Production Line Bathroom Break Lawsuits

A recent Court decision has put the issue of race and bathroom breaks into the spotlight. Smithfield, for example, must get permission from a utility worker before allowing employees to take a bathroom break. The company is accused of favoring white workers over Black employees by implementing a first-come-first-serve policy, and this discrimination is illegal. Fortunately, OSHA regulations require employers to provide flexible procedures for granting bathroom breaks.

Smithfield’s first-come-first-served system is non-discriminatory

Whether or not Smithfield’s first-come-first-serve bathroom break system is discriminatory is a fact-intensive issue. Facts relevant to the inquiry include employer policies and restrictions, the frequency of these actions, and any evidence. Although the parties agree on some key facts, there are several contested elements. While the first-come-first-serve system is non-discriminatory, employees of all races have complained about it.

In the instant case, Garang argues that the complaints she received led to her termination. While this is true, it is not enough to prove that her complaints were the motivating factor behind her termination. Garang was already disciplined twice before her second violation. Garang argues that Smithfield failed to properly discipline her non-Black employee. While Smithfield did take appropriate action to correct Garang’s performance issues, the plaintiffs failed to show that Smithfield’s first-come, the first-serve system was discriminatory.

The plaintiffs argue that SS 9H.2 is discriminatory because it targets Plaintiffs. In a newsletter distributed the same day that he introduced the SS 9H.2 in the General Assembly, Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson, Jr. explained that he intended to pass legislation that protects small farmers from large meatpacking companies.

OSHA regulations require flexible procedures for granting bathroom breaks

While OSHA has strict standards for workplaces, it doesn’t mandate a set number of restroom breaks per employee. It does require that each restroom be sanitary and equipped with running water, hand towels, air dryers, and soap. Employees can’t eat or drink in a restroom. As such, the facility must also have a hand-washing station. OSHA regulations also prohibit eating and drinking in restrooms.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many poultry plant workers are unaware of their legal right to take a bathroom break. Many don’t bring the issue up when OSHA inspectors visit their plant. Therefore, OSHA inspectors need to be more proactive about asking workers about their access to restrooms, whether during an on-site inspection or privately after work. This may sound like overkill, but bosses can intimidate employees.

Courts have dealt with this issue in the past

While the laws prohibit companies from denying their employees the right to a bathroom break, some employers are still ignoring the regulations. In one lawsuit, a woman claimed she was forced to clock in and out of her work during a production line bathroom break. The company denied this claim, saying it does not monitor employees’ breaks. This is a major violation of federal law, and a class action lawsuit may be the answer to the problem.

In another case, a factory worker sued her employer for violating state labor laws by failing to provide her with adequate restroom breaks. Her supervisor denied her requests several times, and she was fired for improvising a solution to the problem. After multiple denials, the plaintiff filed suit against her employer in federal court. She asserted wrongful-termination claims and a violation of state law requiring reasonable bathroom breaks.

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