CONTACT: SCOTT HAUSER
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024
OSHA agrees with UI professors: Workers have right to use the bathroom
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Federal regulations that say employers must provide
toilet facilities for their workers also mean that workers must be permitted
to use the bathroom when they need to at work, according to new guidelines
issued this week by regulators to clarify an issue that two University
of Iowa professors raised with OSHA and have been closely watching.
John B. Miles Jr., director of compliance programs for the U.S. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), issued a four-page memorandum
Monday, April 6 to regional administrators of the agency, spelling out
the proper way to interpret a federal rule that says "toilet facilities,
in toilet rooms separate for each sex, shall be provided in all places
"This memorandum explains OSHA's interpretation that this standard
requires employers to make toilet facilities available so that employees
can use them when they need to do so," the memo says. "The employer
may not impose unreasonable restrictions on employee use of the facilities."
"Recently, however, OSHA has received requests for clarification
of this point and has decided to issue this memorandum to explain its position
clearly," Miles wrote.
Marc Linder, professor of law, and Ingrid Nygaard, associate professor
of obstetrics and gynecology, initiated OSHA's reexamination of its position
on access to bathrooms for workers.
They are the authors of a new book, "Void Where Prohibited: Rest
Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time" (Cornell University
Press), which argues that many workers are not allowed to go to the bathroom
when they need to because of a lack of regulatory enforcement, callousness
by some employers who pay little attention to worker rights, and miserly
planning in some work environments.
The restrictions lead to personal indignities and health problems for
Linder has made frequent appeals to state and federal regulators to
clarify the regulations.
"One of the points we make in the book is that the 25-year-old
standard requiring employers to provide toilets makes no sense unless it
includes the obligation to let workers use those toilets," Linder
says. "But until OSHA was confronted with the research in the book,
and with strong appeals from the United Food and Commercial Workers, the
agency was unwilling to enforce the law in a way that guaranteed employees
the right to use the bathroom at work."