No Clean Restroom Nearby!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a dirty restroom: Do I have a right to have a restroom that is clean, private and within a reasonable distance from the office?

I am a female working in a shop environment with three men. When I took the job I was working in a nice office (which was the one in which I was interviewed.) Instead I ended up working in a small mobile office. In the trailer is a restroom that has never been made operable, so I have to go out into the dirty, greasy shop, stepping over pallets and pumps all the way, to the very back of the shop where two men are standing 15 feet away at a work table. The restroom is a frame with tin nailed to it. There is a one inch crack between the door and the wall. Anyone can see you doing your business. The toilet is filthy (I don’t feel it is my place to clean it.)

During all of this I am having to go outside into the wind, cold and rain to reach the facility. I have made complaints to my boss about it and he says he’ll take care of it but after five years nothing has happened. The owner told me he told my boss to get the restroom in the office in working order. Do I have a right to have a restroom that is clean, private and within a reasonable distance from the office?

Signed, Sick of the dirty, distant restroom

Dear Sick of the dirty, distant restroom:

You must either need this job very, very badly and have no other options, or be very tolerant of intolerable conditions! I can’t imagine why you would stay in such a situation otherwise. I never tell people to quit a good paying job, but this certainly would tempt me! Contact your state’s Department of Labor, listed in the phone book or on the internet, and find out the laws relating to workplace sanitation. There may be no specific requirements in your state, but there may be. Check with the Health Department as well.

That’s another area in which there may be regulations and may not be. Consider going to the owner and pointing out that you’ve been faithful worker for five years but they’ll have to find a replacement if they don’t immediately–like in the next few days–provide you with a clean, workable and private bathroom. If you don’t mean it, you shouldn’t say it. But honestly, don’t you think you should have that after this time? And what about the men? Don’t they deserve a decent bathroom too? Do you know them well enough to ask one of them to support you in getting bathroom facilities that are appropriate for all of you? Also, it may not be any ONE person’s place to clean what you have, but perhaps you could ask all of them to join with you in gathering some hot water, bleach and long handled brushes, plus gloves, masks and nose-clips, to clean up the filthy place you have.

If I were going to be working there, I wouldn’t let ownership of the task of cleaning get in the way of my cleaning the place, if only for my own use. The dirtier an area is, the easier it is for someone to make it even worse, as you likely have noticed.If you can, take photos of the bathroom and enlarge them so you can have proof of what you’re talking about. Show those to the owner. If nothing happens in a week and it becomes apparent nothing is going to happen you may want to take those photos to the state Health Department or to the state Department of Labor, to make your point. If you do that you probably won’t have a job, so that might not be your choice. But something has to be done besides tolerating it for another five years.

In fact, that’s the way to consider it. If they do, in the next five years, what they’ve done in the last five years, to make things better, how good will things be? Do you want to still be working like that? Do you want to be working for people who would treat anyone–male or female–like that?I hope you will take decisive action on your own. There may be no law about it. The owner may have not requirement to provide anything different. There may not be health or labor violations. But if you have been a good employee, the owner of the company is likely to prefer to add a restroom rather than to lose you.One last word about that. If you get a good restroom, be prepared for others to want to use it. Put a “Women’s Restroom” sign on the door and do not give-in when someone else wants to use it. Otherwise you will be right back where you started! Best wishes in dealing with this nasty situation!

Tina Lewis Rowe