Bamboozled December 11, 2017: Is Wawa required by law to let you use the bathroom?

David Verkade stands by the vehicle he drove to visit his children in New Jersey. While on the road, he needed a bathroom but was denied by a Wawa employee, he said.

David Verkade stands by the vehicle he drove to visit his children in New Jersey. While on the road, he needed a bathroom but was denied by a Wawa employee, he said. (Dianne Verkade)

Sometimes, when you gotta go, you gotta go.

But if you’re on the road, it can be tough to find that much-needed bathroom.

There’s actually a bill in the legislature meant to help consumers who find themselves with an urgent need but no public facilities in sight.

The bill came to Bamboozled’s attention after David Verkade, a Delaware man who was in New Jersey to visit his children, was rebuffed when he asked to use a restroom at a Wawa in Skillman.

“Nature rears its ugly head at the most inopportune time and when that happens, there is but a small window in which to answer the call,” Verkade said.

So when the call came, he pulled into the Wawa.

Verkade said he saw four employees on the job — two who were joking around, he said — and only one other customer.

When Verkade asked to use the bathroom, an employee said the store didn’t have a public restroom so the answer was no.

“The employee never gave me a chance to explain. All he said was an emphatic no,” Verkade said. “He was very courteous but it still posed a problem and I had no time to hang around.”

Verkade left the store and went to a nearby supermarket, where he was able to find the porcelain he needed.

When he returned home, he did a little research, finding a New Jersey bill that would require retail establishments to allow customers to use employee restrooms under certain conditions.

The bill was first introduced in the Senate in 2010 by Sen. Andrew Ciesla, but it never made it out of committee. It’s been reintroduced several times, most recently in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Van Drew and in the Assembly by Asm. Bob Andrzejczak.

It would require retail establishments to allow people with certain medical conditions access to employee restrooms if the establishment doesn’t have a public restroom.

The “eligible medical conditions” included are “Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, any other inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or any medical condition that requires the use of an ostomy device or immediate access to a restroom.”

Certain other conditions would have to be met. There would need to be three or more employees working at the time, and the eligible restrooms would only be those not located in an area “where providing public access would create an obvious health or safety risk to the customer or a security risk to the retail establishment.”

Any business that violates the law would be fined $500 for each offense.

Verkade didn’t want to cause any trouble, he said, but he decided to write to Wawa’s corporate office in the hopes that his experience could help a future bathroom-needer. He included a link to the bill in his message to corporate.

He was disappointed in the reply.

Most stores have public restrooms, a rep said in an email response, but not all do. The rep said employees “try their best” to accommodate restroom requests.

“Our stores without public restrooms do require that an associate go with the customer needing to use it because they are located in employee only areas of the store,” the rep wrote. “This can be difficult at times as the store may be busy or an associate may not be available to go with the customer due to staffing during slower times.”

Another reason for a bathroom denial could be if employees are counting the cash or if excessive inventory is out.

Verkade responded, saying none of those conditions existed. He pressed the issue, but Wawa didn’t respond.

That’s when he contacted Bamboozled.

THE BATHROOM BILL

We had never heard of this bathroom bill, so we wanted to know more.

Turns out the bill isn’t law. It’s never passed.

Sen. Van Drew’s office said he was “contacted by some local constituents who have faced this issue in their own lives, urgently needing a restroom due to a medical condition, but being denied access to one.”

The senator doesn’t think everyone should have access to every private restroom, a spokesman said, but those with an eligible condition in dire need of one should be accommodated.

Both the Senate and Assembly bills will be reintroduced next year, the spokesman said.

We next turned to Wawa to learn more about its policy on employee restrooms.

“While these are private restrooms, we try to accommodate public requests when possible,” spokeswoman Lori Bruce said. “This is based on staffing, store volume, location, and if it is not necessary to pass through the food service area to gain access to the restroom.”

We tried to get more specifics on what happened when Verkade visited the Skillman store, figuring Wawa could confirm the number of employees at the time. Verkade had said there were four and the store wasn’t exactly teeming with customers.

Bruce repeated her statement, but added an apology that “more of an explanation” wasn’t given to Verkade at the time.

We’re not suggesting all stores should give all people access to all restrooms, but we think this is a very interesting bill.

Most people have had an urgent need for a restroom from time to time, so we see how this could be helpful.

But there are other questions.

How could a customer determine how many employees are in a store? Workers could be in a storeroom and out of sight of the customer, for example. So it could be impossible for a customer to know if a store is violating the law, and chances are, the customer won’t have the time to stick around and investigate.

And how could a retail establishment determine if a person has an eligible medical condition under the law? What about other conditions that require frequent bathroom use, such as pregnancy? The bill doesn’t address that, but it does say it includes “…any medical condition that requires… immediate access to a restroom.”

While Verkade doesn’t have the conditions specifically listed in the bill, he did have his gall bladder removed. That can cause more frequent needs for a bathroom.

This legislation may need to be more specific to avoid confusion for customers and stores alike.

Verkade says he’s eager to see what happens to the bill next year.

“I just thought that by me contacting corporate that they would look into the matter and correct it for the future, but I just don’t think they believe that this is a big deal,” he said. “Well, it is a big deal to the traveler that has to go.”

What do you think of the bathroom bill? We’re looking forward to your comments on this one.

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