UnderCover Waitress: Employee or Customer Restrooms

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Employee or Customer Restrooms

Ask the Waitress!
Is it true that employees may not use public restrooms anymore in restaurants in Indiana? There are about 50 employees at my store & only one toilet in back for employees & its kinda gross & full of tools & cleaning supplies. Yesterday it wouldn't flush after I used it. It does not have a feminine waste receptacle either! Thank you!

Ew. My sympathies.

As always, federal and state laws may be different, but states must follow federal laws. Some states add more protections than the feds.

Federal Law

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal government agency that regulates your right to use a restroom while working. The Sanitation Standard states that employers must make a toilet facility available to employees. Employees must be allowed to use the toilet facility in a timely fashion. (There are some exceptions in the case of mobile work crews, but I don't that applies here.)

That doesn't give you much protections. It is saying your boss has to provide a toilet facility for you to use (and to use in a timely fashion; in other words, you can't be expected to wait an hour if you need to go.)

The American Restroom Association quotes OSHA as saying that the minimum number of water closets to employees is 3 toilets to 36-55 employees. With 50 employees in your store, it sounds like your boss needs to provide two more toilets.

To the best of my knowledge, the Sanitation Standard was written as late as 1998 and the intent was to allow employees to use the restroom to avoid medical conditions that occur when people are not able to void. This was a problem on factory floors before 1998; it may still be a problem today. I discuss that in more detail in Bathroom Breaks.


A 2006 entry on The Labor Law Center Blog begins:
I think it is interesting to note that Indiana does not have any laws on the books specifically related lunches and breaks, except those pertaining to minors.
Doesn't sound promising; the Indiana Department of Labor may not have improved upon the federal standards.

Based upon the reading I have done so far, I think that your employer is not in violation of any law when requiring employees to use a different toilet facility; the issue here is whether or not the employee facilities are in compliance with existing law. I would look for these things:

  • Number of toilets per employees -- we already ascertained your boss may be in violation.
  • Either a toilet room with a closed door, or a different toilet room for each gender. 
  • A working toilet -- if it won't flush, it's not working, as he has to let you use the customer restrooms until it is fixed. 
  • There must be a hand washing facility for your to use, complete with soap. 

If those requirements are not met, or you feel the bathroom facility is filthy and, therefore, unusable, you may wish to contact your state's OSHA:

Indianapolis Area Office
46 East Ohio Street, Room 453
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204
(317) 226-7290
(317) 226-7292 FAX

If you are so inclined, you may ask your state's OSHA to come inspect the restaurant. I assume you can request anonymity, and employer retaliation is probably illegal.

Please remember I am not a lawyer and I don't even play one on TV. Just a stupid waitress. ;-) I am not giving you legal advice, but I am rooting and cheering for you. Laborers should be treated like human beings. Good luck, and thank you for Asking the Waitress!


Please share your thoughts.