Can You Put Restrictions on Employee Toilet Breaks at Work?

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Managing your worker’s productivity is paramount to a business. There are many steps you can take to identify an unproductive worker and help them get back to where they should be. 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 is toilet breaks.

One common example of a worker cheating the system is excessive toilet breaks. Taking that little bit longer than needed, maybe taking a phone with them, we all know of a worker like this. You may be considering what action you can take when you suspect a worker of being dishonest about toilet breaks. We look at what the law says about this issue, some of the complications you may come across and ultimately whether you should, or can, impose anything.

As an employer, it can be tricky territory to manoeuvre and though you may have the urge to put some sort of company system in place, 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 reality of human life. Giving no time for a toilet break would, therefore, become a health and safety issue. What can we decide is an excessive toilet trip then?

If we consider that 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 that can play a part i.e. age, health, menstruating, liquid consumption – all which may influence how many toilet trips you need in a day.

If there is a certain employee who seems to be going to the bathroom every hour or they disappear to the toilet for fifteen/twenty minutes at a time, then you do have a right to be suspicious or even just concerned. However, always remember that workers have a right to access the bathroom whenever they need to use it and this only becomes an issue when it disrupts productivity.

What does the law say about toilet breaks at work?

The law is currently unclear on this, but workers do have a 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 this time, or during a lunch break.

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 have to take a toilet break at other times, the employer would not be able to deny the employee a break. If breaks aren’t mentioned in contracts and you deduct salary due to toilet breaks, 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 issues. As mentioned before, toilet breaks can often be linked to your health. They may have an existing health issue or disability that could be causing excessive toilet trips. 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.

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 an existing health issue as mentioned above but restrictions on toilet trips can also cause new health issues. Health and safety at work can be a tricky subject, but this will be a clear violation. Not being able to go 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.

Also, 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 need to use the toilet.

The issue becomes gendered in some situations. Women may need to urinate more frequently when menstruating, when pregnant and during the 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?

If there is no justification from them as to why they need the bathroom so often, then make them aware that you’ll be keeping a closer eye on them and this will probably discourage any further lengthy trips. Alternatively, you may have been brought some information from another worker, such as them having witnessed an employee sitting on their phone in the toilets on a few occasions, and this is something that you can address during your meeting with the said employee.

There is some uncertainty when it comes to asking for permission to use the bathroom. Though this may help employers monitor toilet breaks, it seems a little pointless as you can never refuse employees access to the bathroom and you will probably have your work interrupted every hour with an employee asking to use the toilet.

Conduct a meeting with your employee to discuss your concerns and give them the opportunity to offer up an explanation. 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.

However, it is important to note that under no circumstances can you enforce restrictions on bathroom trips such as a maximum of three toilet trips a day that can last no longer than five minutes.

You could start by cutting off one potential cause of the problem. In most cases, extensive toilet breaks are due to employees using their phone whilst taking a trip to the toilet which makes it last a little longer than necessary. You can enforce a ban on employees taking their phones to the bathroom or using phones whilst on shift and see if this makes any sort of difference to excessive toilet breaks.

But, before you get to caught up in this issue, ask yourself this:

Are these toilet breaks having a negative effect 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. As a general rule, it is thought that people work better when given sufficient freedom to flourish.

If they are not causing an issue, and you are happy with their performance, then maybe you shouldn’t be too concerned about it. Workplace morale is delicate and could be damaged easily by enforcing these kinds of rules.

Not only should you worry about morale and internal perception of the company, but you should also worry about the outside. A disgruntled employee may leak the story to the press. It is common in the news recently for workers to complain about working conditions related to toilet breaks.

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.

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