Bathroom Matters

James McDonough blog sizeA Chicago faucet manufacturing company raised a real stink with a new policy intended to minimize employee’s bathroom usage. Using a hi-tech approach to monitor a decidedly low-tech bodily function, employees must swipe their ID card to access the bathroom. Their time is measured and reported on a weekly basis. The company set a standard of 6 minutes for an acceptable daily maximum. Potty time above that will result in employee reprimands. But wait, there’s more! Employees who take no bathroom breaks for an entire month are rewarded with a $20 gift card. Presumably, this offsets the cost of diaper purchases.

Adult diaper jokes aside, this is a serious workplace issue. Discouraging a normal bodily function with such a heavy-handed policy is coming with a host of costs to this company. Labor unrest has been sparked and picketers circle the plant along with news teams from around the country shining an unfavorable light on this company. Social media is abuzz with negative and mocking messages; a viral PR disaster!

Legally, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is now involved. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) sanitation standards are being called into question and may invite investigation. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reasonable accommodation standards may be violated. Employee morale and wellness have likely suffered. Indeed, this company may suffer increasing health care and absenteeism costs. Significant administrative time is being devoted to enforcing this policy and managing the fallout.

This policy speaks volumes about the organization’s culture, employee engagement, and management/leadership styles. Not much of that is positive. Imagine the impact on recruiting qualified talent. Who wants to work for a company that monitors bathroom time?

Employers have legitimate concerns over excessive absence from the assembly line/work station/office desk. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t been in the facilities at work and heard the telltale “beeps” of someone in the stall using their phone. Are they returning work emails and drafting memos or playing CandyCrush, watching videos, and texting friends? Misuse of personal mobile technology is certainly a legitimate workplace issue and policies may be used to address it. Such policies are legitimate, enforceable, and defensible.

Like many workplace issues, undesirable behaviors and individual cases of non-compliance or under performance must be addressed. Focus on productivity, and follow organization disciplinary policies and processes with employees who don’t meet expectations.

This story exposes an even bigger issue. Employers using wearable technology to monitor, measure, and support decisions to reprimand or reward employees. This practice is on the rise, and will greatly expand in coming years as innovation increases and costs decrease. A host of employee privacy concerns will likely arise and have to be addressed through the legal system at every level. Is your company contemplating taking such an approach to manage employee workplace behaviors? Or is your organizational culture taking a different approach? Let us know!  If you have questions about your company’s bathroom break expectations, call us for guidance.