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Battle of the Bathrooms

I need some help in how to politely “remind” a few men that the ladies bathroom is in fact, for ladies.

I work in a smallish office, there’s only 10 people here including myself, and we all get along pretty well. Three females and seven males, so the balance is a little uneven. The problem is, a few of the men in the office have taken to using the ladies bathroom instead of the gents. One in particular uses it solely for, shall we say, seated performances only, and leaves the area quite offensively odoriferous. Another refuses to lift the seat, so you can imagine what’s left for us ladies to clean up when we go in.

The straw that broke the camels back was when I went in to use the bathroom and had to first clean (and disinfect!) a soiled seat.
I sent an email at the time to ask everyone to leave the bathrooms in the manner they found them (ie, clean and tidy). My boss also replied to all reminding everyone that the gents is for the gents and the ladies is for the ladies.

However, that only worked for a few weeks. We’re back to square one again, with certain men believing the ladies is a free-for-all. It’s not that the gents is occupied at the time, the offenders beeline for the ladies.

By now you probably think I sit around watching people’s bathroom habits – I don’t, I just sit very near them and in a team so small it’s pretty hard not to notice. It’s also pretty clear when those people are away and the problems stop.

So my question is this – after already having sent an email, and the Boss sending an email, what can I do? I don’t want to directly confront the offenders, as that would be extremely rude and embarrassing. I also don’t want to effectively throw a schoolyard tantrum because “a boy is using the girls bathroom and boys are icky”. To be fair, there are seven men and only three women, so it’s understandable that at times they can and should be free to use the ladies when the gents is occupied – but not constantly, and not when they leave it in such a state.

Any brilliant ideas that will save face for both them and me? We’re a small knit team so I really want to avoid awkwardness. Thanks! 0313-14

I would make the ladies bathroom as frilly and feminine as I could, which could include but is not limited to, framed photos of handsome men (or cute puppies) or floral still life, silk flowers in vases, distinctly feminine magazines like Ladies Home Journal, and replace the hand soap dispenser with an obvious feminine scented soap.  Put a nice basket of mini pads and tampons on the toilet tank or sink counter, too.    I’d go so far as to drop some perfume on the cardboard tube of the toilet paper.    My evil, ornery twin thinks it would be a good idea to hang an acrylic 8X10 document holder on the inside door with an insert informing the female employees of the dangers of Pre Menstrual Syndrome.

{ 111 comments… add one }
  • cdubz March 17, 2014, 12:02 pm

    I move to put a lock on the ladies’ room, and give a key to each lady in the office. Then send an office wide email informing everyone that, because certain male members cannot keep themselves out of the ladies’ room and keep it sanitary, the room will now only be accessed by members of staff who have a key (meaning the ladies). I would also inquire as to the conditions of the mens’ room, because maybe there is some problem there and that is why they feel the need use the ladies’ room. Perhaps there’s a problem with the plumbing no one is mentioning? Or maybe some of these men are so disgusting that others feel they cannot use it, in which case maybe keep some lysol wipes in there, and perhaps some Poopourri for the more odorous movements.

    I mean, while I do like the idea of “dressing up” the bathroom, it doesn’t really solve the problem. If the men are determined to go in there, no amount of feminine hygiene products are going to stop them.

    • startruck March 19, 2014, 10:47 am

      that is excatly what i was going to say! the lock idea is brilliant. some might think its anal, but hey, if they are going to leave a bathroom in such an unpleasant state, let it be their own!!

  • The Elf March 17, 2014, 12:14 pm

    Admin’s solution might work, but I wouldn’t do it. The part about the PMS in particular perpetuates stereotypes that women have fought against in the workplace.

    Honestly, I’m astounded that this is a problem. If one of the men were transitioning to a female gender, I could understand her wanting to use the women’s room. But otherwise, WTF? Since there is a gender disparity, perhaps the long-term solution is to remodel the bathrooms to include more stalls and urinals for the men. Perhaps it would help to find out why they are using the women’s room. Is it cleaner? Then perhaps the solution is in janitorial staff. Or to get a few unisex bathrooms that are one-holers.

    But the short term solution is for the boss to put his/her foot down, declare that the men’s bathroom is for men and the women’s is for women and to put a lock on the door.

    Normally, I’d also say go to HR, but this doesn’t sound like a company big enough to have an HR and the formalized policies to go with it.

    • Bunny March 26, 2014, 3:47 pm

      Some PMS symptoms can be dangerous however. One of mine is that I get thirsty faster and my BS likes to drop. One for my Mom was migraines. So not all PMS symptoms are the old joke standbys.

  • JO March 17, 2014, 12:33 pm

    My personal solution would be to make both bathrooms unisex (unless of course there is a legal reason why this cannot be done). Stock them both with cleaner, brushes, and paper towels. Post large, clear sign asking that restrooms be left in the state in which they were entered. If the sanitary issues continue, the boss should call an all-staff meeting at which a supervisor adresses the group as a whole explaining that dirty bathrooms are a health risk, and disciplinary action will be taken if necessary. Don’t single anybody out, but make everyone accountable. And of course, invest in lots of air freshener 🙂

    • Margo March 19, 2014, 6:50 am

      This is what we did. We have 2 loos (each has a hand basin inside)
      They were originally one male, one female.
      Our workforce is 90% female, so at times, women were having to wait while the men’s loo stood empty. We simply changed the label on the doors to read ‘toilet’ rather than to have the ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemans’ symbols. it took a while for people to get out of the habit of using the ‘right’ one, but over time it’s happened.

      I would treat the messiness as a separate issue. It would be no more acceptable if someone was leaving the men’s loo in that state.

      The only other thing I can think of would be to put locks on the doors and to issue every staff member with the appropriate key, but that seems like a lot of hassle, and also only re-directs the problem to the men’s loo, rather than solving it.

      I would definitely not go for the suggestion which Admin makes – it feels very sexist and as The Elf says perpetuates a lot of stereotypes and presumptions which are not healthy in a work place. (Quite apart from which, a lot of women would be unhappy with the type of decor and sensory assault which is suggested)

      Persoanlly, in the situation described I would probably use the men’s if it was cleaner / less smelly, and would explain why if any one asked. (Assuming that these are individual bathrooms, not cubicles in a larger block)

      If you know who is responsible then I think you need to tell your Boss who it is, and Boss can speak to that person directly about the state they are leaving the room in.

  • Moralia March 17, 2014, 12:35 pm

    We had that problem at one of my previous workplaces. One of my fellow female co-workers solved the problem through a liberal application of beefcake photos on the inside of the stall doors. For some reason the guys didn’t want to use the toilets under the smoldering gazes of half-naked muscle men.

    • Moralia March 17, 2014, 12:37 pm

      I admit, though, that it wasn’t the most professional atmosphere in there…but it was an employee-only bathroom and she checked with the rest of us to make sure WE wouldn’t have a problem with the pictures…which were quite tasteful…but smoldery.

      • Ellex March 17, 2014, 5:22 pm

        That’s an incredibly unprofessional solution.

        • Rebecca March 18, 2014, 12:34 am

          No less professional than behaving like a non potty-trained toddler in the bathroom.

  • Daphne March 17, 2014, 12:52 pm

    The most practical solution is a lock on the ladies room. If the males in your office cannot uphold even a modicum of basic cleanliness then they should not be allowed in a unisex bathroom–or even a common kitchen area IMO. (Do you really think someone who regularly and publicly leaves a toilet in that state bothers to wash his hands?) And seriously, there is NOTHING wrong in pointing this out to them. Your boss needs to do a better job–and if not you should contact HR.

  • PWH March 17, 2014, 1:03 pm

    I’d agree with locking the washroom and only providing keys to the ladies. An alternative would be a punch code to access the washroom or keycard access for only the ladies. This is something you could put forth to your boss, who would hopefully initiate it (budget permitting of course).

    You could also put a sign on the ladies washroom pointing towards the men’s with ‘Men’s Washroom’ in bold. It may provide a little extra deterrent and make the men think a little before they use the Ladies. Hopefully you find a solution that works for your team. I would also recommend perhaps stocking the washroom with some Febreeze to help freshen it up 🙂

  • Dictionary March 17, 2014, 1:21 pm

    With so few women, I would be inclined to just put a lock on the door and hand each of the ladies their own key. If any of the men complain I would just tell them in order to keep the ladies bathroom clean we had to lock it. End of story and no need to further explain, you asked for the bathroom to remain clean and the rules weren’t followed so you had to take appropriate action. It’s not like you are denying them a bathroom, just forcing to use the one they were assigned.

    I see Outdoor girl and I think alike 😉

  • doodlemor March 17, 2014, 1:32 pm

    This is outrageous and disgusting. I think that coralreef makes a good point when she says that these bozos are marking territory, too.

    Definitely the boss needs to know, and he should step up again. Let him know that it takes valuable work time when the women have to clean the facility before they can even use it. Having to deal with a nasty mess would certainly disturb the train of thought/concentration of a woman who has to clean, also.

    I love the idea of keys! If a man has to be let into the room in an emergency, he is less likely to leave a mess – one would think.

  • PM March 17, 2014, 1:45 pm

    The problem isn’t that the men in the office are using the ladies room, it’s that the men in the office are behaving in a gross, disgusting manner. I agree to going to the boss with photos and asking for a key system.

  • Rosie March 17, 2014, 2:57 pm

    I think the real problem is that some of the employees are making a mess in the restroom, irrespective of gender. Even if the OP is successful getting them out of the ladies, they’ll just go on stinking up the men’s bathroom. Gender is an effective way to say that those dirty folks who don’t know how to use a toilet should get out of my space, but it’s kind of just kicking the can down the road to get them into the men’s bathroom. You would think people old enough to be in an office environment would know how to use a restroom and leave it in clean condition for the next person, but it sounds like HR or the boss or some informative posters are needed to remind these self-entitled jerks to work on their aim and/or clean up after themselves. It seems childish but they are acting like children!

  • kingsrings March 17, 2014, 3:44 pm

    Two important shared bathroom etiquette rules: Don’t leave a mess, and don’t stink it up. Clean up your mess, and use the appropriate air freshener or whatever to clean up the stink. Be considerate of others who also use the bathroom and have a right to a clean, non-stinky one. Not only that, but where is the shame for these offenders? Do they really want to advertise themselves as gross people who leave a mess and stink up the bathroom? HR definitely needs to get involved in this situation as others have already stated.

  • Kat March 17, 2014, 3:58 pm

    Am I correct in assuming that these are single-occupant restrooms (with one toilet, sink, etc., in a single room that can be locked) as opposed to multiple-occupant restrooms (with stalls)? If so, I’m with those who favor the key solution — it seems like the simplest solution to make sure the ladies’ room stays sanitary. Though it sounds like employees might need an all-hands etiquette brief on how to, you know, keep restrooms sanitary! If it’s a stall-style restroom, then there are also obviously even bigger issues with male employees feeling free to pop in when they please!

    Either way, I think in this scenario it’s in no way rude to confront perpetrators directly, but for the sake of office dynamics and increased authority in dealing with a recurring issue, my suspicion is that it would be best to encourage your boss to be the one to take further steps!

  • Carolyn March 17, 2014, 4:07 pm

    I work in an office of four women. Believe me, odiferousness and marking the seat and not cleaning up after are not attributes limited to the male gender. Some women don’t put a new roll of paper on the holder either!

    • Mya March 18, 2014, 3:48 am

      Agreed – I’ve bolted out of public toilets with blood smeared seats before now. Not all women are clean and tidy. I think this issue is less about unisex toilets and more about this particular persons hygiene standards and the only effective way to get this addressed is formally. I’m actually really surprised by the passive aggressive stance taken on this issue by the admin advocating ‘prettying up’ the toilet and posts from other users suggesting smouldering male models. How objectified would you feel if men displayed half naked or risqué pictures of women? Is the same not true in reverse?

      In a professional environment it really isn’t appropriate to play PA games. Pictures of cute puppies and kittens are one thing (I work in IT with developers and when we have demos with presentations it is customary (only internally ofc) to have a kitten picture on the ‘Any questions’ slide – most people only attend for the kitten picture lol) but not everyone shares taste in men and whilst some might enjoy a smouldering picture of Tom Hiddleston (Mmm) or Chris Hemsworth, others might actually prefer Angelina Jolie or Reese Witherspoon.

      I can understand the OP not wanting to ‘make a fuss’ because it can earn her a reputation but any company worth their salt should have some sort of confidentiality agreement in place around reporting things to HR. OFC if the offender IS the HR officer this becomes awkward.

    • The Elf March 18, 2014, 8:11 am

      Yes, in fact I’m a little surprised that the women’s bathroom is the cleaner one in this case. Usually there’s at least one hoverer in the group who ruins it for the rest of us who don’t like to do quadraceps workouts in the bathroom. Maybe OP got lucky with her group, or maybe that just underscores how bad the men’s room is!

    • WMK March 18, 2014, 12:42 pm


      Though I wasn’t in the office on the day it happened, I heard afterward about the day a co-worker found that someone had taken a bowl movement *on the sink* of the ladies’ room on the floor of our office building. Since the mens’ and ladies’ room were used by not only the offices on our floor, but the general public who visited the dental office on our floor, we’re not sure who was the culprit.

  • Stella March 17, 2014, 4:40 pm

    I’d request the boss to send another email only addressing this issue and being very firm about it.

  • Ceallach March 17, 2014, 4:45 pm

    We had this problem at my office! Had to have locks installed. It still disgusts me to think about what pigs those men were – it was truly vile what we walked into some days. Unfortunately in my case it wasn’t coworkers, we were an all female office sharing amenities with an all male staffed shop below. Even so, nothing the building manager said or did could stop the problem until he decided they just couldn’t access the toilet nearest us at all.

  • lakey March 17, 2014, 5:18 pm

    The key idea is probably the best solution.

  • Ellex March 17, 2014, 5:25 pm

    The mess is unacceptable, but I don’t see what the big deal is that the bathroom is shared. Pre

    “The straw that broke the camels back was when I went in to use the bathroom and had to first clean (and disinfect!) a soiled seat.”
    Yeah, like that never happens when only girls are using a restroom. (Look, if we all band together and agree to stop hovering like UFOs then all toilet seats will be clean!)

  • Cat March 17, 2014, 7:09 pm

    I, too, vote for keys for both bathrooms, not just for the one used by the ladies. The guys will have access to their restroom and the ladies will have access to theirs.
    We had to do this at our school because some of the students were using the restroom that was meant for the female teachers as a place to have sex.

  • Rap March 17, 2014, 7:29 pm

    “My evil side says, use the men’s room during “that time of the month”; and leave pad wrappers/tampon wrappers on the floor (clean ones, not dirty ones), and place a back-up pile of tampons/pads on the toilet or near the sink. When confronted about it say, “Oh, well, the gents use the ladies so much that I got tired of sitting on a dirty pad waiting for them to clear out. I decided to use their bathroom and leave a “just in case” pile since one can never tell when they will be using the ladies bathroom.” Unfortunately, that is stooping to their level.”

    This is funny, but depending how jerky the boss and the men are, this is where the OP could get into trouble for a) using the men’s room and b) being intentionally gross. And yes, I have worked at places where the same behavior by a woman got a much harsher and much faster response.

    But the more I think about the more I seriously question why no one is addressing this with management – if the male bathroom is not occupied there is no reason at all for a man to intentionally be in the female bathroom or to use the female bathroom beyond genuine emergency use. And if someone is daily incapable of making it to the correct, available bathroom, that’s an issue on its own.

  • JJ March 17, 2014, 8:54 pm

    I have not so polite but very joking, awkward way to get them to stop. Every time you see the male offenders use the ladies room (assuming its a room with several stalls of course not a small one person washroom) follow him in and make a lot of girl talk. You know what I mean: period talk, babies, child birth details or bowel details. Never shut up the entire time he is there. Every time the offenders go try to make it a point to share a girl bathroom talk bonding time. Then if he says to you,” hey your making this awkward can you stop follow me to the bathroom?”, respond simply, “Oh you mean awkward like when you use the ladies room that your not suppose to use and leave a nasty mess behind. Do you mean awkward like how you drop a stinker daily for the ladies because you refuse to use the men’s room available to you just right there? “.

    Sometimes people don’t respond to notes or request because they don’t care they just do what they want. But they do respond to over sharing women’s time. LOL. Either that or start walking in the mens room when the offenders actually use it on the rare time and make them freak out then go, “oh but you use our washroom we can’t use yours too. To bad I am here now”.

  • Anonymous March 17, 2014, 10:15 pm

    I like EHellDame’s solution. In fact, I think it’s my favourite answer to any etiquette question that anyone’s ever asked on here. I mean, I’d go for art prints instead of anything frilly or twee, so I’d put art prints by Claude Monet, or maybe Georgia O’Keeffe, in the women’s bathroom, and maybe art prints of old cars, motorcycles, sports, etc., in the men’s bathroom, and then it’d be obvious which is which; not to mention that decorating the bathrooms a bit would give people an incentive to keep them nice by not being slobs. Also, OP, are the outside doors labelled? One summer, I worked in an office where the bathrooms were segregated by gender, but only delineated by interior décor, and they didn’t have signs on the outside doors, so I didn’t know that they were segregated until someone told me. Unfortunately, this office was a bit unbalanced too–if I remember correctly, there were four men, and I think seven women, including myself.

  • Shyla March 17, 2014, 10:39 pm

    There’s got to be more background to this story. Have these men always used the ladies room? I’m wondering if their disgusting habits got them unofficially kicked out of the men’s room. The rest of the men could have threatened some sort of revenge if they ever made a mess like that in the mens room again. So they use the ladies who are too nice to threaten revenge.

    I say go ahead with public shaming. If any woman sees a man going in or coming out of the ladies room, say something loudly. Ask that man why he is using the ladies room. Tell the other ladies who the culprits are. They are not behaving in a civilized manner and shaming them is proper.

    Next time you are confronted with a dirty seat, go directly to your boss. Tell him it is a health hazard and you will not clean it up but you expect reasonably clean facilities. Do not clean it yourself. Do not buy cleaning supplies. Do not buy anything. This is your company’s responsibility.

  • NostalgicGal March 18, 2014, 12:06 am

    Been the janitor and cleaned both types of bathrooms.

    They can both be thoroughly disgusting; the ‘mess’ patterns vary some but with no urinal I’d rather clean the men’s than the ladies.

    Give out keys to the women after the boss sends another email stating the facts; since there are issues with the state of the bathrooms; they will be now segregated by sex and access restricted.

    If there are slob-ola’s amongst the men it will shortly become clear and hopefully those that are doing that sort of restroom destruction will be dealt with.

    Honestly, I wonder when seeing some of what is left behind by some in public rest rooms, what their home bathroom looks like? Or reeks like.

  • Rebecca March 18, 2014, 12:52 am

    I have never understood why single-room washrooms are designated “men’s” or “women’s.” If one is empty, why can’t people of either gender use them? We don’t have separate washrooms at home.

    And women can be just disgusting, too (check out any women’s washroom in a public building). I don’t think this is a gender issue. And it’s not a “men using the ladies’ room” issue. It’s a “one or two disgusting people who haven’t been potty trained” issue. The issue that needs to be addressed is that certain people are leaving a mess in the washroom, not that men are going into the “ladies” one.

  • David March 18, 2014, 1:21 am

    The issue is really about respecting your coworkers. The OP has stated that men using the women’s room doesn’t bother her. What bothers her is that one(or more) of the men is leaving the bathroom filthy.

    So making sure that the boss/HR are aware of the condition of the restroom every time it is filthy (document, document, document) would be the way to go. If I had an employee that was disrespecting the other employees by leaving biological waste products for the others to clean up – I would want to know about it so I could fire them. Hopefully the OP’s boss understands that this is a serious issue.

  • LawGeek March 18, 2014, 1:54 am

    The Modern, the high-end restaurant attached to the Museum of Modern Art, has a unisex bathroom. The stalls have full-on doors that go floor to ceiling, and the sinks are shared. It is, (as any $100pp restaurant should be) impeccably clean. I used to eat there regularly in my expense account days, and it never made me uncomfortable. I have no idea whether OSHA requires separate facilities for offices, though. Although the Modern has employees, and I worked at a Starbucks with a single bathroom, the rules could be different over a certain employee threshold. If designed correctly and cleaned often, I don’t see why unisex facilities couldn’t work in a number of settings.

    As for the actual topic at hand, I think any of the ideas mentioned (keys, embarrassment, decor) has a chance at solving the problem.

  • Lorie March 18, 2014, 6:11 am

    I laughed a good 10 minutes at the response. OMG…if the doesn’t work not much will!

  • lucky March 18, 2014, 6:34 am

    I have seen large groups of ladies take over mens rooms,because they can.so the soiled seat thing is gross,but so is the seat peed on by ladies that will not sit down.

  • Edward March 18, 2014, 7:28 am

    From reading the various (and some very entertaining) comments, it seems as if most are from women. I thought I’d suggest a solution from a male perspective, and something that I’d do in my own office (from the Supervisor/boss perspective):
    In the next employee meeting, I’d discuss business as usual. At the end of the meeting, I’d directly address the issue. I’d day something to the effect of,

    “I’m surprised that this is being brought up again, but apparently certain employees are having a problem with understanding which bathroom is appropriate to use. If you’re using a bathroom that is not meant for your gender, STOP. We want to create a unified and cohesive working environment and this behavior is counterproductive. Please have common courtesy for your fellow employees.”

    In my experience, most men respond to the direct nature of addresses like this. It may take someone in authority directly addressing the behavior in order to show the offender(s) what they may think is a small and possibly humorous act is actually offensive and disrespectful.

    If the OP can, I’d suggest speaking with the boss to see if s/he will directly address this issue.

  • Tracy March 18, 2014, 1:01 pm

    It’s kind of a silly (if not borderline offensive) stereotype to assume men will be freaked out by a frilly or feminine bathroom. Why would they? And these men, in particular, seem to be rather aggressive in their behavior, so they’d likely care even less.

    As others have pointed out, the problem isn’t sharing a bathroom. The problem is people who refuse to clean up after themselves. Since the OP knows who the culprits are, and she knows her boss is not pleased with the situation, she should inform her boss exactly who is leaving the mess.

  • Maggie March 19, 2014, 5:13 am

    Locks and keys.

    These men act like they are marking their territory!

  • Kate March 19, 2014, 6:03 am

    I do think it’s inappropriate for the men to be co-opting the women’s bathroom, but really, OP needs to read the children’s book ‘Everybody Poops’. Men are not necessarily smellier than women, it depends what’s going on in each person’s body!

  • mark March 19, 2014, 2:07 pm

    I think it would be an interesting experiment to actually hand out keys to the bathrooms. I think there would be a fairly good chance the women’s restroom would still have big issues. I would guess any improvements would be more due to the fact their are far few users of the bathroom than gender.

  • Allie March 19, 2014, 8:50 pm

    Yep, a lock and key for both bathrooms should work. And BTW, boys most certainly are icky and do not belong in the ladies powder room ; )

  • Julia Houston March 20, 2014, 10:41 am

    Admin: Best answer ever.

  • Leah March 24, 2014, 1:03 pm

    Why hasn’t anyone so far suggested locks for the doors? Just give the women each a key…

    Sorry, I know sarcasm isn’t polite. But gosh, some.of us read the comments on these posts as well as the posts themselves for points of view and entertainment, and it gets old fast when every other person suggests the same thing as though it hasn’t already been repeated multiple times!

    I don’t expect everyone to read all previous comments. But 1.5 seconds of scanning the page could show you that the idea you’re about to post isn’t new. Agree with it, sure, but don’t keep restating it as new over and over. It’s rude not to at least pretend to listen to others in a discussion.

  • lkb March 31, 2014, 6:35 am


    I agree but I think the repeated comments occur because we are all reading and posting at the same time. Or at least reading and posting before our dear Admin has a chance to respond to all the other comments. We can’t know what they said until the posts appear and that takes time. Meanwhile, we’re all eager to get our two cents in. 😉

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