Lawsuit Alleges Employer Failed to Provide Adequate Restroom Breaks

A factory worker’s lawsuit alleges that her employer violated state labor laws by failing to allow her adequate restroom breaks, then firing her for improvising her own solution. A U.S. district court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss in Prince v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc., No. 13-cv-02316, mem. op. (D. Minn., Feb. 14, 2014), finding that the plaintiff had met the pleading requirements for wrongful termination or retaliation. The plaintiff in this case can take advantage of a state law requiring reasonable restroom breaks. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not expressly require employers to allow restroom breaks, although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has interpreted its regulations to mean that employers may not unreasonably deny access to restroom facilities.

The plaintiff was an assembly-line worker at a plant in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She suffers from a medical condition that causes her to need to use the restroom frequently. She alleges that she asked her supervisor for permission to take a restroom break several times over the course of thirty to forty minutes, but was repeatedly ignored or denied. Eventually, the 51 year-old plaintiff was no longer able to wait, so she lined an empty box with a plastic bag, concealed herself as best she could near her workstation, and urinated in the box. The following day, she was terminated for violating a company health and safety policy.

The supervisor allegedly refused permission for restroom breaks on a regular basis, and the plaintiff claims that he had instructed her to use a box or a bucket in the past. The plaintiff was out of work for about nine months until an arbitrator reversed her termination in April 2013, finding that it violated the union collective bargaining agreement. Even though she got her job back, the plaintiff filed suit against her employer in federal court in August 2013, asserting causes of action for violations of the Minnesota Occupational Safety Act (MOSHA) and a state statute requiring adequate restroom breaks for employees.

The defendant moved to dismiss all of plaintiff’s claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim on which the court could grant relief. To survive such a motion, a complaint must contain enough factual allegations to state a plausible claim for relief with a valid legal basis. The court found sufficient pleadings for both the MOSHA claim and the state-law restroom breaks claim.

The FLSA requires employers to allow breaks for meals, as well as periodic breaks during a shift, but it does not specifically address restroom breaks. Labor laws in many states do not directly address the issue, either. The Minnesota statute requires an employer to allow “adequate time” within “four consecutive hours of work” for restroom breaks. MN Stat. § 177.253. It allows employers and employees to establish different restroom breaks through a collective bargaining agreement. The issue in many disputes is what constitutes “adequate” time.

OSHA regulations require separate toilet facilities for each sex in all places of employment. 29 C.F.R. § 1910.141(c)(1)(i). They do not set any requirements for the number of restroom breaks that employers must allow, but OSHA has interpreted the regulations to prohibit “unreasonable restrictions” on employees’ use of restroom facilities.

If you need to speak to an employment attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group at 973-781-1204 or (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

McDonald’s Faces Multiple Lawsuits in New York for Alleged Wage Violations, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, April 18, 2014
Liquidated Damages Award in FLSA Case Reminds Employers in New Jersey and Across the U.S. to Comply With Wage Laws, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, January 10, 2014
New Jersey Overtime Pay: Know Your Workplace Rights, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 4, 2012

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