There is no bad reason to take a bathroom break at work. First of all, famously, canonically, and scientifically, even, everyone poops. It’s just the human condition. But even if you’re not using the facilities the inventor of the modern flush toilet (whoever he was) intended, there are still a ton of compelling reasons to visit el baño on the clock. Maybe you ate something with a ton of seeds in it and you want to check if any got stuck in your teeth. Maybe you sneezed in your hands like a little kid and now you need to wash them. Maybe you want to look at tweets, or hyperventilate, or text-fight with your roommate, or pop a zit. Whatever! The possibilities are literally endless, and as long as they don’t create any undue custodial work or take so long your coworkers are left waiting for ages, they are all completely acceptable. What’s deeply unacceptable is any attempt by employers to permeate the sacred bubble that is The Bathroom Break, especially in pursuit of increased productivity.
Two such attempts have popped up recently, and I fear they foreshadow a greater crisis. The first comes in the form of a question sent to Caity Weaver’s New York Times advice column, “Work Friend.” In it, the letter-writer describes a situation almost too horrific to repeat here, and yet… I must:
My 50-person team got relocated to a new floor in our building, and the bathroom situation is curiously abysmal. There are two, one labeled “male,” the other “female.” In each room, there are two toilets with no dividers whatsoever. Rumor has it H.R. has ordered fabric curtains to separate them.
In response, Weaver gives some surprisingly even-handed advice about consulting New York’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration. My advice, on the other hand, would be for this person to hand in their resignation and then call the police. A CURTAIN? Blatantly disrespectful and honestly disgusting; imagine, through some happenstance, you are in the bathroom at the same time as someone else, and one of you trips and falls through the drapes into the other one trying to have a peaceful bowel movement. Absolute chaos. Most people would find this kind of… let’s say “intimate” setup unacceptable in a family home, let alone in a workplace.
But the other bathroom break aggression everyone’s talking about is arguably more sinister and certainly has wider ramifications: the creation of StandardToilet, a toilet with its seat tilted downwards at a 13-degree angle that supposedly induces thigh strain after around five minutes, specifically designed to decrease the amount of time spent on the toilet. Of course, the idea that five minutes is a universally acceptable amount of toilet time is baldly ableist, ignoring the needs of those with digestive issues like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome—conditions which, by the way, impact millions of people. But this toilet wasn’t designed with any worker, health issues or not, in mind. “Its main benefit is to the employers, not the employees,” Mahabir Gill, StandardToilet’s founder, told Wired UK. “It saves the employer money.” One can only presume that revolutionary new boot-licking technology from Gill’s company is also currently in beta.
It’s particularly absurd to think about forcibly curtailed bathroom breaks as a solution to productivity woes, considering all the signs pointing to the fact that a shorter work day and work week could actually do wonders for how much people get done at the office. But, then again why listen to facts, logic, or European innovation when you can just grind down your boot even harder on the necks of the people whose entire waking lives you already control? The seeds for a full-on War on Bathroom Breaks are being planted right now, and it is up to us workers to let the Man know we will absolutely not stand for it.
I don’t know what, exactly, a pro-bathroom break movement would look like. But I do know that I’m willing to mobilize for the right to go to sit on the toilet comfortably, for as long as I’m interested in doing so, whenever the urge strikes. Anything less is just degrading.
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