Sufficient restroom breaks are important to the health and well-being of employees. California laws impose rules and standards for work breaks, including restroom breaks, in the workplace. Violations of these rules can affect work performance and result in loss of income for the employee.
Laws on restroom breaks in the workplace
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a U.S. regulatory agency under the Department of Labor, requires all employers to give workers ready access to clean and working restrooms. The agency’s sanitation standards also outline additional requirements for restroom break policies and restroom facilities to protect employees from health-related issues like bladder problems, urinary tract infections (UTI), and bowel issues that arise when sanitary restrooms are not readily accessible during work hours.
OSHA sanitation standards require all U.S. employers to:
- Allow employees to leave their workstations to use the restroom as needed
- Refrain from imposing unreasonable restrictions on restroom use
- Make sure that any restrictions on restroom use don’t cause extended delays
- Provide a reasonable number of restrooms for the size of their workforce
OSHA’s sanitation standards provide a general overview of the main requirements for restrooms in the workplace; however, the agency does not offer specific recommendations for restroom policies, leaving employers to create written policies in compliance with these standards.
Moreover, additional laws, regulations, and requirements related to workplace restroom use vary with each municipality or state. Employers must ensure that their restroom policies comply with federal antidiscrimination laws.
California law and restroom breaks
Break rules are part of California’s workplace safety and workers’ rights legislation. In fact, the Golden State has one of the more generous systems governing employee breaks in the nation. Workers are entitled to any type of break, including restroom breaks and meal breaks, if they work at least a three-and-a-half-hour shift.
Further, all workers are entitled to a 10-minute break every four hours. This short break ideally should be scheduled near the middle of every four-hour portion of their shift. Meal breaks should last at least 30 minutes. Breaks that are shorter than 20 minutes may not be deducted from an employee’s hours and wages.
These short breaks are meant to help workers rest their bodies and keep their minds fresh throughout their shift. This is because physically and mentally stressful situations that go uninterrupted for hours can have a detrimental impact on workers’ health and safety. Even the potential abuse of breaks by some workers (i.e. extended lunch breaks or bathroom breaks) does not justify the denial of legitimate breaks at the workplace.
It is also within employers’ interests to allow reasonable breaks since it helps boost productivity and reduce the incidence of fatigue, burnout, errors, and workplace accidents.
However, there are limitations. Breaks exceeding 20 minutes can be deducted from employees’ time and wages, which can potentially affect overtime in some cases.
California laws on restroom breaks
Aside from workers’ general right to breaks and the right to be paid for shorter breaks without having to clock out and in, there are specific laws governing restroom breaks in California:
As a worker, you have the right to a reasonable number of restroom breaks of reasonable length. Under general circumstances, taking several five to 10-minute restroom breaks during an eight-hour shift, for example, can be considered reasonable.
Your employer can’t require you to go use the restroom during regular mealtime or rest breaks. California law mandates that employee restrooms be located separately from break rooms to promote the idea that bathroom breaks do not have to be timed with meals or rest breaks.
Employers cannot lawfully subtract minutes used for reasonable restroom breaks from other types of breaks (meal or rest breaks) and your total work hours.
However, if you habitually take an unreasonable number of restroom breaks or spend an unreasonable amount of time in the restroom, you could possibly face disciplinary action from your employer. You also can’t venture away from the work site for restroom breaks.
However, if you suffer from a legitimate medical condition that causes you to use the restroom more frequently or for longer than is considered reasonable, such as bladder issues, diabetes, or pregnancy, employers must make reasonable adjustments.
Employers can also require one worker to wait for another worker to return from the restroom break before they can be allowed to leave their workstation (especially in client-facing or assembly line roles) as well as require that an employee with a diagnosed health condition use the restroom first.
Get legal advice from an employment attorney in San Diego
If you have reason to believe that your employer has violated your rights to taking reasonable restroom breaks, you can seek remedies with the help of Hogue & Belong Attorneys at Law. Call 619.238.4720 or email them at inquiries(at)hoguebelonglaw(dotted)com for legal counsel.