Cleaning The Restroom At A Store Without Closing

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about cleaning restrooms while in use.

I’m writing this on behalf of my mother who works at a very well known store in the maintenance department. She’s going on three years working there. Earlier this week the maintenance crew was told that they can no longer close the restrooms when they go in to clean them. My mother feels extremely uncomfortable cleaning the men’s restroom when male customers are in there doing their business. She already spoke to two of her supervisors about the issue, but they tell her that she has to keep them open at all times even if she is in there cleaning them.

I myself wouldn’t feel comfortable in a male restroom if there were other males going in and out to urinate right in front of me. I’m trying to research to see if this is something that is of common practice at other stores. I don’t want to say the name of the store because I don’t know if it’s allowed on this site. It is a very big chain. Please help or guide me so that I can do better research. Thank you so much!!

Signed, Mother In Maintenance

Dear Mother In Maintenance:

It is thoughtful of you to seek information for your mother regarding here store’s new order to not close the men’s restroom while she is cleaning. Please tell your mom that I think of her and those who labor with waste are the real saints of our society. In fact in another site for which I write, this week I wrote: Who can argue against saints, even those who were victims of the Saints who won the Super Bowl? Not I. But, yes a big but, but are we missing seeing the saints all around us? They may not attend church and sometimes have a habit of linking the Lord’s name with other taboo four letter words.

Some of them have pants that ride low in the back. But they are the ones who do stinking dirty and dangerous work of which Jackie Gleason made us aware in the Honeymooners. . . I will argue that saintly living need not be, nor is it confined to those canonized. And we, who are thinking people, should know that it is the good done by ordinary folk that deserve our tribute, not just those proclaimed saints. Understandably this new policy transgresses her sense of modesty. She has spoken to her supervisor and gotten a re-statement of the new order. Since she is employed by a big chain, surely there must have been a ruling from on high, and she should be able to request a copy of the order and learn its rationale. There might be state and federal law on this sort of matter, but I know of none.

She should not hesitate to request both orally and in writing a printed statement on this new order. Possibly there is an in-between solution. Rather than posting a sign saying the restroom is closed for cleaning, might maintenance be able to simply post a sign that says the restroom is being cleaned with nothing blocking the open door? I predict most men would not enter if the saw a woman cleaning. A few individuals might need to come in while the cleaning is ongoing and your mother would simply then need to turn away. Short of that, the order will need to be followed until and if she and her union, if she has one, can get the new order rescinded. Some cultures are rigid about separation along gender lines. Others now are less so.

If no accommodations will be made for a responsible employ, such as she has been for three years and this matter is too stressful, she had best ask for a transfer of work within the chain.Yours is the first query we have had about this matter. Therefore, please share with us how this matter is or isn’t resolved, and we will post it. From time to time policies change and sometimes they entail matters of value. This is one of them. I hope your mother does not allow this to become too uncomfortable and obsess her every thought. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

An additional comment by Tina Lewis Rowe: I certainly agree with Dr. Gorden that your mother should ask for clarification of the directive. I have talked to two large department store managers and both of them say they can’t imagine a situation in which someone of the opposite gender would clean a restroom that was in operation. They said the only two options they have is to close the restroom and have an opposite gender custodian clean, or leave the restroom open while a same gender person cleans. In one lawsuit, not directly related to this, a man sued because a woman was hired over him as a a janitor, even though he had tenure advantage. The courts heard testimony that the janitor was being hired just to clean women’s rooms, and because the facility had to keep restrooms open while cleaning, due to high usage, it was obvious that a man could not be hired. The court said the company could have, in those circumstances, limited applicants to females. Your mother and her coworkers should talk to the supervisor and ask to see the directive and have it explained. If it does actually say women maintenance staff must clean while men are using the restroom, they should ask to talk to HR or to a higher level person about it.

In the meantime, if she has to work before this gets resolved, maybe she could stay in one area of the restroom while men are using the urinals, but clean in the open areas if men are in the stalls. I’ll bet if a man sees your mother cleaning in the restroom, most of them wouldn’t want to come in anyway!Best wishes! Tina Rowe

William Gorden