Should Employers Restrict Toilet Breaks at Work?

Should Employers Restrict Toilet Breaks at Work?

Ensuring your employees are as productive as possible at all times is often top priority. So when employees are spending more and more time in the bathroom, what do you do? Can employers restrict toilet breaks?

All employees will likely need to use a toilet during some part of the working day and should be provided with the appropriate facilities, and allowances, to do this. Despite this, it can be frustrating if staff members are spending frequent and significant amounts of time away from their desks to visit the bathroom.

As such, employers may wish to impose restrictions on toilet break allowances during the working day, however, they should always approach this with caution. Whilst there is no law that specifies the number, or lengths, of bathroom breaks that an employer must allow, they are able to restrict this, within reason.

Can employers restrict bathroom visits?

What is considered reasonable will vary from job to job; for example, if the employee works within a client facing industry, or on a production line, employers may require the employee to wait for a colleague to relieve their position.

When considering an overall restriction, such as limiting bathroom visits to three times a day, it is important that any change to company rules on this be clearly highlighted within a fully visible and accessible company policy. Employers may wish to address prolonged and regular bathroom breaks with employees first.

What to do if employees visit the bathroom too often

The appropriate action would be to raise this with the employee and invite them to explain themselves. It may be that they are struggling due to an as yet unknown illness or disability, meaning that the employer may need to consider making adjustments to help them within their working day.

Employers should remember that there may be a number of reasons why an employee is needing the toilet more and a false step here could lead to a grievance claim or complaints of discrimination and victimization.

If they are unable to provide an explanation for this, despite being given opportunity in which to do so, it may discourage them from continuing with this behavior if they are told the situation will be monitored going forward. 

Why are employees visiting the bathroom so often?

It is becoming increasingly common that workers are spending more time than necessary in the bathroom due to the use of electronic devices, using the time away from the direct supervision of their manager to make personal calls, browse the internet or play games.

To counter this, employers could consider banning the taking of phones or tablets to the toilet or imposing an overall prohibition of their use whilst in working hours. If an employee is suspected of doing this, any changes to the rules should be company-wide and apply to everyone, not just the individual.

Employers should bear in mind that employees may react poorly to having toilet restrictions imposed on them. Remember that poor workforce morale can have a significant effect on a company, potentially leading to high levels of employee turnover.

Author: Alan Price is senior director for the multi-award winning employment law consultancy, Peninsula; managing director of Peninsula Ireland and Elected Director & Trustee for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – CIPD. Alan is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD with over 15 years’ experience in employee relations. His wealth of expertise means he is often sought for advice by business leaders and to provide comment to the media including the Daily Telegraph, Sky News, Sunday Times, Financial Adviser by the FT, Lloyds and Santander and Guardian Newspaper.

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