When your boss is too cheap to fix the toilet, he could be violating federal laws. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets the safety and health standards to which all employers must adhere. Under OSHA regulations, usable bathroom facilities must be available to all employees unless the work crew is mobile and works in the field.
OSHA requires all employers to provide a toilet facility and room for all employees. Under the definitions of the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 29 – Labor, subsection "Sanitation," the code defines toilet as "a fixture maintained within a toilet room for the purpose of defecation or urination, or both.” The keyword in this definition is "maintained." The toilet must be operable and not be a safety hazard. The toilet must not leak, and it must be maintained in a sanitary condition.
While an employer doesn't have to have separate bathrooms for men and women when there are fewer than 15 employees, the bathroom facilities must be clean, maintained and have a locking door to prevent intrusions. The bathroom must also have the means to wash your hands with hot and cold or tepid running water, including hand soap, and means to dry them with paper towels or an electric blower dryer. Bathrooms must be kept clean and they must not endanger the health or safety of employees.
Employers cannot prevent you from using the bathroom because that can cause serious health problems. In a memorandum by the director of compliance programs for OSHA, the director states "Medical studies show the importance of regular urination, with women generally needing to void more frequently than men. Adverse health effects that may result from voluntary urinary retention include increased frequency of urinary tract infections, or UTIs, which can lead to more serious infections and, in rare situations, renal damage."
Violations of federal health and safety standards by employers can result in citations issued by OSHA. Employers cannot restrict access to bathrooms. When a toilet is broken and you cannot use the bathroom, in essence, the employer is restricting your ability to use the bathroom -- a violation of federal regulations.
What You Can Do
The best approach is to talk to your employer first. Help him to understand the OSHA requirements. If he fails to respond appropriately, report the violation to OSHA. If he fires you because you reported him to OSHA, that may begin a series of new violations under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1999. It says an employer cannot fire you in retaliation for reporting his violations of law. If you work for an employer that is too cheap to fix the toilet, it might be time to consider finding a job where the employer values his employees.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.