Let’s Talk About Bathrooms and Work

Beth Dean 10.31.23
2023-10-31Nextep blog - Bathrooms at work

It’s not the most savory of topics, but still merits discussion. All of your employees will need to use the bathroom during work. Here’s a potty primer, if you will.

Disability and Bathrooms

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has clear regulations on bathroom accessibility in the workplace. Much of the guidance revolves around making the bathroom accessible to people with mobility issues. Guidelines include grab bars, an entrance wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, the size of the stall, dimensions of the sink, and more.

Bio Breaks

Bathroom breaks are another matter to consider and could be tricky. As we’ve discussed, breaks throughout the day are allowable and compensable when 20 minutes or fewer. But how many bathroom breaks are too many? And what if they run long? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) gives us guidance. 

Of course, we as employers aren’t in the business of tracking our employees’ bathroom time. There’s no federal standard on how many washroom breaks to provide, but OSHA encourages dual responsibility. It is the employer’s job to provide unfettered access to washrooms, and the employee’s duty to not abuse that privilege. 

Excessive bathroom breaks could also indicate a disability or medical condition. In these cases, enter into the collaborative process for finding a reasonable accommodation. You can contact your HR Business Partner at Nextep or access the Job Accommodation Network for guidance.

Gender Identity and Bathrooms

Employers often wonder which bathroom transgender or nonbinary employees should use. The answer for all employees: whichever one(s) they want.

OSHA has weighed in on this topic too. Under OSHA’s sanitation standard (1910.141), employers must provide unrestricted, sanitary, and promptly accessible restroom facilities to employees. Restricting the use of restrooms or segregating employees to gender-neutral or other employer-dictated facilities may make transgender employees feel singled out, physically unsafe, or can lead to health problems and infections that arise by not having prompt access to a restroom.

Making a gender-neutral restroom available is not unreasonable, but mandating that certain employees only use that designated facility is

The employee should be allowed to use the facility that corresponds with their gender identity, but ultimately, according to OSHA, “The employee should determine the most appropriate and safest option for him- or herself.” Regardless of gender identity or biology, choosing and using the bathroom is a personal choice.

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