Managing employee productivity is paramount to all businesses. There are many steps that can be taken to identify an unproductive worker and help get them back to where they should be in terms of level of performance. There are, however, some areas of work-life and productivity that sit in a bit of a grey area. One of the most glaring examples being toilet breaks.
One common example of a worker cheating the system and finding a way to work a few less hours in the day is by taking excessive toilet breaks.
You more than likely know of an employee that strolls off to the bathroom every hour or spends a little bit longer than needed in there. They may even take their phone with them every time.
This can be frustrating for employers and businesses and you may be wondering what action can be taken when you suspect a worker of being dishonest about toilet breaks and using it as an opportunity to make phone calls or just step away from their desk for a total of 20 – 30 minutes each day.
But what does the law says about this issue, what are some of the complications surrounding it and should, or can, employers actually do anything about it?
As an employer, it can be tricky territory to manoeuvre though and you may have the urge to put some sort of company system in place, but you need to tread very carefully which is why we encourage employers to speak to a qualified and experienced HR Consultant who can provide them with professional and bespoke Employment Law Advice that will ensure they are complying with law and not putting their business in jeopardy.
You can call us on 0845 2626 260 to find out more about this service or email us directly.
What is meant by excessive toilet trips?
We all understand that going to the toilet is a necessity and the reality of human life, so giving your employees little or no time for toilet breaks throughout their working day would become a health and safety issue.
But when are employees crossing the line between a reasonable amount of toilet breaks into excessive?
The average person uses the bathroom 6-7 times within a 24-hour period so in a typical 8 hour working day that would be 2-3 trips whilst at work.
However, you need to bear in mind that everyone’s bladder is different, not to mention outside factors such as age, health, menstruation, liquid consumption – all of which may influence how many toilet trips one needs in a day.
If there is a particular employee who seems to be going to the bathroom every hour or they disappear to the toilet for ten/fifteen minutes at a time, then you do have the right to be suspicious or even just concerned.
On the other hand, you should do well to remember that workers have a right to access the bathroom whenever they need to use it and this only becomes a HR issue when it disrupts their productivity.
What does the law say about toilet breaks at work?
The law is currently unclear on toilets breaks at work, but employees do have a legal right to take an uninterrupted break for 20 minutes if they work more than six hours a day.
Although an employee’s contract of employment may not make clear that toilet breaks are a legal right, the ramifications of not allowing workers to go to the toilet could have a detrimental effect on their health which would make toilet breaks a health and safety issue. This clearly means that workers do have a clear right to use the toilet during both their working hours and unpaid breaks.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees, and maintain the workplace so that it is safe and without risks to health. They must also provide adequate facilities and arrangements for welfare at work.
If employees have a medical condition which means that they need to take toilet breaks at regular intervals throughout the day, the employer would not be able to deny the employee these breaks.
Regardless of the reasons behind excessive toilets breaks, if breaks are not mentioned in employee contracts and you, the employer, decide to deduct pay from your employee’s salaries for time spent in the bathroom, the employee could bring a claim for unfair deduction of wages, as well as a breach of contract.
Health and Safety issues with toilet breaks
Trying to manage excessive toilet trips can lead to more harm than good. As mentioned before, toilet breaks can often be linked to health and your employees may have an existing health issue or disability that could be causing them the need to take a lot of trips to the toilet throughout the day.
If they do admit to an underlying medical condition, it may be that you seek a medical report to obtain further information regarding the condition and reasonable adjustments that you need to consider in the workplace as part of an individual risk assessment.
If you are concerned about health and safety issues, we encourage employers to speak to a qualified and experienced health and safety consultant.
Toilet trips can be caused as a result of an existing health issue, as mentioned above, but restrictions on toilet trips can also create new health issues for individuals. Health and safety at work can be a tricky subject, but restricting toilet breaks at work is a clear violation. Not being able to use the toilet when you need to can cause a range of health problems, including digestive and urinary tract problems and kidney infections which can develop into more serious health conditions.
Furthermore, people on certain medications may need to visit the toilet on a more frequent basis and working in the cold (for example, on construction sites or in food cold stores) may also increase the frequency of toilet trips.
The issue can also become gendered in some situations. Women may need to urinate more frequently when menstruating, when pregnant and during menopause, while prostate problems in men may mean they may need to urinate more frequently. In the workplace, it is imperative to try to avoid any form of disciplinary action over protected characteristics such as things related to the person’s gender.
Make sure you don’t breach any discrimination laws by treating employees differently. We provide discrimination training from our experts to ensure you don’t encounter any issues in the workplace.
What can you do to make sure that employees aren’t abusing their bathroom rights?
You should arrange a face-to-face meeting with the employee in question to discuss your concerns and give them the opportunity to offer up an explanation. If you choose to do this, proceed with caution and approach with care as this can be a sensitive and very personal subject. There could be a medical issue that is causing the regular toilet trips, or maybe they have recently found out they are pregnant, whatever the reason may be, it is important that you are aware of it before you start making accusations.
If they cannot offer up a justifiable or proven reason as to why they need the bathroom more often than their colleagues, then you can consider ways to deter them from abusing their bathroom rights.
Start by making them aware that you’re keeping a close eye on them which will be made very apparent when conducting the meeting.
Often employees abuse their rights or push the boundaries if they think it’s going unnoticed but once you raise the issue with them and let them know that you are observing them, they will probably be discouraged from doing things like taking unnecessary frequent or lengthy toilet trips.
Alternatively, if you have been brought some information from another worker, such as them having witnessed the employee sitting on their phone in the toilets on a few occasions, this is something that you can question them on in the meeting. You may ask that they leave their phone on their desk when going to the toilet if they cannot be trusted.
However, it is important to note that under no circumstances can you enforce restrictions on bathroom trips such as a limiting employees to a maximum number of visits a day or capping the length of their trips.
Now, if you’re thinking about implementing a permission-only policy whereby employees have to ask their line manager before they take a toilet break then, though not against the law, it’s not a good business practice. Though this may help you monitor toilet breaks, it would be a pointless system to put in place as you can never refuse employees access to the bathroom and it would probably get a little annoying as you’ll have your work, and meetings, interrupted every hour with an employee asking to use the toilet.
Instead, you could find less invasive ways of dealing with the problem and that starts by getting to the root of the problem.
In most cases, employees see toilet trips as an opportunity to get on their phone because they are not able to do so whilst at their desk. One way to resolve this could be to loosen the restrictions on mobile phone use in the workplace so employees don’t feel the need to sneak off to the toilet to respond to a text or, take the opposite route and enforce a ban on employees taking their phone with them to the bathroom (it’s highly unhygienic anyway).
Either method can be tested to see if this makes any sort of difference to excessive toilet breaks.
But, before you get to caught up on this issue, ask yourself this:
Are these toilet breaks having a negative impact on your employee’s productivity?
Rights are not everything. An oppressive environment is bad for workplace morale. In any event, people generally don’t work well when they’re desperate to use the toilet or are made to feel guilty when they do.
As a general rule, it is thought that people work better when given sufficient freedom to flourish.
If toilet breaks are being taken more often than you would like but they are not causing your employee’s performance or productivity to decline, then maybe you shouldn’t be too concerned about it.
Workplace morale is delicate and could easily be damaged by enforcing these kinds of rules so think carefully before you decide to address this issue with any of your workforce.
If you are an employer and would like some more advice on this issue, then please give us a call on 0845 2626 260 and our HR consultants will be able to support you on dealing with the matter. Please note, we only offer support and advice to employers.
Please note, we only offer support and advice to employers.