What Does OSHA Say About Bathroom Breaks at Work?
Going to the bathroom sometime during the day is just a fact of nature. But can an employer restrict your bathroom breaks or make it more difficult to take a break?
The answer is “No!” And there’s even a set of OSHA standards to back it up.
OSHA Bathroom Break Laws
Make toilet facilities available for restroom breaks
OSHA requires “employers to make sanitary toilet facilities available so that employees can use them when they need to do so.” The purpose behind the OSHA standards is not just employee comfort, but the fact that not having toilets available when needed can cause adverse health effects. That’s why the key to understanding OSHA’s bathroom break standard is the word “available”.
“Available” doesn’t mean simply that the employer provides a restroom for employees. Instead, the toilets must be available when the employees need to use them. In other words, when you gotta go, you gotta go. It is also recognized that employers may need to put restrictions on usage, but those restrictions must be reasonable.
For instance, an assembly line can’t stop every time someone needs to take a bathroom break. So many employers use a signal system. When you have to go, you give the signal and someone else takes your place on the line. This type of system is approved as long as the employee doesn’t have to wait an unreasonable amount of time for a replacement.
Employee Restroom Rights are Fundamental
Employers need to be flexible when creating rules for bathroom breaks and take into account that some people may need to go more often than others. This is not just a “comfort issue”. It’s been shown that women who hold it are more likely to suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Who needs to go more often?
Medical studies have proven that it’s important not to hold it but to go when you need to go. Some of the people who are going to have to go more frequently include:
- Pregnant women
- Women with stress incontinence
- Men with prostatic hypertrophy
- People taking certain medications
- A cold environment
- People consuming large amounts of fluid, such as people working in a hot environment.
What About People Who Don’t Work Near Restrooms?
Some people work outside in situations where they don’t have easy access to a toilet or even a portable toilet system. These include work crews such as electrical line workers and road construction crews or people who work in an area that is usually unattended.
These workers don’t fall into the standard category of having “available” restrooms. Instead, they must have the ability to leave their worksite “immediately” to find a nearby restroom facility.
Farmworkers toil far away from the typical restroom. They also handle crops in the fields. It seems almost every month we hear about fresh vegetables getting recalled because of dangerous bacteria found on them. That’s why good hygiene out in the fields is essential. In these cases, the rules state that toilets (which can include portable toilets) are located no more than a quarter of a mile away from the workers.
Do you need separate Ladies’ rooms and the Men’s rooms?
Just having a restroom nearby is not enough in most cases. OSHA standards require that employers also provide toilet facilities separated for each sex.
Restroom Breaks vs. Lunch Breaks
It would seem logical that if the Federal government regulates bathroom breaks, then lunch breaks would be, too – everyone has the right to eat, right?
The Fair Labor Standards Act says there is no federal requirement for meal breaks. Instead, many states have their own laws covering breaks and meal times. Find your state’s regulations at the US Department of Labor’s website.
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