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What do I do with an employee who takes disruptive breaks? Add to ...


I have a small business with 15 employees. One of my employees will arrive at work on time, then head straight to the bathroom for 20 minutes. He holds up an entire crew which ends up leaving the shop a half hour after they should. Though I’ve brought up this issue with the employee in the past, he continues this practice. Any ideas as to how to properly handle this situation?


Zuleika Sgro

Director of people, Saje Natural Wellness, Vancouver

This can certainly be a sensitive conversation to have. To approach it, my advice is to keep a true log of the frequency of the breaks your employees take. And if you have a written policy for breaks in place, reference both in a private conversation with this member of your team.

Start the conversation by letting the employee know that you are concerned with the length of his break . Your reason for the conversation is to reiterate the break policy and give him an opportunity to share with you any concerns of adherence.

It is important to be mindful that your employee may have a medical condition and could require accommodation. He is not required to share with you the condition, nor should you ask. But if he does share information about a condition as the reason for the breaks, you may request a medical note stating accommodation instructions.

Otherwise, you can use this conversation to make clear your expectations for breaks and I also encourage you to have this conversation with the entire crew for alignment and awareness on the policy. If anyone, including this employee, violates the break policy, you can follow up with written warnings. These may lead to you taking further action if the situation does not improve.


Kyle Couch

President & CEO, Spectrum Organizational Development, Toronto

Surprisingly, this type of bathroom behaviour is not uncommon. Cell phone rules, and other work pressures, cause many disengaged employees to use this private space as a way to regain some control over their lives. However, there may be a far more serious issue, which you owe it to your employee to have some compassion towards.

Your initial approach to the employee should address the disruption their behaviour causes towards the held-back employees. By starting with the outcome, not the behaviour, this may change your employee’s perspective on the matter.

However, once that is highlighted, your consideration must change to the personal needs of the employee. He may be suffering from a gastrointestinal disease, have mental-health needs with respect to social situations or have a personal conflict with another employee. Such issues may be embarrassing to discuss, and may elicit a negative response initially from the employee. These 20 minutes may be the time required to ensure the employee can be successful throughout the rest of the day.

If the issue is not health related, you must have a discussion with the employee, regardless if he is offended. While regulating washroom breaks is not the best approach, pushing to understand why this happens may identify some engagement issues in this employee, and perhaps others in your shop.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com

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