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NINE TO FIVE

Can my employer dictate when I can use the bathroom? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I work for a family-owned company and was recently told that I can’t go to the bathroom until after a certain time. Is this legal? I was also told not to get up from my desk too often to deliver anything to others in the office. I’m the receptionist, and it’s good to get up and stretch once in a while, but now I’m basically tied to my chair. When I do leave to use the bathroom, the phone is forwarded to someone, so no calls can be missed.

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THE FIRST ANSWER

Billy Anderson

Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto

It’s always best to try to hash things out through a polite conversation, before bringing up your employment rights, a topic that can put any employer on guard.

Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule about breaks, as far as employment standards go. If you are unionized and there’s a collective agreement, then there may be prescribed breaks. Otherwise, check your employment contract.

As for not leaving your desk to deliver things, do you have a detailed job description? If it includes delivering, then you should mention that to your boss. If it does not, you need to limit your expectations. A detailed job description not only provides direction, it gives you something to refer to in talks with your boss when issues arise. It also forces your employer to prioritize your responsibilities.

I would focus on improving the relationship with your manager, so there is more trust. If you’re getting your work done and doing a great job, the company is getting bang for its buck and hopefully your manager will go easier on you.

Some important questions to consider: Do you even want to work in such a setting? Do you feel confident things could change? How much effort are you willing to put in to make this work?

THE SECOND ANSWER

Kyle Couch

President and CEO, Spectrum Organizational Development Inc., Toronto

I’m going to break my suggestions into two parts – the first assuming you are not a member of the family, the second if you are.

While legally you are entitled to a break and a lunch, the key is to understand why your employer has suddenly established this new guideline. If it is self-induced – if you were a frequent wanderer, for example – be sure to appreciate your employer’s perspective on the matter.

If this isn’t the case, I suggest you work with your employer to establish what you “can” do in terms of break times and delivery schedules, so you come to a mutual understanding.

If you are a member of the family, there is another unwritten rule of conduct – optics. In many cases, when it comes to family businesses, there is a clear divide between family and non-family staff. Therefore, many founders put pressure on family members to keep their nose to the grindstone, to show other employees how it is done. If you aren’t “seen” to be working hard, other employees might cry foul, further deepening the divide.

Either way, you have a job to do and, as the receptionist, you play a vital role making a good “first impression” for the company. Being at your desk ready to do your job is a key part of the company’s success.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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