Busting or busted: toilet break rules
I came across an interesting case the other day involving a call centre employee who contacted their MP to complain about deducted wages, after querying a decision by their employer to reduce their wages based on the number of toilet breaks they had taken. Eventually the MP questioned this deduction in the House of Commons, arguing that the high number of toilet breaks were a direct consequence of the call centre encouraging their staff to drink ‘copious amounts of water’ to help clear their throats when speaking to customers.
It reminded me of recent allegation involving Amazon timing employee’s toilet breaks, which I thought remarkable at the time because I considered it a complete one off. Yet here we are again with a not so dissimilar story.
Yet, believe it or not, employees don’t have a straightforward right to take toilet breaks, with a number of employers believing that toilet breaks should happen in a workers’ own time.
Fortunately restrictions on toilet use aren’t common, with most employers understanding that such natural needs aren’t predictable nor easy to ignore for too long.
Here is my advice on managing toilet breaks in the workplace.
- Although an employee’s contract of employment may not make clear that toilet breaks are a legal right, the ramifications of not allowing workers to go to the toilet could have a detrimental effect on their health, which would make toilet breaks a health and safety issue.
- If breaks aren’t mentioned in contracts, the employee could bring a claim for unfair deduction of wages, as well as a breach of contract, if they were penalised in a similar way as the call centre worker.
The above is particularly relevant if the dedication was to take the wage below the National Minimum Wage.
- Ultimately restricting toilet breaks could have a negative effect on worker morale and productivity. It is about trust and workers appearing to exploit this trust by taking excessive toilet breaks should be made aware of the employer’s concerns prior to any action being taken. Only if there was no change should the employer deduct wages or begin disciplinary action.
I am sure that this issue is not a widespread problem amongst companies. Yet any organisation wanting to prohibit employee toilet breaks, they should think carefully about the negative consequences of implementing such a draconian policy.