Is It Illegal To Refuse Someone The Toilet Break At Work In The UK? (What Employers Must Know)


London (Parliament Politics Magazine) – As the world becomes increasingly digital, it is no surprise that our workplaces are changing too. With more people working remotely, the need for toilets has increased. In the UK, it is illegal to refuse someone the use of the toilet at work. This means that, even if you work in a remote office, you must allow your employees to use the toilet. If you do not, you can be liable for harassment and discrimination. This is a law that is intended to protect employees from being forced to use the toilet in an unhealthy manner. If you are found to be in breach of this law, you can face a fine of up to £5000.

What Is The Law Regarding Toilet Breaks At Work?

Bathroom breaks are a personal choice but some countries have laws about how long you are allowed to go. In the United Kingdom, there are no laws set in place. You are allowed to take as many toilet breaks as you need to. However, except for having a maximum break time of 20 minutes for all adult workers.  In the UK, it is not illegal to refuse someone the toilet at work. However, other laws in place will likely protect the employee from such refusal.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, dictates that employers must ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. This Act also states that employers must provide ‘sufficient and appropriate’ welfare facilities, including sufficient toilet and washing facilities. In other words, employers must provide enough toilets for their employees, based on the amount of staff employed.  

Health & Safety Issues

The Equality Act of 2010 has also put in place certain measures that can protect employees from discrimination. Under this Act, employers must promote disability equality, which means that those with disabilities must not be discriminated against.

This applies to the workplace, where employers must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees who might need the toilet more regularly. They may need excessive toilet breaks for medical reasons, for instance, and refusing someone a toilet would therefore be unlawful.  

There is no doubt that easy access to the washroom can improve the health of employees. Health and safety issues are directly linked to toilet breaks. If the staff member doesn’t get time to take a toilet break it can lead to many health issues. It includes the following

  • Digestive issues
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Kidney problems that often lead to other health conditions

How Many Toilet Breaks Are You Allowed At Work?

In the United Kingdom, there is no legal requirement for employers to provide set toilet breaks during the work day. It all depends on the length of the employee’s shift but reasonable rest breaks should be provided. UK law states that employers make sure that their employees have reasonable access to the toilet at all times during their shifts.

From a legal perspective, employers must provide employees with reasonable access to sanitation facilities. Whatever constitutes ‘reasonable access’ is open to interpretation and means different things in different workplaces. This means that employers will be expected to provide access to a toilet that is reasonably situated and of appropriate size. The employer is also expected to ensure that these facilities remain in good condition, and have sufficient supplies of toilet paper and soap.

For example, a shift that is seven hours or longer should be accompanied by at least two toilet breaks. It can be preferably one in the morning and one in the afternoon. For shifts lasting between three and seven hours, one break of 10–15 minutes would be appropriate. Additionally, for a shift lasting less than three hours, employers should offer reasonable access to toilet facilities during the shift.

How Many Toilet Breaks Are An Excuse To Procrastinate?

Many employees may use bathroom breaks as an excuse to rest. The most obvious reason is simply to take a breather from the stress of the workplace. Working long hours in a demanding environment can be taxing, and a short break may provide much-needed relief for an employee. This is especially true for office-based workers, who may not have the access to physical activity as those in more active occupations. Other reasons include needing to make a private call or browse the internet or wanting to avoid working.

Given the importance of toilet breaks in the workplace, employers have to consider the best approach to counter excessive use. On the other hand, few allow for fatigue and lost concentration. However, many lead to wasted time and possible exploitation of the situation. A comprehensive policy with monitoring and guidance will ensure that both employers and employees are on the same page. It helps them take the necessary toilet breaks without them becoming a distraction.

Read More: Is It illegal To Pick Daffodils In The UK? (Consequences You May Face)

Can You Restrict Toilet Breaks At Work In the UK?

It’s good to know that employers have an interest in making sure their employees are productive. However, the truth is that when it comes to allowing toilet breaks, there isn’t a lot of official guidance. The UK government states you must provide ‘suitable’ toilet facilities and make sure that they’re kept in a clean condition. It can well be seen as implying that it’s wrong to restrict access. You cannot impose restrictions on toilet break at work as it can lead to breaking the law. 

On top of that, limiting trips to the bathroom could end up hurting employee wellbeing and mental health. If staff feel like they’re not being allowed enough breaks it can affect them badly. Ultimately, while employers need to keep an eye on productivity levels, the best way is to trust your workforce. Sometimes you may restrict a bathroom break, but it is not the right choice. If a female is pregnant they must be allowed to take a break whenever they want. If you don’t allow a timely bathroom break, it can lead to hefty fines.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.