Should Companies Have a Policy about Bathroom Breaks?

News Updates


A Chicago company recently made national headlines for installing a system that monitors employee bathroom breaks. If you haven’t seen the story, you can check it out here.

Employee breaks are a constant source of workplace chatter. Whether it’s bathroom breaks, Facebook breaks, or smoke breaks, everyone seems to have an opinion about how long they should last. However, the focus of this conversation should not be on the employee break. It should be on the work and the employee’s performance.

Take the bathroom break as an example. First, let’s make the assumption that an employee doesn’t have a medical reason to visit the restroom frequently and for extended periods of time. The employee’s supervisor should ask themselves, “Does the employee get their work done?” Yes, I agree, it might look weird that an employee takes a lot of very long bathroom breaks. But the employee could argue it’s no different than the employee who takes a lot of smoke breaks.

If the answer to the question is “No, the employee isn’t getting their work done” then the supervisor should have a conversation with them about the work that isn’t getting done. A while ago, I wrote a post on HR Bartender about having a performance conversation with an employee. If you’re looking for some tips, you can check it out here. Address the work that isn’t being completed and the impact it has on the team – not how many bio breaks the employee is taking.

On the other hand, if the employee is getting their work done in a satisfactory manner…does it matter that they are taking bathroom breaks? I once worked with an employee whose kids called her all the time. It was a wonder they could put their socks on in the morning without her. But she got all her work done. And it was quality work. This does raise the question if an employee can take multiple, extended bathroom breaks and still get their work completed satisfactorily, do they have enough work in the first place? Are they being fully utilized? That’s something for the business to decide.

Dealing with the employee’s performance issue keeps the company from creating extra policies and then being responsible for policing them. Policies should not be created for small exceptions to a rule. Whatever policy the company would create for this employee and their bathroom visitation schedule, everyone in the company would have to abide by. That’s not the goal.

Companies need to focus on the work and getting it done. Not controlling the bodily functions of employees. Having a conversation with an employee about what happens in a bathroom stall isn’t the conversation you want to have. Talk to the employee about their performance.