Few things are as basic as taking restroom breaks, and it really shouldn't have to be a legal issue - but unfortunately, sometimes it becomes one. California has specific laws setting up rules and standards for allowance of breaks (including to use the restroom) as well as how that affects your time clock and paycheck and other related matters.
When your boss violates the law on bathroom breaks, meal breaks, or rest breaks, it can result in the loss of income in small amounts. But over time, this can add up to a substantial sum, and meanwhile your work environment is seriously worsened by the refusal to allow legitimate restroom time.
If you have a question about possible violations of your rights as a worker relative to bathroom breaks, or another matter, do not hesitate to contact Stop Unpaid Wages today for a free consultation. You can call us anytime 24/7 at 424-781-8411.
Laws on Workplace Break Times in General
Many of the rules applying to restroom breaks are simply the application to them of more general rules that apply to all workplace break times. In California, you are entitled to a break if you work even as long as a 3½ hour shift; and you are entitled to a 10 minute break every 4 hours you work with the break ideally being located near the middle of each four-hour segment of work time.
The reason behind these rules is that keeping one's mind and body fresh during employment hours is important for one's health and safety. High stress situations that continue unabated for hours and hours on end have a detrimental effect of people both in the short term and the long term. Break rules are part of the state's overall safety and worker rights legislation.
In reality, it is in the employer's best interests too to allow reasonable breaks since that will increase productivity during work time. Of course, employers can't have their staff wasting large amounts of time in the bathroom or lunch room or outside smoking and chatting all day every day. But possible abuse of breaks by some does not permit denial of legitimate breaks to others or to all.
California has one of the most generous "breaks law" systems in the country, but there still are some limitations. Any breaks under 20 minutes in length are not supposed to be subtracted from an employee's time and wages. That affects overtime pay as well in some cases, so this rule can have a ripple effect. Breaks over 20 minutes can be deducted, however. Meal breaks are supposed to be at least 30 minutes long, while rest breaks need only be 10 minutes long.
Laws About Restroom Breaks Specifically
In addition to the general right to breaks and to be paid for shorter breaks, instead of having to clock out and back in, California has some laws specific to bathroom breaks in particular. First of all, you have the right to a "reasonable" number of bathroom breaks of "reasonable" duration while working as needed. The definition of what is reasonable or not can become a matter of dispute, but several 5 to 10 minute breaks throughout a work day to use the restroom is usually considered reasonable.
Second, you cannot be required to go to the bathroom during your regular rest or meal breaks. It is not legal for your employer to say "you should have done that on your break so you just have to hold it now!" In fact, California law requires not only that employee restrooms be provided (both for male and female employees) but also that they be separate from the break room - which is meant to reflect the idea that bathroom breaks do not have to be taken during meal or rest breaks.
Also, your employer cannot legally subtract minutes used to take bathroom breaks from your other breaks or from your work time. They cannot say, "you had a 10 minute break but since you used 5 minutes going to the restroom earlier, you only get a 5 minute break this time."
BUT, if you take an unreasonable number of bathroom breaks or spend an unreasonable amount of time in the bathroom. If this happens, that employee could be told to stop it OR if breaks are too frequent and long, they could suffer some sort of employee discipline. Further, you can't go off site for bathroom breaks - employers can require you stay on premises. And you have to really be using the restroom. And you can't extend the end of another break by announcing it's time to go right at the tail end.
However, if an employee has a medical condition that causes him or her to need to use the bathroom more frequently or longer, including if one is pregnant, employers are expected to make all reasonable accommodations to such a situation.
Also, note that in job positions where employers are involved in assembly lines or other production work or where they are interacting with clients directly, so that it isn't feasible for everyone to just go on bathroom break at the same time whenever they wish - employers can require one employee to wait for a coworker gone on bathroom break to return before he/she can go AND can require that an employee with a health condition be allowed to go first.
Violations of Bathroom Break Laws by Employers
Given the general introduction to bathroom break laws in California provided above, you can already probably imagine some of the examples of how employers might try to "get away with" violating those regulations. There are many possible motives moving employers toward such violations, including the ability to "save money," ostensibly boost productivity, and avoid having to bother keeping up on all those pesky regulations.
However, employees can suffer when bathroom break laws are ignored by employers. Wage theft is the single biggest offense that you can file a lawsuit over in regard to bathroom break violations. If you have been forced to constantly clock out and in for breaks less than 20 minutes long and even for using the bathroom, then your employer has withheld from you monies that the state of California says belong to you. They have also shortened your hours totals per week, which may have had an impact on overtime pay or even on whether you are considered part time or full time, which in turn, can affect if you qualify for certain employee benefits.
Under the policies set by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, you are entitled not only to all back pay and lost benefits but in fact to a full hour of extra pay for each and every work day during which you were not provided the requisite break time. That can add up to the equivalent of over 300 hours, which may be over 2 weeks' pay for some people, over the course of an entire year!
Illegally limiting bathroom use is the second most significant violation employers often commit. It is not legal to discourage employees from using the bathroom in a reasonable manner during the work day. But if a worker abuses this privilege and forces the boss to step in and set (reasonable) limits, that's another story. BUT, if unreasonable restrictions are placed on employees as to using the restroom, a complaint can be filed with OSHA to investigate the matter and may result in fines on the employer and extra pay being given to some or all employees.
Not allowing an employee with a health condition or disability to have extra time to use the restroom is yet another possible violation. Certain people need to drink extra water just to stay healthily hydrated and that results in more bathroom time. It's just part of having that health condition, and these kinds of medical situations have to be accommodated by employers. But the employee with the condition must inform their employer, who in turn should inform that employee's supervisor. While it might seem embarrassing, communication over the matter has to take place - you can't file a lawsuit over lack of special accommodations when you never gave your employer the chance to comply because he/she didn't know about your condition.
Penalties for Violating Bathroom Break Laws In California
If you believe your employer has violated your rights as a worker in regard to taking bathroom breaks or other related matters, realize that you have legal recourse to correct the matter. You should always first of all simply speak with your employer and/or supervisor to alert them to the issue and give them a reasonable amount of time to correct it. But if that doesn't work, then you can contact a good workers rights lawyer and/or OSHA for assistance.
Violations of bathroom rights of employees can translate into a number of other classes of violations. For example, it may amount to being underpaid for your work hours. You have the right to extra pay for days wherein restroom and other breaks were denied and for correction of all negative impacts this may have had on your paycheck and employee benefits.
You are entitled to back pay if your bathroom breaks or any break under 20 minutes long was subtracted from your pay check and for any overtime pay you may have lost. Plus, you get an hour's worth of pay for every day you were refused your state mandated break times: a 10 minute rest break every 4 hours, a meal break of 30 minutes at least for every 5 hours worked, and all reasonable restroom breaks of 5 to 10 minutes each.
Also, you are allowed not just overtime (time and a half) but double time in most cases if you work over 12 hours in one day or if you work over 8 hours on the seventh consecutive day on the job in one week.
Note that you get one hour of pay for each 8-hour shift during which your breaks were denied. And if you were denied both rest breaks and meal breaks during the same shift, you should get two extra hours of "penalty pay." If during that same period, you were forced to clock out and in again to use the bathroom, then those minutes must be added back in as well.
OSHA may fine your employer if he or she refused you rightful bathroom breaks, did not have a functional bathroom (both for men and for women) on site that you could use regularly, or if other flagrant violations of workers’ rights and/or worker health and safety protections were committed. A fine is not automatic, and can vary greatly in amount, but employers that are repeat offenders and show no signs of trying to correct the situation may well suffer a fine.
How Can I Prove Violations Were Committed?
What if my employer leaves no record of violations of wage laws and restroom break laws on my paycheck? How then can I prove it? That's a good question, and the answer involves several points. First of all, failing to provide full information like hours worked, hourly rates, and all deductions on your pay stub OR providing false information (on purpose) on your pay stub is in itself a violation of workers' rights. This kind of violation subjects the employer to fines that rise with each subsequent violation.
Also, an employer doesn't have the right to just erase information off the time clock in order to prevent OSHA investigators from examining them. That would be a cover up and an additional, quite serious, violation.
Finally, realize that you are likely not the only employee who is seeing his or her rights violated as to bathroom and other breaks. That means that if two, three, or more workers testify together of what has been going on, the case is made that much stronger. A good workers rights attorney will know how to find the relevant evidence and testimony and how to spot any and all violations of OSHA regulations and California state law that have negatively impacted employees.
Bathroom Break Cases in The News
You may not have heard about it much, but the fact is there have been many serious court cases in recent years over bathroom break violations by employers and related issues. For example, a Teamsters complaint was filed with the NLRB against an employer (who shall go unnamed) in June of 2019 for improperly disciplining 19 employees for alleged "excessive use of the bathroom." The company decided to put a cap on bathroom break time at 30 minutes per week or only 6 minutes a day. They also established gift card reward programs to encourage workers to not use the bathroom at all.
Additionally, an ID tracker was set up at employee restrooms so that they had to swipe their card going in (or not be able to access the restroom at all). No phones were allowed in the workplace or in the bathroom. The company did not violate other breaks laws and allowed access to the bathroom without swiping a card during rest breaks - but otherwise you have to swipe. The final decision has not yet been made in this case, but there is reason to think that at least some of these measures are not legal.
In yet another bathroom break case, a cashier in Fairfax, California, was going through cancer treatment, had dry mouth, and needed to drink lots of fluids as result. This meant a need existed to have a water bottle nearby constantly and to take three or four bathroom breaks during one shift. At first, this set up was allowed to accommodate the medical condition of the employee.
But then a new manager took over who didn't know about the employee's condition and refused to allow her extra bathroom breaks. Somehow, communication had broken down - but the old manager should have informed the new one. Ultimately, the worker lost control of her bladder while on the job in front of customers and was humiliated. A court found that this worker's rights to reasonable accommodation for health conditions, in regard to restroom breaks, had been violated. It specifically was a violation of the Fair Employment & Housing Act under California law.
Why Do Bathroom Rights Violations Happen?
Working in the modern US work force and in the state of California now carries with it exposure to numerous possible violations of your rights. There are more laws and regulations on the books than ever before that seek to protect workers' rights, and yet, violations seem all too common on multiple fronts.
Due to the intense competition in many industries and the pressure put on by taxes, strict regulations, and the need to be extremely productive - some employers are tempted to cut corners. Cutting down on break time seems an easy path to greater productivity, and given that some employees abuse break time, that is used as an excuse to deny legitimate and legally required breaks to workers who aren't doing anything wrong.
The thinking becomes, if we cut out breaks for using the restroom, and rest breaks, and limit meal breaks, we will gain a competitive advantage. In reality, however, that overworks, exhausts, and stresses out your workers and also exposes you to potential fines, penalties, and back pay requirements.
Why Choose Stop Unpaid Wages?
At Stop Unpaid Wages, we are dedicated to one thing - ensuring that workers' rights in California work places are respected in every way. One common area of violations is the denial of bathroom breaks or forcing workers to clock out or take pay cuts for using the bathroom. We have handled these types of cases hundreds of times before, and in numerous different situations. We understand how the law applies and how to win you your back pay and bathroom privileges through court action or via help from OSHA.
Our team of legal experts have extensive experience in handling any and all types of labor disputes related to worker rights. If you have multiple violations, therefore, that you want to report or include in your lawsuit, we can handle them all. You don't need more than one lawyer to handle your full case.
Our commitment to our clients has been tested and found genuine again and again through the years. We achieve better settlements and more consistently positive outcomes than do our competitors. Our customer reviews on Yelp and elsewhere online speak for themselves, our customer satisfaction rate is always high, and we get many new clients on referral from past ones.
No matter where you live in California, Stop Unpaid Wages has an office near you! We understand how local laws impact these cases and how the demands and regulations applicable to particular industries impinge on various case-types. The bottom line is, we have the expertise to win your case bigger and faster than anyone else - what we've done for so many others, we stand ready to do for you too!
Hiring a Top-tier Workers Rights Attorney Near Me
Do you believe you have been cheated out of some or your rightful wages by your employer or that your rights as to taking bathroom breaks or other breaks during the work day have been violated? Reach out to us at Stop Unpaid Wages for help and advice on what to do next!