Toilet Break Rules

Conduit/BT, operators of Irelands Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS) have introduced a new ‘Toilet Break Policy’ which seeks to monitor 999 operators visits to the bathroom.  In essence, operators will now have to ask for management permission to use the toilet. That wonderful old Irish euphemism “An bhfuil cead agam dul amach” comes to mind.

According to this new policy it is proposed that only one operator will be permitted to take a toilet break at any one time across the three Irish call centres. Moreover, the policy states that no toilet break can exceed 7 minutes and workers have a maximum of 19 minutes per 12 hour shift. Staff are also banned from using the toilet for the first half hour immediately after clocking in and the last half hour before their shift ends.

The CWU has characterized this new policy as an act of retaliation by a management regime that chooses to ignore and disrespect their employees and an invasion of privacy.  The employer denies the claim that the policy was introduced as an act of retaliation.

The question arises,  “Do you have a right as an employee to use the toilet when you wish?”  There is no such statutory right. The words “toilet break” do not appear in employment legislation.

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 which governs break time at work gives an employee in the right to a break of at least 15 minutes in any work period exceeding 4.5 hours and at least a 30 minute break in any work period exceeding six hours (which can be inclusive of the first 15 minutes break). There is no statutory obligation on an employer pay for break periods.   If an employee wishes to use the bathroom during these breaks there have of course the right to do so.

Some employees may have a contractual right to take a toilet break if it is included as an explicit term in the contract of employment or if custom and practice over a period of time included scheduled toilet breaks.  The employer cannot make a unilateral change to the employee’s contract without agreement.

Even if there is no explicit right to a toilet break, employers shouldn’t be “potty police”.  When an employee has to go, an employee has to go.  An employee may suffer from a condition requiring them to go to the toilet regularly or suddenly and preventing such reasonable breaks could constitute discrimination. Neither  would it be conducive to good staff morale or indeed to efficiency of production if the application of an employer’s policy caused an employee to be “caught short” in the workplace.

Unless an employee is abusing bathroom breaks or where the breaks interfere with performance or with production process, there is little justification for the application of an overly rigid policy in this area.

Where a production process is continuous, as in a production line, or where an employee’s absence from a workstation could lead to significant loss or damage then there may be justification for closer monitoring of toilet breaks and the application of a reasonable system designed to phase toilet breaks among staff.

Noel Doherty FitzGerald Solicitors CorkNoel Doherty is a Partner with FitzGerald Solicitors based in Lapps Quay, Cork, specialising in Employment Law

Please note the foregoing article does not constitute legal advice and you should contact your Solicitor for specific advice tailored to your needs.



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