Last year, Wessels Sherman did a seminar where I spoke on Minnesota's wage and hour laws. One of the various laws discussed requires employers to provide employees with "adequate time from work within each four consecutive hours of work to utilize the nearest convenient restroom." See Minn. Stat. § 177.253. All those in attendance chuckled a bit and agreed that of course employees would be allowed to use the restroom and that this law would rarely, if ever, be an issue. However, a recent Minnesota Federal Court case, Prince v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc., (D. Minn., Feb. 14, 2014), reminds us that the topic of bathroom breaks is not as funny, or as obvious, as it appears.
An employee with a medical condition requiring frequent urination was working her production line shift when she asked her supervisor to cover for her so she could use the restroom. However, the supervisor failed to respond and ignored repeated requests over the course of about thirty five (35) minutes. Finally the employee decided to urinate in a box near her post. When the employer found out they terminated her employment.
The employee took her termination to arbitration where it was determined that the employer did not have just cause to terminate her and ordered the employee reinstated. Further, the employee sued the employer in court alleging violations of the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Act (MNOSHA) as well as Minn. Stat. § 177.253.
Although the employer tried to have the case dismissed, the court allowed the matter to continue stating the employee sufficiently raised questions of whether the employer, among other things, terminated her employment due to exercising her rights under MNOSHA by asking to use toilet facilities and whether the employer provided her "adequate time" to use the bathroom under Minn. Stat. § 177.253. As a result, the matter is still pending in Minnesota federal district court.
Sometimes even issues that seem trivial or nonsensical make their way to litigation for some reason or another. In this case, it would seem obvious that employees should be allowed to use the bathroom. It should also seem obvious that an employee who decides to urinate in a box at work can be terminated. However, like all cases, this matter reminds employers that the facts and circumstances behind the scenes are vital and that sometimes even obvious issues can lead to expensive and costly litigation if not properly handled. Before taking action on what appears to be a routine situation, it may be prudent to contact the attorneys in Wessels Sherman's Minneapolis office to revisit some of Minnesota's more obscure or less often touted employment laws.