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Running a brick and mortar business is ripe with pitfalls. On top of ensuring the premises are safe for everyone, accessible to those with disabilities, and meets the business's goals, many business owners wonder about their legal obligation in terms of providing customers with a restroom.
State and local laws and regulations lay out the minimum physical requirements for what a business's public accommodation must provide. So, whether your business must provide a public restroom for customer will depend on where your business is located.
Size and Type of Business
Businesses that provide public-facing spaces of a certain size are generally required to provide a public restroom. These requirements will likely be different when it comes to businesses that serve food. Some businesses may be exempt from providing their own restrooms if they are located within a shopping plaza, mall, or other area that has a restroom for customers' use.
The requirements tend to be geared around the business's customer capacity. Usually, businesses are required to provide a minimum number of bathroom facilities for every X number of customers (e.g. one restroom for every 40 customers would require a restaurant that seats 100 guests to provide three restrooms).
Exceptions for Medical Reasons
Some states have laws that require businesses that have employee bathrooms to allow customers with actual medical necessity to use an employee restroom. However, these laws are not absolute. For instance, in Tennessee, if allowing a customer to use the employee restroom would pose a risk of injury to the customer, or would put the business at risk in other ways, then the business may still be able to refuse.
If you have questions about whether your business needs to provide customers with access to restrooms, you should contact a local business attorney as these matters tend to be rather nuanced, and some buildings or properties might be subject to local exemptions for historical, practical, or other reasons.