Keep Your Customers Out of the Courtroom

Knowing state regulations regarding restrooms for workers is an important part of a PRO's job
Keep Your Customers Out of the Courtroom

In a perfect world, your customers would be familiar with every regulation governing their business, and they’d follow those regulations to the letter without ever giving you a bit of trouble. Reality is often quite different.

In a recent court case reported by SFgate.com, a Napa vineyard was successfully sued by eight employees who were fired after they requested a second portable restroom for female workers. All 13 workers at the vineyard, four women and nine men, had been provided only one restroom, even though separate facilities are required for male and female farmworkers under California law. According to the report, the vineyard’s labor contractor said only one restroom would be provided and either the men or the women had to leave. They refused and all were fired.

The employees successfully sued the vineyard, which has now agreed to provide separate toilet facilities and pay the eight employees a $65,000 settlement.

In a way, it’s not surprising that this law was being ignored. In some areas of the country, portable sanitation companies have a hard time persuading people to follow even the minimum standards that OSHA has outlined. OSHA guidelines do not require separate units for men and women, providing the units are private and can be locked from the inside. The state of California has more restrictive rules, which makes this case all the more egregious.

“I think the issue we have to be clear on here is that there are some regulations relative to portable sanitation that are not paid attention to regardless of who is possibly harmed,” says Karleen Kos, executive director of Portable Sanitation Association International. “I think this particular case is one that gets everybody’s attention because somebody actually went to court and got into trouble over it. But the sort of violation that amounts to not having adequate sanitation for your workers happens a lot. What’s unique here is that people stood up to the employer.”

Kos says the PSAI wishes OSHA’s rules were more stringent. The OSHA guideline requires one restroom for every 15 workers. But, as she points out, some people don’t even follow those basic guidelines.

“I think it’s essential that PROs know the regulations,” Kos continues. “That gives them both the ability to serve their customer better and help their customer stay out of any kind of litigation like this person found themselves in. Where it gets interesting is if the customer refuses to follow the guidelines even when they’re told about them.”

The PSAI is developing a Code of Excellence (out for comment now) that makes clear how PROs can and should refuse to serve people who are in essence asking them to do something damaging, illegal or harmful to the environment.

Kos hopes the Code of Excellence will help PROs feel more comfortable about speaking to customers about following regulations.

“Now that doesn’t mean that some PRO somewhere couldn’t decide to skirt the law and serve them anyway, but this gives our PROs more moral and ethical backing to say, ‘This is the rule and I can’t in good conscience serve you if you’re not going to follow the bare minimum [regulations],’” she says.



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