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I recently started a new job and I am happy with my work tasks, manager and coworker relationships, etc.

However, the restroom situation is untenable. My desk very near the restrooms, of which there seem to be too few (there are often people lined up for the bathrooms a few feet away from my desk), and all day I can smell my coworkers'.... 'results', and/or copious use of air fresheners, which in these concentrations is giving me headaches, itchy eyes and the combined odors is making it hard for me to eat lunch on most days. There is no table or eating space in the small break room and very few local places to buy lunch, so most people do eat at their desks.

I sometimes eat in my car or standing up outside (no benches are available) if weather permits or the conference room if it is not being used, but this doesn't seem sustainable in the long run.

I have talked to my manger and he has tried to provide solutions: Added a privacy partition to my cube so I can no longer see the line of waiting people helped with that, but did nothing for the smells. The only unoccupied cube I could move to is the one next to mine, not far enough to make any difference. He requested facilities change to an automatic air freshener spray to cut down on people over spraying, but it doesn't seem to have helped significantly. Working from home is not really feasible for my position.

There are 3-4 unoccupied desks way on the other side of the office (not located together). But they 'belong to' a different department, and I am supposed to be nearby to be available to support my team. My manger already refused a move to a desk somewhere in-between, distance wise, because a different team was planning to hire someone to sit there and it would step on toes if I took it.

I think the OSHA restroom facility regulations are either being narrowly met or slightly exceeded, but I really would prefer a more diplomatic solution than reporting a violation right off the bat.

I have worked here for several months without a good solution to this issue; should I look for a new job just to get away from the bathrooms? Is there another good option that won't brand a new employee as a complainer/troublemaker?

  • 18
    I understand your frustration from firsthand experience, I once sat right next to a restroom. After several months, another office became available and I moved, thank goodness. It sounds like your manager has been at least willing to try things even if they're not effective. Do you see any indication that they're willing to continue making changes or come up with ideas with you? Have you expressed the seriousness of how unpleasant the situation is? – dwizum May 15 at 15:23
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    Does your company own the building or do you lease the space? If leased, maybe work with building management. – cdkMoose May 15 at 16:12
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    Yes, there are 3-4 unoccupied desks way on the other side of the office (not located together). But they 'belong to' a different department, and I am supposed to be nearby to be available to support my team. My manger already refused a move to a desk somewhere in-between, distance wise, because a different team was planning to hire someone to sit there and it would step on toes if I took it. – Meg May 15 at 16:29
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    What state are you in? There are probably building codes and/or EPA regulations that could help you - the bathroom should be ventilated to negative pressure with the air being changed fully 8-12 times per hour. Offices should be at positive pressure. You shouldn't smell a thing, even with a restroom next door. Whoever owns the building needs to fix it. – J... May 16 at 10:23
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    Clearly, the solution is to cook the most pungent curry you can and insist on eating it near your boss's desk. /s – Adonalsium May 16 at 12:57
61

I truly sympathize with this situation, having been in a similar one myself. It's a positive sign that your supervisor is willing to make accommodations such as the altered schedule and partition. Unfortunately, there's only so much that can be done to minimize smells, and (like Keith said), someone has to sit closest to the bathroom. Here are some further suggestions:

  1. Request that people stop using air fresheners. They are a source of indoor air pollution and can trigger allergic responses. If you are experiencing health issues as a result of exposure to those substances, it is reasonable to request that people stop using them. Please note, this might be an unpopular idea. You may have to approach this as a medical issue requiring ADA accommodations. You will still be left with the odor that those sprays are attempts to mask. Think carefully before choosing this option.
  2. Find a way to alter the office layout to give you more distance. Sometimes things like printers, storage, break rooms, etc. are places closest to the bathrooms for this reason. Is this a possibility?
  3. Request an office 'time share' - swap offices with a colleague halfway through the day or every other day. If you boss doesn't see this as a big issue, perhaps s/he would be willing to sit at your desk for a while. Again, choose carefully - this will cost you some political capital.
  4. Improve ventilation. The obvious solution is a window in the bathroom, but other strategic air flow can help. A fan or air purifier in your office or doorway can direct offending smells away from you. A fan in between you and the bathroom will diffuse the air. A fan or air conditioner blowing right above the bathroom doors (a "wall of air") will minimize the odors exiting the bathroom.

It is not unreasonable to leave a job because of the physical environment. If I was a manager, I would want to know if it got to that point. As an employee, I would not want to tell my manager that before having another job lined up. Deciding how much you want to push for a resolution depends on your environment and personal situation.

  • 2
    I imagine a fan, perhaps even a janitorial floor fan, would be pretty effective, if pointed in the right direction. – VGR May 15 at 21:43
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    If a fan (or a more powerful fan) can be installed in the bathroom that pulls air out of the bathroom and to the outside world (e.g. up to the roof, or through a wall to the outdoors), then you'll have a low-pressure situation where air moves from the office to the bathroom, but never the other way around; at that point it should be impossible for any odors to reach your desk. Therefore this problem may be solvable using a few hours of a handyman's time. – Jeremy Friesner May 15 at 23:58
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    Adding to @Lehue: Burning a candle is just as effective (I'm using it all the time in my private bathroom) and does not require all people to change their habits. Also, there are fixtures to burn a candle safely. – orithena May 16 at 7:27
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    This is an HVAC problem. Bathrooms should be properly ventilated - there are rules that dictate relative pressure, air change rates, etc. Offices should be positive pressure, bathrooms negative - there should be no smell escaping at all. This isn't a handyman job - it's a commercial building, they need to hire an HVAC and air quality contractor to fix this - probably by law. Building HVAC systems are highly coordinated systems. You can't just handyman a fan into a room - it will need to interface with the building control systems, etc. #4 is the only relevant point here. – J... May 16 at 10:30
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    "Someone has to sit closest to the bathroom" - logically true but trivializes the question of how close is the closest desk? Even when I worked in a very small office, the closest desk to the bathroom door was more than ten feet away, and since there were so few people the bathroom was empty more than 50% of the day. Every place I've worked since, there have been multiple doors between the closest seat and the bathroom itself. The point I'm making is that "someone has to sit closest" seems to be conceding something I don't think should be conceded: that the situation is ok in some way. – Todd Wilcox May 16 at 15:46
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While it is nice that your manager is trying to help out your situation, clearly there is already a solution available ( the 3-4 empty desks on the other side of the office ) that for whatever reason you are being negated.

The first thing I would do is take a sick day to see your doctor. Let your doctor know of all of your symptoms and explain what you think is causing them. If the doctor agrees that it is due to the spray/smells/...etc ask for this information in writing so that you can take to your employer.

Next, take the doctor's note to your manager and ask to kindly be moved to a new location. If arrangements to move you are not completed within a few days I would start looking for a new job. The bottom line is that this is a health issue and your health should always come before your work.

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    With a note from the doctor, and citing ADA, it might be enough of a push to get a better bathroom fan in the ceiling. That might not be too horribly expensive a fix, and should help the whole office out. Too many times, contractors put in small/under-powered fans to save money. Other times they do the same thing for noise issues. With the "aroma" being the offender here, maybe risking some noise would be a good trade-off. – computercarguy May 15 at 21:51
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    +1 One should not underestimate the negative effect it can have on one's psyche and mental health if one is constantly exposed to bad smell. Getting a doctor's note and brushing up one's CV is a prudent course of action and good advice in my opinion. – Niko1978 May 16 at 6:36
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@J...'s comment is the real solution to this problem. A properly-ventilated bathroom should emit no odors at all inside the building. And it isn't just about the smell — other things could be riding on that air, too. This involves health codes as well as building codes.

A fan should be drawing air out of the bathroom and exhausting it outside; with the negative pressure created thereby, there should be no other way for air to flow out of the bathroom. If there isn't one, or it isn't turned on at all times, this needs to be fixed by the building owner.

9

IMO you should look for a new job, and not simply because of the stench or air fresheners.

The real reason is that, if a company considers a space that's so close to toilets that one can feel the stench as an acceptable workplace... it shows such disregard to its employees, that it tells you all you really need to know.

You cannot ever expect any good treatment from them.

As long as employees don't vote with their feet, the company will keep treating them like garbage.

  • 1
    Add to that the fact that there shouldn't be a line for a bathroom in a modern workplace. The facilities are inadequate and management has known that for a while and done nothing. – Todd Wilcox May 16 at 15:42
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When we had the same issue at my company we solved it by installing stronger ceiling vent fans (more like blowers).

With enough power, the fans pull enough air into the restroom and up into the ceiling and away that odors never again left the restrooms.

It was a very inexpensive upgrade, and greatly improved life for those with desks nearby.

2

Your company (or at least your department) is clearly have to move to the bigger/better office. Current one is over-populated both in terms of facilities and workplaces. Just imagine: your department is hiring two more people, and there is just one spare workplace, then there could be two more people awaiting for the WC facilities... Dead-end.

So, you may ask your manager is there any plan to move within nearest months. If no, you could definitely help them to increase the spare workplaces at least by +1 seat.

-8

It sounds like your manager is trying to be accomodating.

Hate to say it, but bottom line is someone has to occupy the least desirable cubicles, and as low man on the seniority list, that's you.

You may have to just grin and bear it until another cubicle farther away becomes available.

  • 51
    Although I am new to this company, I do have 10 years of experience, so this isn't a case of hazing the intern with the worst seating assignment. It doesn't seem like anyone should be forced to marinate in the smell of their coworkers' excrement all day, honestly, even if they are a junior employee. – Meg May 15 at 15:49
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    Well the fact that someone has to occupy the least desirable one doesn't mean this cubicle needs to be THAT undesirable. There also must be ways (ventilation, isolation, ...) to prevent inconvenience from restrooms. – Laurent S. May 15 at 15:50
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    Although I seem to be the MOST bothered by the smell, people in the cubes near mine (only a few meters farther from the restrooms), have mentioned being annoyed by the odor. The difference seems to be that only I am experiencing the eye itching/stinging and headaches from freshener spray. Maybe an allergy that I recently developed or just never had cause to notice. – Meg May 15 at 16:23
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    The point isn't that it's the nearest to the bathroom -- the point is that it is too close to the bathroom. Putting a desk between @Meg and the bathroom makes it no longer the closest to the bathroom, but doesn't solve the problem at all. – Abigail May 15 at 20:36
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    -1 In my opinion it is in most cases bad advice to "bite the bullet" and accept an unacceptable situation. This holds especially true if health problems have started manifesting themselves due to the smell. – Niko1978 May 16 at 6:43

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