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The Corporate War on What Constitutes an Employee Poop Break

One company recently installed cell signal blockers in their bathrooms, and one of their employees may have died as a result

I recently stumbled upon a Reddit thread that chronicles the disturbing — and downright deadly — actions taken by an unnamed California company to prevent their employees from browsing the internet while using the bathroom [sic]:

“My dad passed away last week at work — he had a massive heart attack. He was in the bathroom when the heart attack happened, and he tried to call 911 repeatedly. Here’s the thing, though: Six months ago, his company installed some kind of signal-blocking device in the bathrooms, because employees were going to the toilet and browsing the internet.

“The doctors say that, had he received medical attention within 20 minutes, he might have made it. But they didn’t find him until almost two hours after he passed away. Last month, there was a nasty car wreck right outside of his office, and apparently, ambulances were on the scene within 10 minutes, so I’m sure that, had he been able to make the call, he might have lived.

“I spoke to the company, and they told me to get lost, claiming that it’s private property and that they’re well within their rights to use jammers however they please. Is that true? I’m struggling with the funeral costs as it is, so I can’t afford a lawyer, especially if it’s going to go nowhere.”


To answer this poster’s question, using cell-phone jammers for any purpose is completely and utterly illegal in the U.S., according to the Federal Communications Commission:

“In recent years, the number of websites offering ‘cell jammers’ or similar devices designed to block communications and create a ‘quiet zone’ in vehicles, schools, theaters, restaurants and other places has increased substantially. While these devices are marketed under different names, such as signal blockers, GPS jammers or text stoppers, they have the same purpose. We remind and warn consumers that it is a violation of federal law to use a cell jammer or similar devices that intentionally block, jam or interfere with authorized radio communications such as cell phones, police radar, GPS and Wi-Fi. Despite some marketers’ claims, consumers cannot legally use jammers within the United States, nor can retailers lawfully sell them.”

All of which means this poster has a solid case if they decide to take this company to court for contributing to the death of their father.

But their heinous story also brings up another divisive issue: Employers have long attempted to curtail bathroom breaks, especially when their employees started using smartphones on the toilet. Amazon employees, for instance, famously write code and take business calls while sitting on the toilet to keep up with their demanding workloads. Worse yet, Amazon’s warehouse workers have resorted to peeing in bottles or forfeiting their bathroom breaks altogether in order to meet pressing fulfillment demands, and Amazon was recently granted a patent for performance-monitoring wristbands that could potentially be used to track bathroom breaks.

So what’s the deal here? Is poop time personal time, or not? Technically speaking, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are required to pay their employees for breaks shorter than 20 minutes; however, this hasn’t stopped employers from at least attempting to find loopholes that allow them to nickel and dime their workers for time spent in the bathroom. Progressive Business Publications, for instance, was recently taken to court for not paying employees during bathroom breaks that lasted longer than 90 seconds, arguing that the Fair Labor Standards Act allows their workers to take as many 19-minute breaks as they choose. While the judges recognized that it is indeed a possibility that workers may take advantage of this law, they still ruled in favor of the employees, saying that employers are free to discipline workers who constantly take advantage of this 20-minutes or less break rule.

Basically, bathroom breaks are a complicated issue that both employees and employers can take advantage of in their own ways. HR expert Trish Landrito agrees. “It can be a sensitive topic, because someone may use the restroom excessively for medical reasons, which they’re not required to disclose to their employer,” she explains.

That said, generally speaking, Landrito says that determining how much bathroom time employees should be allotted depends on the industry. “If the industry is — let’s say, a car factory or some kind of service industry (like a restaurant) — then the company would want to have more established guidelines around bathroom breaks,” she explains, adding that creative companies and tech companies might benefit from adopting looser bathroom rules, since the amount of time an employee spends working is less tied to their actual output.

But until we come to a reasonable consensus on how much time employees are allowed to spend in the bathroom, the old saying, “Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime — that’s why I poop on company time” feels like an adequate starting place. And of course, if your employer decides to install signal blockers in the bathrooms, get the hell out of there and report them to the FCC, stat.