I work in a call center in the US. We have call center software that tracks our time in call, between calls, lunches, etc, which management is able to see at any time. We take back-to-back calls all day. Normally, to avoid messing up our numbers (spending too much time in one mode or another) employees will change their state into "Miscellaneous" mode to finish up whatever they were doing. This is often used to go AFK for any reason, including getting water, or going to the bathroom. It was at our discretion, but we were advised to let a supervisor know when we would do this.
Typically I could handle bathroom visits and getting water during my scheduled breaks, with the occasional need to do so outside of those times. However, I've noticed coworkers really abusing this "step away whenever you want" policy. As such, management now requires we ask permission to do so. If our total time doing any miscellaneous activity goes beyond 30 minutes a week in total, we are subject to disciplinary action. This is 6 minutes a day for basic human needs. I have no doubt this was motivated by time theft, but this is also affecting the morale of those of us who did not abuse the previous system. As a loop-hole, they have told us not to say we are using the bathroom, but to instead ask to "step away for a moment," no doubt for plausible deniability.
My question is, can they really enforce this? Can they threaten our employment for taking more than 6 minutes a day to use the bathroom when it doesn't line up with a break? This seems highly suspect and unofficial. To be honest, I think it is an intimidation tactic to keep us scared and keep us in line. I have not spoken to HR about this yet, as I don't know how tied-in they are with this new policy.
Edit Feb 2, 2020: To clear up some confusion here, the previous method of going to the bathroom during non-break periods was just a statement, with no requirement to ask, just communicate. We all did this without a problem. The new policy is that we ask permission, which implies they can deny permission. This is also assuming that a supervisor is reachable during the short time where we even have a moment between calls. Now we must wait for approval, often affecting our performance metrics.
IMO lumping bathroom breaks and any extra time needed to complete a work-related task together in the same "miscellaneous" state is their mistake, and it caused this problem.