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Thanks to the internet and those blessed meme things, many employees live by the meme-philosophy: Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime, that's why I poop on company time. However, under the law, employers are legally allowed to restrict bathroom breaks, at least, within reason.
Generally, reasonable restrictions will not prohibit employees from using the restroom when the need arises. However, in production, or client facing industries, employers may require an employee to wait for a co-worker to relieve their position before taking a bathroom break. Additionally, if an employee has a medical condition that necessitates frequent bathroom breaks, employers may need to be flexible as frequent bathroom breaks is an easily achievable reasonable accommodation in nearly all situations.
Giving Bathroom Restrictions the Business
While there is no federal law that specifies the number or length of bathroom breaks an employer must provide, restricting bathroom use unreasonably can lead to lawsuits and even all-out labor disputes with picketers and media. OSHA does provide rules that require employers to provide employee restrooms, and allow employees access to those restrooms.
Generally, unreasonable restrictions on bathroom usage will be viewed as a violation of an employee's rights because it subjects employees to detrimental effects to their health, including urinary tract and bladder infections, kidney stones, and other ailments. Furthermore, depending on a company's policy, restrictions on the length of bathroom usage may also have a discriminatory impact on women, or aging individuals, who sometimes need a little extra time in the restroom.
What is considered reasonable will vary from job to job, and likely depend on state law as well. If an employee's bathroom usage interferes with their ability to do their job, or with the production line, or client services, then the law may not protect that employee.
Alternatively, if an employee needs to use the restroom, an employer should not have a policy that denies that employee the ability to do so. Even where an employee has an essential job, such as on a production line, an employer may be required to provide prompt and temporary relief of duties for the employee.
Does an Employer Have to Pay for Bathroom Breaks?
Generally, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, short breaks between 5 to 20 minutes are considered mutually beneficial for employer and employee, and as such, should be paid. However, if the breaks extend beyond 20 minutes, an employer can refuse to pay for that time.