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Can my employer limit my bathroom breaks?

Hold it! No, really.

That’s what some employers are telling their employees to do when it comes to bathroom breaks. But for some people, that’s an impossibility. Unfortunately though, there are no definitive rules of law that state how many forays to the bathroom employees are privy to during a workday. The possible exception to the rule may be if you’re a unionized worker. There might be a section in your collective agreement about allowed breaks. You might want to check with your union representative.

About 90 percent of the Canadian workforce is protected by individual provincial or territorial employment laws. The other 10 percent is federally regulated. And yet, employment standards acts of every province and territory remain silent about bathroom breaks.

British Columbia man blames kidney loss on bathroom issue

A former British Columbia security guard wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom during work, so he limited his fluid intake, which he claims led to a kidney stone and the ultimate loss of his kidney. His doctor said it was a possibility.

A B.C. Labour Ministry spokesperson confirmed the Employment Standards Act fails to cover bathroom breaks, deeming the issue doesn’t require legislation since it is normally something that can be worked out between an employer and an employee. While a labour lawyer says it's illegal to deny workers the chance to use the bathroom, B.C. government changes in 2001 left workers to advocate for themselves but many employees are uncomfortable doing that.

Ambiguous rules in Ontario

Ontario employment standards laws only cover meal breaks. So, the bottom line is that your employer is given carte blanche when determining if and to what extent you take a coffee or even a bathroom break!

In spite of this employment standards legislation gap, many lawyers feel that any employer who doesn’t allow reasonable and necessary bathroom breaks would ultimately get into a legal dilemma if the issue is pressed, especially if the employee has a medical condition that merits regular bathroom use or is on medication that makes bathroom breaks unavoidable.

How’s the rapport with your manager?

If the relationship you have with your manager is less than stellar, it may be time to try to cultivate more trust. If you generally have a positive track record of completing your tasks well and on time, it’s unlikely bathroom breaks will be a concern. If going to the bathroom is interfering with your work production, you may have a problem. You could be viewed as abandoning your job. But when you have to go, you have to go.

Then again, if you are giving your job your all and your manager continues to be the potty police, you may want to ask yourself this hard-hitting question: do I even want to work in such a place? In any case, you can verify your employee rights by calling the Ministry of Labour in whichever province you’re residing.