Schatz Introduces New Legislation To Protect Workers, Ensure Dignity In The Workplace

Legislation Would Ensure Workers Receive Breaks To Eat Meals, Use The Restroom

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) introduced the Treating Workers With Dignity Act, new legislation that would guarantee employees receive a break to eat a meal, use the restroom, or tend to their medical needs.

“All workers deserve to be treated with dignity. You shouldn’t have to worry about losing your job just because you need a break to eat a meal or use the restroom,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill will extend these basic and essential rights to all workers.”

Schatz’s legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

“It is time we raise the bar for every worker in our country, and guarantee the right to take rest and meal breaks for all working people,” said Senator Harris. “I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this important legislation which will take steps to ensure working people receive the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Under current federal law, employers in the United States have no legal obligation to provide workers a break in order to eat a meal, use the restroom, or tend to their medical needs. As a result, some employers have taken advantage of the absence of these protections by showing little regard their workers. For example, separate reports by the Government Accountability Office and Oxfam America found that employees in the poultry industry routinely are denied bathroom breaks, forcing many to defecate on themselves or wear adult diapers rather than lose their jobs.

The Treating Workers with Dignity Act would provide employees the opportunity to attend to their basic needs during the course of their workday. This legislation would:

  • Require employers to provide employees the option for an uninterrupted 30-minute break in which an employee can eat, for any shift lasting at least six hours.
  • Allow employees to take short, paid breaks to tend to a documented medical condition.
  • Ensure employers provide their employees the opportunity to take a paid restroom break at least once every four hours that they work.

“Working people have a strong ally in Senator Schatz, and Communications Workers of America thanks him for introducing legislation to help workers like Anna who need reasonable accommodations for medical issues,” said Chris Shelton, President of Communications Workers of America. “Having adequate bathroom breaks is a basic human need, and for many workers, being deprived of them can cause serious health problems. Nobody should be uncomfortable or risk health problems at their job because an employer is depriving them of necessary bathroom breaks.”

“All workers should be afforded the basic dignity in their jobs to have time to eat a meal and tend to their medical or biological needs. Far too often, low-wage workers are denied such basic dignity. A law like this shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly it is. We commend Senator Schatz for taking on this important issue and look forward to working with him to ensure this bill becomes law. For there is no logical or moral reason for anyone to oppose the very basic protections it offers,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project.

“I am deeply appreciative of Senator Schatz for proposing this legislation,” said Anna Flemmings, a call center worker for Maximus in Mississippi. “For medical reasons, I had to get an accommodation for additional bathroom breaks and even after obtaining notice from my physician, Maximus refuses to pay me for this time. It is deducted from my pay for that day, reducing my already low pay of $11.40 an hour. I can’t afford to lose this time, but I also cannot physically not take it when I need to. This is definitely not right.”