Can Employers Place Restrictions on Toilet Breaks at Work?

27 August 2020

One of the less discussed areas of business life is employee use of your toilet facilities. This may seem like an unimportant issue, but you should be aware of your workforce’s rights.

As this is an employment law topic you may not give much consideration, you can contact us on 08000 028 2420 for advice. You can also read this guide, which explores the issue in detail.

Your employees’ toilet break rights

Your staff may wonder, “Can employers stop you going to the toilet?” And, no, you can’t. However, they’ll likely need to use a toilet at some part of the working day. And will need the appropriate facilities, and allowances, to do this.

From your perspective, it can be frustrating if staff members are spending frequent and significant amounts of time away from their desks to visit the bathroom.

As such, you may wish to impose restrictions on toilet break allowances during the working day. You should always approach this with caution.

What is the law on toilet breaks at work?

There’s no law that specifies the number of bathroom breaks you must allow. However, you’re able to restrict this—within reason.

Under laws on toilet breaks at work, what’s thought of as reasonable will vary from job to job.

For example, if the employee works within client-facing industries (such as a call center worker), or on a production line, you may require the employee to wait for a colleague to relieve their position.

For toilet breaks at work, UK law doesn’t have any restrictions. But you can create some for your business.

Such as limiting bathroom visits to three times a day, it’s important that any change to company rules on this be clearly highlighted within a fully visible and accessible company policy.

Health & safety issues with toilet breaks

Access to the toilet may affect an employee's health. Toilet trips can be an existing health issue as mentioned above, but restrictions on toilet trips can also cause additional problems.

Not being able to go when a staff member needs to can cause a range of health issues—as well as health & safety concerns. That includes:

  • Digestive issues.
  • Urinary tract problems.
  • Kidney infections—these can develop into serious health conditions.

Also, employees on certain medications may need to visit the toilet on a more frequent basis. This is also the case if they’re working in the cold.

For example, on construction sites or in food cold stores. This may increase the need to use the toilet. Also, prostate problems in men may mean they may need to urinate more frequently.

Female employees may need to urinate more frequently when:

  • During pregnancy.
  • During the menopause.

In the workplace, it’s imperative to avoid any form of disciplinary action over protected characteristics and discrimination—such as things relating to the person’s gender.

So, you should look to offer support for your employees depending on their various health requirements.

How many toilet breaks are you allowed at work?

You may wish to address prolonged and regular bathroom breaks with employees. The first point of call would be to raise this with the employee and invite them to explain their side of the story.

It may be they’re struggling due to an illness, medical condition or disability, meaning you may need to consider making adjustments to help them within their working day.

You should remember there may be a number of reasons why an employee is needing the toilet more regularly. So, a false step here could lead to a grievance claim or complaints of discrimination and victimisation.

If they’re unable to provide an explanation, despite the opportunity to do so, it may discourage them from continuing with this behaviour if you tell them you’re monitoring the situation.

Toilet breaks at work when pregnant

When considering toilet breaks at work in the UK, it’s also important to remember pregnant women may need to use the toilet more.

Don’t penalise them as a result of this—including before and after maternity leave.

Instead, you should consider ways in which you can assist pregnant employees in this situation, such as moving them closer to business facilities.

Failure to change their working conditions to accommodate this could leave your company open to costly discrimination claims from the pregnant woman.

Identifying how many toilet breaks at work are an excuse to procrastinate

It’s increasingly common that professionals are spending more time than necessary in the bathroom due to the use of electronic devices.

They can use the time away from the direct supervision of their manager to make personal calls, browse the internet or play video games.

To counter this, you could consider banning the taking of phones or tablets to the toilet or imposing an overall prohibition of their use whilst in working hours.

Can you restrict toilet breaks?

There are no employment laws protecting toilet breaks. As long as you’re allowing workers the opportunity to take their statutory rest break period (20 minutes for all adult workers who work more than six hours per day), no law prevents you from restricting any further time away from work.

If you suspect an employee of wasting time on their loo breaks, you may wish to restrict them.

But you must ensure that when doing this, any changes to the rules should be company-wide and apply to everyone—not just one individual.

Toilet breaks and employee wellbeing and morale

You can restrict breaks if you want to, but should you? Probably not. You should bear in mind employees may react poorly to having toilet restrictions imposed on them.

If it’s noted they’re spending prolonged periods away from their desks to visit the bathroom, but are still getting all of their work done to the required standard, it may not be necessary to raise this issue with them.

Remember, poor workforce morale can have a significant effect on a company, potentially leading to high levels of employee turnover.

Need our help?

If you need further assistance with this issue, you can call us for immediate support: 0800 028 2420.

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