the bathroom? They’re for general use and that’s pretty unsanitary.”

If you say something to the receptionist — which would be my preference, since it’s actually her realm to handle — I’d say, “Hey, I’ve noticed some people are talking the magazines into the bathroom and then returning them here, which is unsanitary. Any way you could put a stop to it when you see it or send an email asking people to cut it out?” (However, if you have an unassertive or inexperienced receptionist, this might not lead anywhere — so know who you’re dealing with.)

I suppose if all else fails and you feel quite strongly about it, you could go the route of having someone in a position of authority issue a general directive, but I’d try to find a lower-key way of handling it so that you’re not putting yourself in the position of being the bathroom police — or just avoid the magazines.

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*

    I always thought the polite thing to do was to leave the literature in the stall for the next person.

  2. Nerd Girl*

    This question reminded me of one of my first jobs. I worked in a retail shop and had a manager who would go to the bathroom with a book and be in there for over 30 minutes at a time. She and I ended up having an argument about it at a store staff meeting. She took me to task in front of the District Manager for lengthy bathroom time (unbeknownst to us all I had mono) to which I ripped her a new one for the way she treated the restroom like her personal library. Our DM actually had to put a notice in our backroom about not reading in the restroom because apparently she was doing it 2 or 3 times for every shift she worked, not just the ones I worked with her. Good times.

    1. soitgoes*

      I think Alison answered a question in this vein in the somewhat recent past. The OP had a coworker who would get back from lunch, clock in, and then spend the next half hour in the bathroom every single day.

      Some people are willing to tread on the unpleasant implications of those actions if it means they essentially get a free reading break every day. It’s a very uncouth manager who will ask his or her employees exactly what they do in the bathroom.

  3. Lamington*

    i never understood why people get reading material for the restroom. I want to get in and out as quickly as i can.

    1. soitgoes*

      Men will proudly check all of Facebook on their iphones during bathroom time. Sometimes I think that THEY think no one can tell where they’ve been for 20 minutes.

        1. soitgoes*

          I don’t want to get too TMI here, but I think that generally, men are more comfortable doing certain things in public restrooms.

          1. teclatwig*

            Whew, I really don’t want to over share here, but I can say that I am a compulsive reader, and I will also note that some people tend to have wonky plumbing.

            I will agree that it is not considered ladylike or feminine to have bodily functions, and that plenty of women try to distance themselves from this reality, but plenty of us don’t fit in that group.

            Finally, why is reading material in the bathroom so unsanitary? Is it just the presence in the room, whereby germs leap onto the reason surface (but not into our clothes, etc.)? Do you assume that readers wipe themselves and then use that same hand to handle the reading material? (I once knew some folks from a country on the African continent who used one hand for sanitary uses and the other for eating. The same principle might apply here.)

            Now, I am not saying this coworker should be using community reading material for the bathroom. He may know that he has kept it sanitary, but you certainly can’t be assured of that. (And he may be oblivious and unsanitary, I concede that as well.).

      1. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

        I have to agree. Just based on my own personal experiences, men tend to not worry about their bathroom behavior whereas women are much more self-aware. Sure, I take my phone in the bathroom with me at times, but I never am in there for more than 5 minutes. What if people think I had a BM? It’s embarrassing how embarrassed I would be.

        1. FamilyofRobot*

          This is true. I mean, the part about what if people think I had a BM? Why do we worry about this? Everybody poops. LOL. But yeah, I think this too.

          1. Bea W*

            This always goes through my mind in a public restroom. I don’t know why. It’s not logical.

            According to my mother, she was a lady and did not do such things, and she’d get really upset if you either asked or implied. I mentioned once she had forgotten to flush the toilet and left one floating in there, and she vehemently denied that it was her poop. Um…okay, but given that you’re the only person that used the bathroom, that’s pretty weird to just have a random turd in the bowl, way weirder than confirming that my own mother did indeed poop like everyone else.

            1. Lizabeth*

              I think it’s interesting to discover that everybody has issues about the bathroom. I honestly thought the previous post on it wasn’t wide-spread but I was proven wrong.

            2. Alliej0516*

              I’m so glad you did, though. When you posted about it on FB the other day, I *had* to hear the rest of the story!!! *gigglesnort*

          1. FamilyofRobot*

            I think it’s because it’s inherently gross. It smells, some worse than others. It’s something kids poke fun at so I’m sure we’ve all bee ridiculed for it at some point in our lives even though we all do it.

            1. Natalie*

              I’m not sure grossness is an inherent quality of anything. Different animals are wired to find different smells or tastes disgusting or attractive. Even among humans, there are plenty of variations among cultures as far as how feces are dealt with. Consider the use of one hand to clean oneself in many cultures.

                1. misspiggy*

                  Indeed. I am reminded of a street advert I saw in Lagos for haemorrhoid cream – a beautifully-painted back view of a woman squatting over an, er, item she had just produced, clearly intended to signify how easy the whole process had been.

            2. AGirlCalledFriday*

              I think it’s because historically culture has tended to focus on the woman as the gender who will be more polite, more shy and retiring, more correct in behavior, more pure in thought and action. Of course, we know it’s all rubbish but woman are often put on a pedestal where they assumed to smell better, feel nicer, and sound sweeter. Pooping pretty much is the antithesis of what women are supposed to be. Even though we all do it, women are more embarrassed about it because it can feel like being a failure at the core of femininity. Same goes for farting, belching, etc. I’ve had female friends who refuse to shave everything, belch, fart, and announce when they have to poop. I cringe inwardly, but at the same time I’m envious of that freedom.

              1. Barefoot Librarian*

                My 18 year old daughter is one of those who have rejected wholeheartedly the idea of being embarrassed about bodily functions. She gleefully announces when she’s going to have a BM and brags about what an efficient pooper she is (5 max supposedly)..and this is to her teen and twenty-something friends of both genders. I cringe a bit because I’m hardwired to be more prudish about it but I’m actually kind of glad she feels free to talk about those things. It IS a stupid double standard!

              2. JB*

                Yeah, I had a coworker whose husband was appalled if she passed gas. That was something women weren’t supposed to do, even though it’s something every single human being does. It’s that kind of conditioning that sometimes makes women embarrassed about it, even though it isn’t inherently embarrassing, since it’s natural and everyone has to do it.

            3. KerryOwl*

              I assumed that Tiffy was being sarcastic, but maybe she isn’t . . . you people are legitimately “embarrassed” by the thought that other people might know that you poop sometimes? Maybe even EVERY DAY!? Lord have mercy, I’m about to have the vapors. Women! Shitting! How terrible. How embarrassing. You should hide your heads in shame. Next time just tell them you’re making flowers in there.

              1. AGirlCalledFriday*

                That’s not very kind. Many people feel this way, and I do believe it is a cultural thing. In Cambodia, I witnessed people going to the bathroom under their homes on stilts, and all throughout Southeast Asia it was not uncommon to see men going to the bathroom on a regular street. In Japan however, the women’s bathroom often had controls for perfume and waterfall sounds to mask the sound and scent. In the Middle East, Westerners were considered to have quite disgusting bathroom habits because we don’t wash afterward, just wipe with paper.

                I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people have their own feelings on the subject, and being insulting because you don’t share those feelings isn’t ok.

                1. LBK*

                  I think the KerryOwl’s point was how silly it is that we have all this cultural hush-hush agreement about something we all do. Like we would all prefer to pretend no one goes #2, despite the fact that obviously we all do.

                2. KerryOwl*

                  In the context of this discussion (which appears to be in a Western society of some kind, be it North America or Europe, but probably NA), the idea that men can shit and women can’t is disgusting to me. WAY more disgusting than the idea of shitting itself. (I am not grossed out by the concept of pooping, as long as it’s done in an appropriate location and not, say, the potted plant. I don’t think anyone should be.) It’s misogynistic and it’s appalling and all you ladies should poop without shame.

                3. fposte*

                  I think it’s fine to say that you’re not grossed out, but I think, as noted upthread, it’s not for any of us to tell other people that they aren’t allowed to have different taboos, in this culture or any other.

                4. AGirlCalledFriday*

                  fposte, that’s exactly what I meant. It’s fine to not be embarrassed, but it’s not productive to shame those who are. I’m not making a statement on whether or not it makes sense to be embarrassed, just that people often are.

                5. Just Visiting*

                  IDK, I think there’s a place for “shaming.” If someone is making fatphobic comments about their own body, I think it’s fair for me to say “you shouldn’t talk about yourself like that,” because that talk hurts them and women in general (especially when the woman saying that is thinner than me, come on). It’s not really shaming, it’s saying “hey, your ideas about what’s proper are outdated, join us here in 2014 where ladies can poop freely and without censure.”

                6. fposte*

                  @JustVisiting–but people who don’t want to talk about poop aren’t necessarily afraid of censure, they just don’t want to talk about poop. It’s not simply a gender divide issue. And they get to not want to talk about poop, and being told to talk about isn’t actually a liberation.

                7. Bea W*

                  Yes, and I have no problem discussing the details of my bathroom habits with friends and family, but this is what girls are trained to think.

            1. Kay*

              I don’t know why it requires courage. At Ex-Job I BM’d pretty much every day and reveled in the fact that I was getting paid to do so. How awesome is that?

            2. Just Visiting*

              You need “courage” to poop at work? How do people not poop for an entire eight-hour period, is what I want to know. If I DON’T poop at work I feel uncomfortable. I can’t keep two meals in there for half the day!

              1. Bea W*

                Sometimes I try to poop at work, but then someone walks into the bathroom and things involuntarily clench. It is really uncomfortable. I wish I weren’t such a shy pooper. I hope this thread helps convince my body it’s okay to let one go even when someone is in the next stall.

                I normally only poop once, maybe twice a day naturally, but when I do, it’s not wasted. I have a friend who poops at least 5 times a day, which I just find baffling.

                1. Just Visiting*

                  Haha, I think I’m one of those constant poopers. I never count or anything, but it feels like I drop a deuce every couple of hours. I never spend too long on there, either. Guess my body just likes to keep everything circulating.

            3. BowelingOver*

              Wow. I never realised how brave I really am. Sometimes I poop more than once a day at work. I should get a medal or something!

          1. Bea W*

            I do only because my body refuses to schedule it for a more convenient time. My biggest dislike of doing this is that I like to feel comfortable with the grossness and feel like I will be judged if it’s it makes any kind of noise and doesn’t smell like flowers. It’s hard to have a truly satisfying poop when you’re worried someone will walk in and be grossed out, and judging by some of the comments and letters I’d read, people are grossed out at normal things that occur in bathrooms that are way less gross than pooping.

        2. Sadsack*

          Well you are in there likely doing one of two things, so…do you really think that anyone is condsidering whether or not you are having a BM? Besides, there are plenty of ladies who read magazines in the bathroom where I work. Then they leave the magazines on the floor in the stall next to the toilet. I just ignore it.

        3. Artemesia*

          When men enter a stall they are making an announcement of what they plan to do there. When women enter a stall there are many possible things they could be doing there. I think man are more matter of fact about #2 because it isn’t something they can be discreet about anyway.

          And aren’t we all glad for a chance to discuss this LOL.

        4. B.*

          The women at my work are… not considerate of others.

          I’m talking about you, lady who leaves what might be an entire roll of toilet paper in the toilet every day.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I could probably estimate quite accurately how much time I spent pooping at work by using my phone’s app manager to see how long I’ve run Sudoku in that time frame. :D

          1. Adam*

            Yep, I have folder on my phone that is unofficially dubbed my Toilet Arcade, because that’s the only time those games get played. I’d check my Candy Crush stats but they’d probably make me feel bad about myself…

    2. BRR*

      That’s always been my thoughts as well. I remember I tried to bring a book in when I was younger because I always saw my dad do it and thought, why am I just sitting here reading.

    3. Ineloquent*

      Alas, if only we could all be like you. I have terrible bowels, and it’s not unknown for me to spend 20 minutes of active time in the restroom about 45-60 minutes after lunch. Been to a doctor, nothing they could do. Food just makes me sick.

    4. Koko*

      For some reason, activating the angular gyrus region of the brain seems to make people poop faster and easier. This part of the brain is activated by language processing and arithmetic, so reading or doing mental arithmetic exercises works a bit like a “mental laxative.”

      1. teclatwig*

        Really? Do you have citations/sources that expand on this? I ask not to challenge but because I would be really interested in this. (Brain stuff is one of my catnips.)

        1. Koko*

          Unfortunately I don’t and can’t seem to find anything beyond anecdotal/informal advice for shy pee-ers and constipated folks on forums and Yahoo! answers.

          Personally I have a shy bladder and no matter how desperately I have to pee, my body refuses to relax enough to do so if I think someone is listening. Doing multiplication tables in my head has long been a trick I’ve used to encourage myself to go in those situations where I’m in a public restroom and I know someone else is in there but for whatever reason it’s dead quiet and the feeling that the other person can hear whether or not I’m peeing just makes it impossible to go. (I often wonder what the odds are that the other person in the other stall is experiencing the exact same problem, because I’m not making any noise in my stall!) But if I start multiplying some two-digit numbers by each other, suddenly my involuntary clenching lets up and I’m able to pee at least a minimal enough amount to take the pressure off my bladder until I can return to the restroom again later when it’s more private.

    5. Mephyle*

      Re Lamington’s post, i never understood why people get reading material for the restroom. I want to get in and out as quickly as i can
      So do I, but “as quickly as I can” is still longer than I would like. So I would rather have something to read than suffer boredom for extended periods of time (in the privacy of my own home).

  4. Preaction*

    I think OP is being a bit germophobic. I bring my phone, my clothes, my skin, and my hair into the bathroom, and simply occupying the bathroom does not make all of those things unsanitary. Sure, other people are less likely to touch those things, but simply being in the bathroom does not make something gross. How many people sneezed or coughed, didn’t sanitize their hands, and then picked up that magazine?

    1. fposte*

      It wouldn’t bother me, but I think enough people are bothered that it’s not going to have the effect that you want in your reception area. Keep separate materials, maybe.

      1. Colette*

        I think it’s totally valid to say “don’t take the magazines from reception into the bathroom”. However, I think we agree that it’s not a public health emergency if someone does.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          I think the actual thing is, “don’t take the magazines from the bathroom out to reception”. Not an emergency in any case, as you say, but one leg of the round trip isn’t bothering anybody — it’s the return journey that people are objecting to.

          1. Colette*

            I think it’s both – if the magazines are purchased for reception, the business presumably doesn’t want them all to end up in the bathroom.

          2. Jeanne*

            Can people in the waiting room see that someone is coming from the bathroom with the magazine? If it would upset visitors or clients that could be an issue.

    2. Colette*

      Yeah, I’m with you – I think this is behavior that the OP perceives to be unsanitary, but I don’t think there’s an actual basis for it being more unsanitary than all of the other activities you’ve mentioned.

      1. Aerosolization*

        Google it with “toilet.” Then think about your toothbrush. Feel better yet?

        My mother thinks I’m “quirky” because I leave the lid down. Open toilets in Real Estate photos is one of my greatest hatreds in all of life… right there, gaping in all of their poopie glory. Why God, why?!

        1. Lauren*

          I think you’re my evil twin! After a full year of living with my partner I have finally got him to quit the habit that he got from his mother of putting the lid down after he’s done. It genuinely brings me out in a rage because I don’t want to have to fiddle with the toilet every time before I go (IBS often makes the situation a little more urgent), and he’s clearly cool with putting something down after so why not just the seat? Its a toilet – how does putting the lid down disguise the fact that its a toilet? Sorry – absolute pet hate of mine! I think he did it for fun towards the end but he finally stopped when I got my tool box out to unscrew and get rid of the damn thing.

          1. Kerry*

            Ha, for me it’s so I don’t accidentally drop anything in. My city is one of the most expensive-by-square-foot to live in, and our bathroom is TEENY – before we got into the habit of putting the seat down every time we weren’t actively using it, I would regularly knock in my toothbrush, floss holder, face wash, aspirin, everything: if it was in the room, I’d find a way to accidentally flip it in there. Now it’s a pretty unbreakable habit.

          2. Big Tom*

            I always close the lid but it’s not because I’m trying to hide it or avoid dropping things, it’s because the spray caused by our violently flushing toilet and the particles that it distributes all over everything in the area is something I’d like to cut back on.

            To be clear it’s not like there’s a visible spray, but I’ve seen demonstrations involving dye and alternate light sources post-flush. It’s upsetting.

          3. Dmented Kitty*

            I do this because I have cats who just like to nose around. Even toilet water. They put their paws on the sides (not edges) of the bowl right around the water and much as I know their sweet faces has licked their own asses I’d like to avoid adding any more scatological remnants from the human toilet.

    3. Anonsie*

      I agree in theory but since these are things sitting out for visitors and etc to use, the fact that a lot of people will find it gross is a good enough reason not to do it. Appearances and all.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, this is where I am. You can’t control for guest sensibilities or insist that your guests adjust to your standards, whereas if it was only in-house you could just tell complainers to get their own magazines.

        I like the “For reception only” sticker idea, but honestly, I don’t think it’ll stop people who want them in the bathroom. Just identify the dullest of the lot as bathroom reading and leave ’em in there with a different sticker.

    4. FamilyofRobot*

      You make a good point. However, I try not to touch anything more than I have to in a bathroom and I try to keep my pants from resting on the floor, etc. So, I think its more about where do they put the reading materials when they can’t be holding them? That’s what crosses my mind anyway. At my last job there was a stockpile of books for bathroom reading and people always left them on the back of the toilet. That is gross! If there is a shelf, thats one thing. But otherwise, what are they doing with it when they are wiping and pulling up their pants?

      1. LawBee*

        Please tell me you’re not one of those people who flushes the toilet with her foot. That’s the WORST. (and I say her because I have no idea what men do in the bathroom other than stand around and, presumably, sneak peeks)

        1. Nutcase*

          Proud foot flusher here. I also absolutely hate bathroom doors with a pull handle to get out of the bathroom because so many people don’t wash their hands and I don’t want to have to touch that. I don’t want poop hands, especially other people’s poop on my hands. I have also recently mastered the hover but that feat of stamina is only reserved for the worst public bathrooms.

        2. JayDee*

          I flush with my feet not because I think the flushers are inherently gross but because they sometimes develop condensation and I hate ending up with a wet hand before leaving the stall.

    5. INTP*

      I came here to say this. Presumably you’re all using the restroom on a daily basis and you aren’t getting sick from it. Many employees probably bring their phones in there, women bring their purses, etc. Other people aren’t touching you or your personal items the way they’re touching these magazines, so it has a bigger ick factor, but that doesn’t mean the small amount of bacteria picked up on the magazine from being in the restroom poses any risk to anyone (and it’s probably negligible compared to the bacteria already on it from everyone’s hands). There’s a difference between ick factor and actually unsanitary – this is a pet peeve of mine. Could he be doing unsanitary things with the magazine in there? Sure, but if he is he’s probably also not being sanitary with his hands. TBH I would have to fight back laughter if someone reported a subordinate to me for reading magazines in the restroom.

      That said, an argument could be made for it looking unprofessional to visitors in the lobby when an employee obviously picks up a magazine and carries it off for his daily constitutional. The way to handle it is probably a “Magazines must be left in the lobby” rule.

    6. Karowen*

      Two points to address with bringing your phone/clothes/skin/hair into the bathroom and it isn’t unsanitary.

      First, as a bathroom reader I know exactly what my habits are and I do everything I can to make sure that my reading materials are not icky. But I wonder about whether other people would do the same. The reasonable assumption is that you would be careful about things that go on or very near your body (like phone, etc), but I don’t feel that I can make that same assumption about reading material.

      Second, even assuming that everyone is very careful, I’m not expected to touch their phone/clothes/skin/hair and then shake hands with someone. That makes it a bit different.

      I don’t know that I’d bother saying anything about it, and I certainly wouldn’t go to their manager, but I’d probably make a mental note not to use the lobby reading materials for anything anymore.

  5. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    Sure the behavior is unsanitary, but so is everything else people do. If someone were to bring this up in our office it would be impossible for me not to label this person as a control freak.

    1. CTO*

      I agree. OP, is this the hill you want to die on? Is this really worth it?

      I get that it’s hard to just let go of things when someone else’s actions are so obviously wrong in your eyes. I’m the same way. But it seems like you’re expending too much energy on policing someone else because they’re “misusing a company resource” and “spreading disease.” But in the big scale of things, taking magazines into the restroom is a pretty small transgression regardless of its outcomes.

      If you make a fuss about this, it’ll damage your reputation in the office more than it will your coworkers’.

          1. nep*

            Right — I like reminders like this…Makes me want to fit a nice expression like that into conversation.

            1. tesyaa*

              I think it comes from the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, but I’m not sure. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    2. Natalie*

      I’m admittedly biased as I think people are way to uptight about bathrooms generally, but I agree. It would be pretty hard for me not to view someone as unreasonably germaphobic if they cared so much about this that they needed a rule.

      1. INTP*

        I agree with this. I don’t have the greatest immune system, and I wash my hands but I also touch doorknobs without a paper towel, sit on the toilet seat without a cover (wasteful for the environment imo, unless you have an open wound on your butt or can’t position yourself without a mucous membrane touching the toilet seat for some reason), use my phone in the restroom, and the like. I have yet to ever catch any sort of bathroom-borne disease from it, and in fact I hardly get sick at all. I hardly get sick at all now, but even before I became more of a health freak and would develop respiratory infections at the drop of a hat, I still managed to touch things in restrooms without getting any sort of fecal borne or restroom-related disease.

        1. Natalie*

          I think (hope!) those stupid seat covers are on their way out. We remodeled our building and the new bathrooms don’t have the dispensers for them at all. I’m assuming programs like LEED don’t cotton to them because of the waste.

    3. Adam*

      Agreed. Sure we don’t need to commonly talk about bathroom habits, but we all know what goes on in the things. Thus the majority of us don’t spend time pondering what other people are doing in there unless we’re in a situation where time spent in the bathroom becomes an impossible to ignore issue.

      1. Elsajeni*

        I think this is the reason it provokes the “ick” reaction, actually — seeing someone pick up a magazine and carry it into the restroom puts a real dent in your ability to pretend that they’re just going in their to powder their nose, so it pushes the fact of what they’re actually doing in there closer to “impossible to ignore” territory.

    4. Nutcase*

      This behaviour would bother me greatly, but I wouldn’t ever be touching those magazines anyway so I probably wouldn’t pick this hill to die on. The amount of people I witness in the hairdressers and my doctors waiting room licking their finger in order to pick up the next page of their magazine, leaving a blob of spit on the corner puts me off of reading any shared literature thats been left out. I just. I can’t deal. Urgh.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This is exactly what I was thinking! But I was going to suggest having a discussion about this episode within earshot of the offender.
      Or print out stickers that say “been in bathroom stall” and stick them to any magazine that made the trip into the unknown and returned.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        Our office has special stickers for the bathroom magazines! We have a lot of magazines in our lobby and our break area too, so the stickers are to differentiate what stays in the bathroom. I always wonder who reads them but someone must because there are always new magazines in there.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s how I’d do it. As Aunt Vixen notes upthread, what you’re trying to prevent is stuff coming out of the bathroom, not stuff going in, so make it official that it lives there. Problem solved.

  6. The IT Manager*

    LOL! Reminds me of an old job. We’d usually end up with a few copies of the free daily paper around the office. Some co-workers had noticed a manager going into the bathroom with the newspaper and not wanting to touch it afterwards.

    Me? Not really bothered about this; although, I do think its odd to bring reading materials in public/work restrooms. Until co-workers mentioned this, it had just never occurred to me that this was happening. But I do not think something is contaminated (gross, unsanitary, shows a huge lack of social awareness/consideration for fellow coworkers) by being brought into the bathroom stall.

    Side note: If someone has to use their phone in the restroom, I’d much rather people use their phone’s data instead of voice. I don’t want to be on the listening end of someone doing their business (I don’t think that ever happened to me), but I have heard women carry on phone conversations in public restroom stalls so I know it occurs.

    1. Dmented Kitty*

      Had that a lot at my old office building. I just can’t understand how you can carry conversations when there’s so much ambient noise — tinkling, splashing, the pre-pee farts, and the hand dryer. I absolutely can’t.

  7. HR Manager*

    One of the places I worked at put stickers on each magazine requesting they not be removed from the reception area. It wasn’t in response to someone taking them to the restrooms – but it could be a good solution without embarrassing anybody.

    I understand that the likelihood of transmittal of bacteria or germs on the magazine is quite low, but there is a real perception of ‘gross-ness’ there that co-workers should be sensitive to too.

    1. Kate*

      This is what I was thinking too. Maybe put some kind of marking on them and send out an e-mail that reading material for guests in the reception area should not be removed from the reception area. There’s really no reason to mention the bathroom.

  8. HM in Atlanta*

    Sanitary or not – it’s a cultural thing in the US that you shouldn’t take shared materials into the toilet. I think it’s much weirder that there are gaps around the doors to the stalls you can see through (if someone wanted to).

          1. Ella*

            This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George takes the expensive art book into the bathroom at the bookstore and then has to buy it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      The gaps under the walls/doors are what weird me out. I loved all the UK stalls with walls and doors almost all the way to the floor. No kicking something inadvertently into another stall and if I wanted to put my bag down, I didn’t have to worry that someone would nick it out from under.

      1. Cassie*

        The walls/doors of stalls in Taiwan usually go almost all the way down to the floor but that’s because some of the toilets are squatting toilets (or I assume were converted from squatting toiled) and you can’t have a gap with a squatting toilet.

      2. Nutcase*

        I’m from the UK and every time I visit my family in Indiana the bathroom stalls there make me so uncomfortable every time. Genuine question – in many places why are there gaps for people to see through either side of the door? I don’t feel like I have any privacy at all when I use a public bathroom there. I’m now wondering if this is standard across the country/state even? No wonder people are icky about using bathrooms at work if there is a chance you might make eye contact with a coworker doing their “business”.

        1. Nina*

          Ventilation, maybe? I honestly don’t know. I do know the discomfort of meeting someone’s eyes when they’re in the stall. The gaps are just too wide!

        2. Anne*

          As a Brit living in Canada it’s pretty much universal. My personal theory is that it has to do with making it easier for security to see if there’s someone in the stall, but my inner cynic says it’s probably just the manufacturers skimping on costs. Whatever the reason, it’s weird.

    2. De (Germany)*

      I just came back from a three week holiday in the US and I was so weird out by that… Ours often don’t have walls that go all the way up, either, but being able to see through the gaps next to the door? That was strange…

    3. some1*

      The shared materials, plus, it’s weird in a “treating the office like you’re at home way” way, the same way it’s weird to walk around with your shoes off, groom yourself at your desk, or put your feet up on the desk.

  9. MaryMary*

    In college I was an office assistant for the Dean of Students. It was a running joke that at roughly the same time every morning, the Dean would pick up a copy of the newspaper and disappear for about 20 minutes. He would get pretty put out if the newspaper wasn’t there, but he was not forthcoming when we asked why he needed the newspaper. So, OP, at least it’s not your boss who is using the office’s reading material in the bathroom!

    Personally, though, I’m with Preaction. The world is full of germs, taking a magazine or newspaper with you is no grosser than taking your phone. Talking to people on the phone while you’re in the restroom, however, is a whole other problem…

  10. kac*

    Oh, don’t make the receptionist deal with this! If you’re so upset and grossed out by it, then it’s your issue to make a stink about. Whenever I’ve been a receptionist, I was the low-man on the totem pole, and it would be awful to have to try and reprimand a superior, regardless of how sensitive the topic may or may not be.

    1. Jax*

      As a former receptionist, if Jane Doe-Not-My-Superior came down the hall and asked me to talk to Bob about taking magazines into the bathroom, because OMG SO GROSS, I’d probably smile and nod and do nothing.

      Who am I to tell Bob what to do? The most I can do is whisper, the next time he grabs a magazine, “Hey Bob! Jane asked me to ask you not to take the magazines…out of the lobby.” See? I’d totally back out of the bathroom confrontation, because it’s embarrassing and again, WHO AM I? And Bob would probably laugh and say, “Jane! Pfft!” and take whatever he wanted.

      Jane should just deal with Bob directly. Cut out the middle man.

      1. Twentymilehike*

        This is probably the most realistic response situation … I agree! Think about magazines in doctors’ offices: sick person after sick person is picking them up. I’d rather take my chances reading the magazine a healthy person read while pooping than one a sick person sneezed all over.

    2. Min*

      This was my thought exactly. If you don’t want to make yourself into the bathroom police, why would you try to do that to the poor receptionist?

    3. University admin*

      Yes, couldn’t agree more (and I am not a receptionist)! Her realm is to attend to the reception area. While I get that whether magazines go in/out of the bathroom could be considered part of that, I think it’s a little unfair to make the receptionist deal with this. S/he shouldn’t have to counsel people on their bathroom habits. I do think that asking the receptionist to maintain a general policy of “no magazines leave the reception area” is fine, but expecting him/her to deal with this, simply because another employee (who may or may not even be that senior, not that it truly matters) is grossed out by it. Just because receptionists answer the phone doesn’t mean they should have to do this too.

  11. just passing through. . .*

    I would go out on a limb and posit that ANY magazines left out for public consumption are little petri dishes, trip to the bathroom stalls or not.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, I’m not seeing how this is worse germ-wise than someone who used the bathroom, didn’t wash their hands, comes out and flips through the magazine for a few seconds/minutes, then moves on.

        1. Dmented Kitty*

          That’s one of my pet-peeves. I would rather use a tiny wet sponge for this than licking my fingers, because who knows if there’s another person’s drool on it or if it was handled by someone who didn’t wash properly in the bathroom.

          I know I have an immune system and my office keyboard is probably a microbial soup, but it wouldn’t hurt to at least avoid any additional burst of fresh pathogens into your mouth if you can help it. :/

    2. Bailando!*

      I read somewhere that you should not touch the magazines in doctors’ offices for the same reason. Haven’t touched one since, it makes sense if you think about it!

      1. Mister Pickle*

        I think my mom wrote that article about doctor’s office magazines! She also didn’t want us playing with any toys there, either. She may have had a point.

        Nowadays I carry my iPad almost everywhere, and use it for ebooks and such. What? You don’t want to touch my iPad? Heh fine by me!

  12. Maggie*

    Have the receptionist create labels that say something to the effect of (in bold or bright color):
    “For Guest Use Only.” Or something like that. Put them on all reading materials in the lobby. If it happens again, then I would bring it to their manager, using the ‘they’re for guest use only’ so as to not embarrass them or point out the obvious gross factor. And then lysol the crud out of that magazine pile.

    1. Jax*

      If I’m waiting in a lobby getting irritated, the last thing I need to imagine are the staff grabbing a pile of magazines and slacking off with them–and that’s exactly what I’m going to think looking at those stickers.

      Employee problems that involve the lobby need to be dealt with directly, behind the scenes.

  13. Chinook*

    “If you say something to the receptionist — which would be my preference, since it’s actually her realm to handle — I’d say, “Hey, I’ve noticed some people are talking the magazines into the bathroom and then returning them here, which is unsanitary. Any way you could put a stop to it when you see it or send an email asking people to cut it out?””

    But does the receptionist have the authority to do this or will she then get stuck with remarks about her overstepping her job?

    1. CoffeeLover*

      To me it seems the person that’s bothered by it should talk to the culprit. If the receptionist doesn’t care enough to say anything, then she’s not obligated to. Personally, I’ve just accepted that people do all kinds of unsanitary stuff whether you have proof of it or not. I take precautions as such (i.e., washing hands before eating). If I was the receptionist I wouldn’t say anything because I wouldn’t care.

  14. Ella*

    Didn’t Alison say she was done with bathroom questions? I guess grossness has prevailed and there will always be bathroom issues to deal with at work!

    1. Nerd Girl*

      And they “flagged” it. LOL! I was totally thinking that. “Sir, we can’t take this back. It’s been flagged.” LOL!!!

  15. KC*

    I seriously can’t believe someone wrote in about this. Is it really that big of a deal? Don’t you have better things to do at work than monitor what people do in the bathroom?

    1. Ali*

      Some of the questions here in the last week or so have had me shaking my head, but this one takes the cake. Makes me even more glad I work from home.

    2. LCL*

      It was a huge deal to me when people started taking the newspaper I left out for all to share into the bathroom. The same newspaper I liked to read over lunch. I was able to solve that by not sharing, I hate that solution but I didn’t want to have to patrol for it. And I did have more important things to do, but it drove me berserk.

  16. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Ugh, I’m officially bowing out from reading more of the comments on this post. I have such a weak stomach for this stuff. I don’t know why I periodically forget that.

    1. Bailando!*

      I must this “unusual discussion” has added a little something interesting to an otherwise very dull day!

  17. JustPickANameAlready*

    I suppose I am just weird. The magazine coming back from the bathroom would not freak me out much. If you work in an office, you are breathing in and swallowing dead skin and hair; your keyboard holds more bacteria than a toilet seat. When you get down to it, we are all bags of bloody flesh processing waste materials that need to be ejected. The molecules that make up our bodies are part of a constant dance of recycling– your physical vessel is composed of atoms that have been solid waste before, as well as more than likely the body of other people who have died and decomponsed. We are crawling with bacteria, mites, etc. whose presence is crucial to our continued survival. Life is a messy process. Deal with it. :)

  18. JustPickANameAlready*

    MAN, I wish we could fix typos and errors on these messages. :/
    THAT bothers me. :)

  19. Fun-&-Games*

    Well, if it bothers you, then get there early every day so you can be the first one to read the materials!

    Just don’t start thinking about what the person that delivers it does with their hands before it shows up. Which makes for an interesting point, that any “dirty” magazines may actually be the cleanest as they tend to come completely sealed in plastic bags…

    If it was purchased at a check out line somewhere, well, dozens of the dirty, nasty, unwashed hordes may have handled it. A lot of people have desks and cars dirtier than the average restroom.

    These letters crack me up. All the little things that people get all unraveled about. Sheesh.


      1. Joey*

        One does have to admit though if this is worthy of writing to you about you’re probably in a pretty good work environment

  20. AnonyMouse*

    I feel like this person is probably just used to bringing their magazines/books/etc into the bathrooms at home and isn’t thinking about how it might be weird at work. If I was in OP’s position (and determined to do something about it), I probably wouldn’t even ask the receptionist to step in – I’d just casually mention that it might be weird for guests/other coworkers to see someone taking the communal reading material into the toilets. Hopefully they’d get the hint. If they didn’t, then I might ask the receptionist if it would be possible to have a “reading material stays here please, don’t remove” memo sent around.

  21. Cassie*

    When I was a kid, I used to read in the bathroom but I find it kind of gross now. Especially if you are reading books/magazines/etc that are communal. But I admit that I’m a bit of a germaphobe – I don’t even like checking out books from the library all that often because who knows where the books have been. (Thank goodness for e-books!).

    My suggestion would be to stick those long rods /sticks on the magazines or newspapers, but that probably wouldn’t discourage people from taking them into the bathroom anyway.

  22. Jesicka309*

    Speaking of reading materials in bathrooms… A sign has gone up in the ladies bathroom asking us to be “courteous of our fellow coworkers, by washing our hands with warm water and soap. This is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the common cold, gastro, and even Ebola.”
    I spent a week sniggering at the idea of one of my coworkers sitting at her desk, seething with rage/paranoia, and deciding that a note above the hand dryers would solve everything.
    The note was taken down Friday. By Monday, there were two in there. It almost makes me want to use cold water and no soap and see if I can drive this coworker insane, whoever she is.

    1. jesicka309*

      Just remembered I forgot: we don’t even have a recorded case of Ebola in Australia yet, so it’s pretty funny that someone in my office is paranoid about it.

      1. Jeanne*

        Ebola? That’s really paranoid. You can’t possibly have people in your office with Ebola symptoms. I wonder how your coworker even sleeps at night with all these things to worry about.

  23. Nervous Accountant*

    Alison< I get that this is a gross subject, but I really hope you wouldn't stop them totally. Call me weird but I find it eye opening and interesting. It's a taboo subject, but given the quality of commenters here, we're all mature adults and frankly I haven't seen anything offensive written here regarding BMs. If someone doesn't like reading about this stuff (totally cool) they can just not read the topic–I know I don't read every single post or comment that comes up here because it's not relevant or interesting to me at any paritcular time.

    On a broader note, I was talking to someone else who just started working, and she brought up how different life is when you're not working vs when you are….and this is definitely one of those things. I remember in school, take a break any longer than 2-3 minutes and teachers went after you asking if you're "okay." I know when I'm not working, it's never really an issue because I can go anytime and spend as little or as much time if I wanted to; when I am working, not so much. I think people who've been working full time for a while tend to not even think about these little things (or maybe regarding BMs, they do?) I perosnally could never talk about this with present/former coworkers, but in a group like this? sure. I think of this blog as a safe space.

  24. Robyn*

    Oh please. How is it ‘unsanitary’? Do you do change your clothes after using the toilet? Then why would coming out with a newspaper be any different?

  25. CynW*

    Oh please dear OP-address this most disgusting issue with the perpetrator yourself. The receptionist already has the worst, lowest paid gig in the building and I for one am tired to death of the least compensated doing dirty work that could be done by people themselves. Just my two . . .

  26. Catherine*

    As an office manager, I really bristle at the idea of having the Receptionist address the issue. She’s already lowest on the totem pole, and if nasty bathroom magazine guy gets upset, it will be at her expense – despite the fact she is just doing her job. I’ve been in this situation and it isn’t comfortable.

  27. receptionist*

    Agree w/ Catherine above. If someone above the receptionist (office manager, hr) wants to make a “no magazines in the bathroom” policy for the receptionist to enforce, that’s fairer than asking the receptionist to create and enforce this rule herself (or himself) to appease OP if she doesn’t want to/doesn’t feel comfortable.

    OP going to the culprit directly gets my vote.

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