How Strict Should Stores Be About Employees-Only Bathrooms?

While retail stores all need someplace for employees to wash up and occasionally relieve themselves, many stores have a “staff only” policy for access to the toilet. But are there situations where the store staffers should make an exception in the name of saving a customer from embarrassment?

A Consumerist reader Joe in Texas writes in to tell us about an unhappy experience he and his mother-in-law had while shopping at their local Lady Foot Locker.

While Joe’s wife was shopping for shoes, his 70-something mom-in-law, who wears a protective undergarment in case of a bathroom-related emergency, suddenly needed to use the loo.

“She asked the worker behind the counter if she could she their bathroom,” writes Joe. “They told her no it was against store policy. She pleaded with them to use it because it was an emergency. The worker again told her no she cannot use the bathroom.”

Joe’s mother-in-law headed over to JCPenney, where an employee gave her directions to the bathroom at the back of the store.

“She couldn’t make it in time and soiled herself in public,” says Joe. “She made it to the bathroom and my wife helped clean her up, but not without being embarassed in public.”

Joe was aghast at the lack of compassion show by The Lady Foot Locker employee.

“When someone of any age has the sudden, unexpected urge to use the bathroom, stores should at least accommodate the customer in case of emergency,” he writes. “To allow someone to suffer public embarassment for the sake of store policy is ridiculous.”

Stores usually keep customers out of the bathroom because they want to avoid any liability that could arise from customers using the bathroom, and in some cases, employee bathrooms are in a place that could provide easy access to either store inventory, cash or sensitive information.

All that being said, it couldn’t hurt for retailers to train their employees how to handle these situations — when to recognize true emergencies; how to minimize liability concerns when exceptions are made; and at the very least, how to politely turn customers away and steer them to the nearest viable bathroom option.