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OSHA Restroom Break Laws

Written by Staff Writer

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide all workers — including transgender employees — with prompt access to a clean restroom. Additional requirements related to restroom facilities and bathroom break policies are outlined in OSHA's sanitation standards (29 CFR 1910.141, 29 CFR 1926.51 and 29 CFR 1928.110).

These standards aim to protect workers from health complications that can occur when a bathroom is not readily available, such as bladder problems, bowel issues and urinary tract infections.

While OSHA sanitation standards offer a basic overview of the key requirements employers must meet, the administration does not recommend any specific restroom policies. Employers should create their own written policies that comply with OSHA's standards.

Under OSHA sanitation standards, employers must:

  • Permit workers to leave their work area to use the restroom as needed
  • Provide an acceptable number of restrooms for the current workforce
  • Avoid putting unreasonable restrictions on bathroom use
  • Ensure that restrictions on restroom use do not cause extended delays

Additional laws, regulations or requirements related to workplace restroom use may apply depending on your state or municipality. Employers must also make sure that their restroom policy does not violate federal antidiscrimination laws.

OSHA Sanitation Standards

OSHA requires employers to ensure sanitary restrooms are available to workers at all work locations, but there are some exceptions. This requirement doesn't apply to mobile crews or normally unattended work locations as long as workers can travel to a nearby restroom that meets OSHA standards. It should take no longer than 10 minutes for these workers to access a toilet facility.

Exceptions for Farmworkers

Farmworkers should not have to travel more than a quarter mile from their work location to access a toilet.

Exceptions for Constant Coverage Positions

Employers must establish a system so bus drivers, assembly line workers and other employees at workstations that require constant coverage can request a substitute when they need a restroom break.

Employers must honor their workers' requests for relief as long as there are enough relief workers to ensure there is not an unreasonably long wait.

Restrictions on Restroom Use

Employers may not impose unreasonable restrictions on restroom use, and employees should not take an excessive amount of time during bathroom breaks.

A worker's need to access the restroom can depend on several factors, including fluid intake, air temperature, medical conditions and medications. Some common conditions that require frequent restroom use include pregnancy, urinary tract infections, constipation, abdominal pain, diverticulitis and hemorrhoids.

Because restroom access frequency can vary greatly from person to person, no federal standard for the permitted number of restroom breaks or a specific restroom usage schedule exists.

» Learn more about OSHA's interpretation of restroom break laws

Restroom Facility Requirements

According to OSHA standards, all restroom facilities must have:

  • Hot and cold running water or tepid running water
  • Hand soap or another cleansing agent
  • Individual cloth or paper hand towels, air blowers or clean individual sections of continuous cloth toweling

Hand towels and air blowers must be placed in a convenient location within the restroom or somewhere nearby.

Minimum Acceptable Number of Workplace Restrooms

OSHA standards dictate the minimum number of restroom facilities that employers are required to provide. That number is based on the company's current number of employees.

Number of Employees Minimum Number of Toilet Facilities
1 to 15 1
16 to 35 2
36 to 55 3
56 to 80 4
81 to 110 5
111 to 150 6

For companies with more than 150 employees, the employer must provide one additional toilet fixture for each additional 40 employees.

Facility Access for Transgender Workers

All employees should be permitted to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. People who identify as men should be able to use men's restrooms, and people who identify as women should be able to use women's restrooms. The employee should decide the safest and most appropriate restroom to use.

Employers must provide separate toilet facilities for men and women. They can also offer additional restroom options for workers, such as single-occupancy unisex restrooms or multiple-occupancy, gender-neutral facilities with lockable stalls.

Workplace restroom policies should respect transgender workers. Under current best practices, it is not acceptable to ask an employee to provide legal or medical documents in order to use the restroom facility that they find most appropriate for them. And employers should not require workers to use a segregated restroom facility because of their transgender status or gender identity.

Violations of these best practices may open a company to legal liabilities. Federal agencies, including the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have found that prohibitions on sex discrimination cover employment discrimination related to a person's gender identity or transgender status.

» Read OSHA's Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers