U.S. workers in poultry plants run by Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, Sanderson Farms, and others are regularly barred from taking bathroom breaks, forcing some to wear diapers while working. This mistreatment was revealed in a shocking report by the anti-poverty organization Oxfam America on working conditions in the poultry industry.
Between 2013 and 2016, Oxfam America reviewed documents and conducted interviews with former workers, worker advocates, lawyers, doctors, and others. It found that, on average, employees had to wait between 15 minutes and an hour to be able to leave the shop floor to go to the washroom. The Oxfam America report also referenced research by the Southern Poverty Law Center that found nearly 80 percent of poultry workers are not allowed to take washroom breaks when needed. When they are given a bathroom break, workers are usually only allotted 10 minutes, which is often not enough time due to long lines.
The Oxfam America report revealed poultry plant workers were taking extraordinary steps—often with the encouragement of management—to avoid having to use the washroom during a shift. It found employees “restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security.” The report noted workers “are in danger of serious health problems.” Women are particularly affected, especially those who are pregnant or menstruating, as are any workers with medical conditions that require regular bathroom access.
Failure to provide adequate washroom breaks violates U.S. workplace safety laws, as well as anti-discrimination statutes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and civil rights laws banning gender and sex discrimination.