Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about signing in to go to the restroom:
We have a new rule at work. We now have to sign out to use the restroom and sign back in when we return. At present it is only one department. Do they have to sign in and out?
Signed, Signing In
Dear Signing In:
The simple, perhaps too simple, answer to your question is: comply. Employers have no laws preventing them from a sign out sign in rule. We do not provide legal advice, and you can check with your state’s Department of Labor if the matter is of special importance.Apparently, those who make the rules at your workplace have reason to think that time is wasted, and if so that could cut down on time away from one’s workstation. Also it would provide information if employees are misusing the facilities. For example, if there have been complaints as to sanitation, a sign out/in sheet could enable learning who has not shown proper restroom etiquette.My advice is that if and when there is concern about restroom policies and practices, management should take that seriously. Most of all this applies to access and sanitation. Just as it is important for a retail employer to make restrooms clean, available, and reasonably pleasant for the public, that principle should apply for employees.
Management should be able to handle restroom matters. If not, when there are complaints, a management/worker committee can review and make restroom rules. In your case, those in a department that find the sign out/sign in rule disrespectful or imposing, they might appeal to those who made the rule or to a higher authority. The one and most important workplace rule with which employers must comply is: The employer may not impose unreasonable restrictions on employee use of the facilities. I am including more than you might want to know regarding Department of Labor information regarding restrooms, but then again it might be helpful.
OSHA requires that all workers have unrestricted access to a convenient restroom, and has suggested that a walk of more than 1/4 mile is too far. Also OSHA clarification addresses a number of related issues in respect to your question, such as: · It varies greatly in each case and an employer is not required to make an accommodation for a known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business. Undue hardship is defined as an accommodation requiring “significant difficulty or expense. · Medical studies show the importance of regular urination, with women generally needing to void more frequently than men. Adverse health effects that may result from voluntary urinary retention include increased frequency of urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can lead to more serious infections and, in rare situations, renal damage (see, e.g., Nielsen, A. Waite, W., “Epidemiology of Infrequent Voiding and Associated Symptoms,” Scand J Urol Nephrol Supplement 157). UTIs during pregnancy have been associated with low birthweight babies, who are at risk for additional health problems compared to normal weight infants (see, Naeye, R.L., “Causes of the Excess Rates of Perinatal Mortality and the Prematurity in Pregnancies Complicated by Maternity Urinary Tract Infections,” New England J. Medicine 1979; 300(15); 819-823). Medical evidence also shows that health problems, including constipation, abdominal pain, diverticuli, and hemorrhoids, can result if individuals delay defecation (see National Institutes of Health (NJH) Publication No. 95-2754, July 1995). · Employee complaints of restrictions on toilet facility use should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the restrictions are reasonable. Careful consideration must be given to the nature of the restriction, including the length of time that employees are required to delay bathroom use, and the employer’s explanation for the restriction. In addition, the investigation should examine whether restrictions are general policy or arise only in particular circumstances or with particular supervisors, whether the employer policy recognizes individual medical needs, whether employees have reported adverse health effects, and the frequency with which employees are denied permission to use the toilet facilities. Knowledge of these factors is important not only to determine whether a citation will be issued, but also to decide how any violation will be characterized. · If you have any questions, contact Helen Rogers in the Office of General Industry Compliance at (202) 219-8031/41 x106. Also FYI, it might be wise for you to scan CareerBuilder blogger on Oct 3, 2008 in Office Etiquette included below: One topic that workers always seem to have very spirited opinions about is workplace etiquette.
Which makes sense – it can be tricky and complicated to negotiate different types of relationships with co-workers and supervisors. And probably no workplace etiquette subject is as controversial as restroom etiquette. Some workers can get very irritated at how those “facilities” are used by others. I thought we’d share a few simple requests that we’ve heard. If you’re in the midst of a job search, make sure you remember this when you land your new gig, so your new co-workers don’t have a reason to regret your arrival! Workplace restroom rules to remember: · Timing is everything. Unless you have a key to your own executive washroom, chances are that dozens, if not hundreds of workers are sharing the same facilities. Visiting the restroom should be sort of like going to your dentist: Do what you have to do and get out – other people are waiting! · This is not a library. Reading a newspaper or magazine cover to cover means you’re monopolizing loo time and denying someone else access. Make sure any reading materials you DO take with you aren’t left behind. · It’s also not your desk. You shouldn’t be conducting business in the john. This means using your cell phone, PDA or Blackberry. · Make sure you leave the facilities as you found them. Or in other words, don’t leave anything behind. (Ahem.) Don’t assume the automatic flushing devices will do it for you, either. · Wash your hands. A recent American Society of Microbiology survey indicates that 77 percent of us wash our hands after using the bathroom. (Which means almost a quarter of us are NOT!) Interestingly enough, this article says that the spread of germs happens most frequently not from shared use of a toilet, but from unwashed hands spreading germs to your eyes and mouth. · Don’t be social. Though a quick “hello” acknowledging a co-worker is fine, now is not the time to strike up a lengthy conversation. And if the facilities are full, don’t hang around waiting for them to open. Come back later or seek out other options. I hope this answers your question.
Please keep us posted on how the new rule works or doesn’t. Working together to make a friendly and profitable workplace is an ongoing process and that includes the most basic human needs. As I say in my signature sentence: Working together with hands, head and heart (and that includes the whole body) takes and makes big WEGOS.