Employers opt for unisex toilets: The end of workplace privacy?

Employers opt for unisex toilets: The end of workplace privacy?

Why attempts to save money on facilities could end in a heap of trouble

The move by some companies and organisations towards unisex toilet facilities could do more to damage workplace relations than cutting pay or holidays.

That's the view of a national workplace law consultancy that says badly though-out attempts to save on facilities budgets could result in conflict, harassment and the possibility of expensive and time-consuming employment tribunals.

While the phenomenon appears to be spreading to the United Kingdom from the United States, the Protecting.co.uk law consultancy asks whether Britain is ready for this – an opinion backed up by its own straw poll where the results were overwhelmingly negative.

"We're very set in our ways about workplace and public bathroom habits," says Protecting.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall, "And while younger people may not mind so much in – say – a nightclub, we're clearly not ready to share our office and factory toilets with the opposite sex."

In fact, Protecting.co.uk asked 950 employees from offices, shops, factories and the public sector whether they would be prepared to share toilet facilities with the other sex:

Overall, 84% of those asked said 'no'
95% of women said 'no'
73% of men said 'no'
Of 100 business owners or directors asked by Protecting:

42% said they were considering saving money by introducing unisex toilet facilities
"The response from workers is pretty much unequivocal, particularly from female employees," says Protecting.co.uk 's Mark Hall. "Bosses will be facing stiff opposition from their staff if they try to push this through."

That's reflected in comments from employees surveyed by Protecting.

"I'd rather resign," said one female office worker, "then I'll take them to court."
"It's a recipe for Peeping Toms and all other perversions", said another, "I won't be able to go with the thought of a face appearing over or under the door."
"I bike to work, and use the gents to wash and change. It's not a pretty sight, and I don't think the ladies will appreciate it. Some of the blokes don't as it is!" said one male worker in a high-tech factory.
Even if employers go through the expense of fitting out all cubicles with full-length doors with no gaps, as well as in-cubicle washing facilities, the idea is still replete with problems, Protecting.co.uk says.

"Some workers are sensitive enough to the point of phobia about using workplace and public toilet facilities as it is," says Hall, "The last thing any business or organisation wants is a claim against them on this basis, particularly one that alleges constructive dismissal or gender bias."

Protecting.co.uk warns bosses to think carefully before taking the plunge into unisex washrooms. While people are familiar with unisex bathrooms for disabled access, most workers consider a unified toilet facility using a single entry door to be the end of privacy in the workplace.

"Bosses should come out of their executive washrooms and see how the other half lives before signing off on this false economy," says Hall.

"You know that burning feeling in your face when you walk into the wrong toilet by mistake?" Hall asks, "If men and women employees are uncomfortable even to share a wash basin and a mirror, then forcing them to use the same toilets is just inviting a heap of trouble."

"Britain just isn't ready for this. Try again in about ... 200 years."



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