My boss wants to manage my bathroom breaks

by Evil HR Lady on February 19, 2016

I am an exempt employee and have never really given much thought as to when I can go to lunch or when I use the bathroom. However, I have a new boss who I think is going on a “power trip” and she sent an email edict requiring everyone to tell her of our comings and goings. Our staff is now required to tell her when we go on lunch or when we go to the bathroom. I would like to know if this is legal? Is there something that can be done?

It’s legal, but it’s stupid. The lunch thing is somewhat logical because it’s sometimes good to know if people will be out of pocket for an hour or so, but to tell her before you go to the bathroom? That’s NUTS.

I’d go to her and say, “Jane, can you explain to me what problem you’re trying to solve here? It feels really intrusive to have to tell my boss when I need to pee.”

She’s probably one of those managers who is trying to solve a problem with a specific employee but is too scared to actually speak to the employee so is making a blanket rule. Or she’s simply a power hungry jerk who is trying to assert her authority.

If that doesn’t solve it, and if you have a good relationship with her boss, I’d bring it up to her boss. “Jane’s kind of gone off the deep end. She wants us to tell her each time we go to the bathroom. Is there anything you can do about it?” If this person is at all logical, she’ll put a stop to it.

Now, none of this is true if you’re, like, a front end manager at a grocery store and there always has to be a manager available so you need someone to cover for you while you run to the bathroom. But, since you haven’t had a problem in the past, I doubt you’re in a situation like that.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

mer February 19, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Your third paragraph is likely “hitting the nail on the head”. I wish I could forget how many blanket rules I’ve been subjected to over the course of my career.
A rule that is aimed at 10% or less of a workforce typically winds up annoying the 90% it doesn’t apply to, destroying any kind of morale and any feeling of “team”. The manager/company is petrified that an employee is going to sue if the action were targeted instead of generalized.

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Evil HR Lady February 19, 2016 at 2:07 pm

So many problems are caused by the litigious culture in the US. So, so many.

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jen February 19, 2016 at 2:47 pm

the problem is not the “litigious culture”. the vast majority of lawsuits are legitimate and egregious. The problem is the corporate culture that leads to them.

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Slippy February 19, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Nah the problem is a litigious culture with virtually no downsides to bringing a frivolous lawsuit. So many lawsuits are filed with the express intent of getting a settlement. This is true for both companies and individuals.

The ‘best’ blanket rule I was ever subjected to was being unable to go to the gym in a white t-shirt. Apparently there was a danger of sweat making the shirt slightly translucent; which would in turn generate an inappropriate amount of sexual tension. Anyone else got any great stories?

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Evil HR Lady February 19, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Jen, maybe you aren’t in the US, but the litigious culture is a huge problem there. Just as Mer said, instead of managing the problem employee, managers make blanket policies so that no one can sue for being treated differently.

Every time a manager has to discipline someone who is somehow different from the majority of the department, everyone panics about potential lawsuits.

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jen February 19, 2016 at 6:50 pm

excuse me, but i DO live in the US and know first hand about so-called frivolous lawsuits and the percentage they make up versus legitimate lawsuits. There are many more people in this country who suffer truly actionable things at the hands of their company and sit on it for fear of losing their job – or because they don’t have the time, energy, or money to go after it, than there are people who make up frivolous things. Regular people do not have unlimited resources to just make up lawsuits anytime they want. You are simply biased in favor of the corporations.

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DMC February 19, 2016 at 10:59 pm

I’m an attorney who lives in the United States and has represented both plaintiffs against employers and companies AND employers at various times in my career. Yes, there are lots of frivolous lawsuits. A LOT. Yes, it’s a problem. Yes, there are even a lot of unscrupulous attorneys who use threats of wage and hour violations (with no knowledge any are actually occurring but figuring through discovery they are bound to find SOME little tiny insignificant violation — like the recent one about a street address being left off a form that in no way hurt any employee– that will cause them to get 100% of their attorneys fees for the case and make the employer settle for THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of dollars). California, in particular, is really bad, and I wish the state legislator would wake up and do something about it.

jen February 19, 2016 at 6:52 pm

i’d love to see you as concerned with helping the people who DO suffer actionable things at the hands of their employers as you are dismissing the much smaller percentage of frivolous ones.

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Evil HR Lady February 22, 2016 at 9:17 pm

Maybe you should check my archives.

charles February 20, 2016 at 3:37 am

Yes, and one spot in which blanket policies hurt employees is with those companies that, seemingly for fear of lawsuits, do not allow any managers to give references. The managers are instructed to always refer such calls to HR.

Of course, this might prevent some managers telling a reference checker that so-and-so is a bad apple which may or may not be true; but, it also prevents good, really good, former staff from getting good references.

Now, some might argue that if an employee was really that good the manager would ignore the policy. But, don’t bet on it; not many managers want to risk losing their jobs (and perhaps their pensions) by breaking the rules; and I would not want any former manager to put themselves at risk for me.

Off topic; but the companies that have these “no references” policies are also often the very companies that do NOT hire without references! Go figure.

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jen February 19, 2016 at 7:00 pm

And if corporations in this country had a reputation for acting in good faith maybe managers wouldn’t have to fear lawsuits so much. this is not the result of a litigious culture, but instead their own actions. aka corporate culture.

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kim February 21, 2016 at 11:12 pm

@Jen,

You are right on the money. It is difficult in some cities to even find an employment lawyer to take a case. Unfortunately, mine was against a municipality, where damages are limited. It was a good case, but they could not get rich off of me, so turned me away. I finally found one, and we got a reasonable settlement.

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maria rose February 19, 2016 at 8:29 pm

As I have worked in situations where blanket policies are enacted to keep control over all employees versus the individuals who don’t comply. There are several reasons there are blanket policies by companies but I won’t address those but give a way to deal with something like having to report bathroom leaves. If you are one of those individuals, who need access to bathroom from medical reasons (like incontinence) then you will get unlimited use. A policy that requires notice for any leave from position means that position has to be covered at all times. If you feel restricted by having to give notice change jobs and do a position that requires just end results and not interaction with others.

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LENNA February 20, 2016 at 5:12 am

Being in HR myself, I find this type of management behavior as hard to understand and unacceptable when management treats others as children, rather than the professional adults we are.. To me is shows lack of trust, can be demeaning, disrespectful, de-moralizing, and definitely a control issue. It would be good to have human resources involved to help explain how this will negatively impact the group she managers and offer a different viewpoint. If someone is abusing the break and lunch policies, then that is another issue that should be handled on an individual basis.

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mer February 22, 2016 at 12:43 pm

By definition “blanket policies” are designed to keep control over all employees.

What my point was: out of 100% of the people in a company, I’ll say 10% of people are a problem in one way or another (10% pulled out of thin air). Suppose the 10% have a problem with spending 7 hours a day on personal phone calls. A blanket policy that says “No personal phone calls during working hours” is really targeted at the 10%, but serves to annoy the heck out of the remaining 90% who either are never on a personal call during working hours or only in an emergency (sick kid winding up at a hospital or something). Any single blanket policy may be meaningless, but there is never just one and they typically become more and more myopic like the bathroom break schedule. Over time idiotic blanket policies serve to drive the productive workers out of the company and all that’s left are managers and nonproducers.

A blanket policy saying that everyone must put in at least 8 hours of work per day when 2 people are only putting in 4 hours is going to really make everyone but the 2 want to leave.

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Dena Lefkowitz, Esq., ACC February 21, 2016 at 9:34 pm

There are some very valid points in the guidance offered, and maybe this was meant to be funny, but I would not describe a manager as having gone off the deep end when seeking resolution to micromanagement.

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