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Published December 22, 2013

THE QUESTION

I work for a family-owned company and was recently told that I can’t go to the bathroom until after a certain time. Is this legal? I was also told not to get up from my desk too often to deliver anything to others in the office. I’m the receptionist, and it’s good to get up and stretch once in a while, but now I’m basically tied to my chair. When I do leave to use the bathroom, the phone is forwarded to someone, so no calls can be missed.

THE ANSWER

Billy Anderson – Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto

It’s always best to try to hash things out through a polite conversation, before bringing up your employment rights, a topic that can put any employer on guard.

Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule about breaks, as far as employment standards go. If you are unionized and there’s a collective agreement, then there may be prescribed breaks. Otherwise, check your employment contract.

As for not leaving your desk to deliver things, do you have a detailed job description? If it includes delivering, then you should mention that to your boss. If it does not, you need to limit your expectations. A detailed job description not only provides direction, it gives you something to refer to in talks with your boss when issues arise. It also forces your employer to prioritize your responsibilities.

I would focus on improving the relationship with your manager, so there is more trust. If you’re getting your work done and doing a great job, the company is getting bang for its buck and hopefully your manager will go easier on you.

Some important questions to consider: Do you even want to work in such a setting? Do you feel confident things could change? How much effort are you willing to put in to make this work?