Toilet alarms: workers in Norway say “no way”

by 10 Feb 2012

Call-centre workers at a Norwegian insurance company have spoken out against a high-tech surveillance system that triggers flashing lights if they spend more than eight minutes in the loo. Managers are alerted if such a case of lavatorial loitering occurs, and unions and workplace inspectors have branded the experimental excremental exercise “highly intrusive”.

A Norwegian privacy regulator, riled by the need for workers to rush to flush, wrote to the company thus: “Each individual worker has different needs and these kinds of strict controls deprive the employees of all freedoms over the course of their working day.”

The system would certainly seem to discriminate against workers whose daily constitutional is more like a daily constipational. Perhaps with this in mind, a spokesman from the union said: “Surveying staff to limit lavatory visits … to eight minutes is highly restrictive and must be stopped.”

The company has defended its policy by arguing that the aim of the checks was not to measure the breaks taken by individual workers – its purpose was to assess staffing needs to ensure all calls from customers were answered. Having seen so much sh*t hit the fan over the matter, however, it has agreed to review the policy.

This is not the first time Norway has had problems with its bowel-binding policies. Last year, one firm was reported for making female workers wear a red bracelet when they were menstruating to justify more frequent trips to the bathroom. Another company enforced a lavatory “visitor’s book” which employees were compelled to sign (hopefully after washing their hands), and a third issued employees with an electronic key card to gain access to the lavatories so they could log their breaks (there was no substance to rumours that the system was named ‘swipe before you wipe’).

Those familiar with the classic Pavlovian response may wonder whether the flashing lights will, over time, elicit an involuntary response in lingering workers, and, indeed, whether the system was designed with that in mind.


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