The State Worker

The State Worker: DMV’s potty break dispute

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Restroom or rest room?

A squabble between staff and management at a Sacramento DMV call center has broken out over a policy that deducts employees’ leave time or docks pay when a toilet trip takes more than seven minutes, according to grievances filed by SEIU Local 1000.

Documents reviewed by The State Worker show at least as far back as December, managers at the Power Inn Road call center were concerned that some employees were spending too much time off the phone and away from their desks.

Department spokesman Jaime Garza didn’t say much about the dispute on Tuesday: “The DMV is aware of a grievance filed by the union and the DMV is in the process of preparing a response. The DMV takes these matters seriously and is looking into the allegations.”

An emailed DMV response to one grievance alleged that Dana Meza, a Local 1000 District Labor Council president, was away from her desk 1 hour, 3 minutes over the course of an 8 1/2 -hour shift.

The absences were “not authorized,” nor did Meza “communicate with her manager that she needed to be away from her desk,” the email by the call center manager states.

Meza said that since the potty policy took effect that she has kept a personal log that shows on the day in question she was away from her desk 29 minutes for bathroom breaks. “Those reports are bogus,” she said.

This column reviewed more than a dozen forms employees filled out to explain their time. The justifications were short and not-so-sweet: “Sick stomach.” “18 min. in toilet.” “Vomiting, stomach upset 2 days.” “Stomach ache.” “In the restroom.” One person wrote, “10 minute phone call.” It’s not clear whether it was made in the restroom.

The union says that leave time for loo time violates provisions of its contract and discriminates against some staff. In one instance, according to grievance filings, an employee with a disability who “has difficulty maneuvering throughout the worksite” was charged sick leave “for using the restroom for more than an hour.”

Using leave time requires the employee to provide a doctor’s note. No note, pay gets docked.

The leave credits are deducted in 15-minute increments, Meza said this week during an interview (on her break time). So while the policy aims to increase productivity, she said, the DMV actually gets less of it.

“We used to get right back on the phone if we went to the bathroom for eight minutes,” Meza said. “Now you have to sit there for seven more minutes.”

Colin Taylor, CEO of a Toronto-based call center consulting firm The Taylor Reach Group, said that most call center employers tolerate lavatory loungers to a point. Some commode campouts are legit, he said, “although what starts as a washroom break can turn into a smoke break.”

Punitive measures can sour employees and taint their performance on the phone, Taylor said, “and these things can escalate, so this is an issue that 99 out of 100 employers wouldn’t touch.”

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