While businesses are required to provide restroom facilities for their employees, not every business is required to allow customers to use these restrooms. If a company chooses to allow public access, they must ensure the facilities conform to local plumbing codes and to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Number of Fixtures
While federal laws mandate restrooms for employee use, laws regarding public restrooms are set at the state or local level. Most states follow regulations similar to the Universal Plumbing Code or the International Plumbing Code. These Codes describe the minimum number of toilets and urinals for specific types of locations. For example, a large retail store could require one fixture per 50 customers up to the location’s maximum occupancy, while a restaurant may require segregated restrooms at a ratio of one per 75 male and female customers.
Not every state requires a small business to open their restrooms to the public, though it’s usually good for a store’s reputation to do so. A business in a state that doesn’t require public access may choose to keep its restrooms for employees only to save on operating costs. However, several states including Illinois, Oregon and Texas have passed versions of the Restroom Access Law, a regulation that requires a business to open their restrooms to a patron with a legitimate medical need.
Americans with Disabilities Act
Publicly accessible restrooms must conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure they can be used by any customer. These accommodations include grab bars at the back and side of toilet fixtures, flush controls that are easily accessible and sufficient space to navigate a wheelchair through the restroom. Older buildings may not be required to update a restroom to the ADA standard, though readily achievable modifications to improve access must be implemented.
A public restroom may be locked, as long as the key or lock code is readily accessible from an employee. OSHA requirements mandate that a restroom be kept clean and safe from hazards, such as slippery puddles or damaged fixtures, and that adequate supplies of toilet paper, hand soap and paper towels or electric hand driers be maintained. Plumbing codes also mandate physical partitions in multi-fixture locations to maintain privacy.
By Erik Johnson