T-Mobile criticized for bathroom break policies

A former employee says she felt pressured to avoid the restroom and stay in her seat -- even while dealing with a difficult pregnancy.

By Kim Peterson May 2, 2013 1:18PM
People walk by a T-Mobile store on April 12, 2013 in New York City ( Spencer Platt/Getty Images)For companies that rely heavily on strong customer service to boost the bottom line, even something as seemingly minor as bathroom breaks can become an issue.

A former employee at one of T-Mobile's call centers is coming down hard on the company for limiting her bathroom breaks when she was pregnant. Writing on the MomsRising.org website, Kristi Rifkin recounted her time working while dealing with a difficult pregnancy at a Nashville, Tenn., call center.

T-Mobile didn't tell Rifkin not to use the restroom, she wrote, but she was advised to stick to her "adherence" quota. In the call center business, companies gauge employee productivity by measuring adherence -- how many minutes they're working versus how many minutes they're scheduled to work. When you take a bathroom break, you take away minutes and start to push up against your adherence quota.

"The reality was that this is a metric on how your job is measured and if you don't meet it, then you do not have your job," Rifkin wrote. She said she got a doctor's note explaining that she needed to use the restroom frequently. Problem solved, except that T-Mobile made her clock out when she had to go, she wrote.

"They give you two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch," Rifkin told ABC News. "If you can't take care of your biological needs in that time period, you don't go."

Rifkin said she ended up using vacation time to go to the restroom. She said she went on the Family Medical Leave Act seven weeks before her son was born. That act requires employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees.

She said she was fired six weeks after returning to work because she didn't remove an extra-charge feature from a customer's account, according to ABC News.

A T-Mobile spokesman would not comment to ABC News about the specifics of Rifkin's case, but said that employees receive generous benefits.

More on moneyNOW

May 2, 2013 3:03PM

Just called T-Mobile and canceled my account because of this and recent issue with deceptive practices that Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson just  filed against T-Mobile.

May 2, 2013 3:26PM
All call centers have numbers you have to hit to keep your job - adherence is only one aspect, they also measure and hold you responsible for attendance, how long your calls are (handle time), hold time, the time you spend "unavailable" while you're fixing an issue and not talking to a person...it goes on and on. Any one of these areas you can fall short on and they can lead to termination. They also have a process to put an employee on notice; an informal warning, verbal warning, written warning and final termination. A few minutes here and there to go to the bathroom will NOT affect your stats, but going to the bathroom or unscheduled breaks for 20-25 minutes a day WILL. Also, you can't/don't get fired over making one mistake. These types of mistakes get "caught" on monthly random quality assurance scores you get internally and they listen to your call and score you on what you did or didn't do. If you make a mistake, you get a bad QA score for that month. If you don't hit that month's QA score guidelines, you can go on an informal, then you have another month to get it back up, etc. So you see it's rarely an "overnight" process, as companies invest a lot of time and money hiring and training people, it's not a normal practice to quickly fire them. This person probably had many other issues that led to her termination and we aren't getting the full story. That being said, T-Mobile is indeed one of the worst and most strict call centers ever. They have an unusually high turnover rate (most call centers have a high rate but this one is very high) and most former employees from this company leave with a bad taste.
May 2, 2013 3:14PM

I too worked at T-Mobile some years back in one of their call centers. I can believe every word she said due to seeing first hand how T-Mobile verbally belittles thier reps to get them to conform and keep the supervisors numbers up. The pressure is very great. And yes I would compare it to a modern day sweat shop.


May 2, 2013 3:18PM
T-Mobile SUCKS!  Are you kidding me?  Despite their sweatshop practices, they are the only cell carrier I've ever had that I actually took advantage of the 30 day guaruntee.  If it wasn't for the hottie in their commercials, I wouldn't even know they were still around.
May 2, 2013 3:24PM
Frost Bank Call Center Does the Same all call centers do this. Research it.  You will be challenged like a school boy or girl as to where you are going. No Lie.  You have the right not to work there, but you also have the right to starve. The Man Has the upper hand always.  Working people are slaves to the Rich and Big Companies.
May 2, 2013 5:58PM

People taking an extra bathroom break every now and again is acceptable. However, it's the repeat offenders who put a drag on the call system. They overburden their fellow agents who are forced to handle their calls. If there is a temporary medical issue requiring more frequent breaks, it's documented and allowed in most cases.


Retired call center manager.....





May 2, 2013 5:43PM
Probably was a rule that went into place because the restroom is the best place to text.  Little did they know it would backfire and they'd look to tyrranical monsters for it.
May 2, 2013 3:10PM

Seriously! putting a time restriction on going to the bathroom....What kind of company is this?? One from the dark ages! Definitely NOT one I will EVER do business with!


May 2, 2013 3:50PM
This story brought to you by "ATT Investor Relations" department?
May 2, 2013 3:38PM
there are more companies than you know that make employees either clock out or document the number of times you go to the bathroom.  i worked at a software company and they had a drop down box for bathroom breaks on our time sheets. at the time i left they hadn't started using it.  but i have no doubt that they were headed into that direction.  i believe this woman really sad.
May 2, 2013 8:15PM

I have relatives who have worked for T-Mobile recently and I can tell you they bleed their employees, who work the T-Mobile sales kiosks, to death all for the bottom line.


Kiosk employees work 12+ hours a day, no overtime, paid only straight time.  Kiosk employees do not get any form of premium pay, despite state regulations, for Sunday work.  They get no travel/mileage pay to attend mandatory meetings many miles away or in another state.  No food allowance when traveling to a faraway meeting or for working 12+ hour days – especially alone.  Since employee turnover is high (I wonder why) often only one employee staffs a kiosk for the entire day.  Lunch and bathroom breaks are near impossible.


Not even the Wall street bottom dwellers treat their employees this shabbily and without regard.

May 2, 2013 4:30PM
 I had a supervisor years ago who used to stand near the restrooms and take note as who and how long you were in there.. this guy wouldn't even flush a toilet when he was done...
Jun 14, 2013 6:58AM
I just recently quit Sitel in Oak Ridge Tn and they were the same way. Bathroom breaks had to be done during your break time. There is a break aux button on the phone that you have to push for breaks. If you go into that break aux to run to the bathroom and it is not your scheduled break time they will chase you into the bathroom to make you return to your desk so either way you still cant use the bathroom unless its your scheduled break time. Ive seen people written up over this. The last straw for me was when they deemed it ok for one of the bosses (not mine) to poke me on the shoulder and start screaming at me to remove a breakfast biscuit while i was on the phone with a customer. The place is horrible. It is a locked and secured area so its never cleaned, everyone stays sick. 
May 5, 2013 9:37PM

I work at a call center and this is normal. Agents are always under constant pressure to end calls faster, improve customer satisfaction and maximize productivity.


If you lack In either, you will generally go through a process where you get extended training, warnings, and eventually termination.


There is not a single call center job in America as far as I know that doesn't put this amount of pressure on you.


In my job for example, they expect 95% of your calls will be a positive survey. Even though that customers are far more likely to complain than to complement. If I don't maintain my metrics, I will get fired.  I also must solve all problems within 12 minutes, and if I don't I must send it to "tier 2". But while maintaining all of this, I must resolve at least 80% of my calls without sending it to tier 2.



I find my job really stressful, but it's no different than any other job I could get. When I was serving, there would be nights where I would be lucky if I made $80. My average night would be $50, and some nights would be as bad as $20.


I'm satisfied with my job, and as a help desk agent I can tell you most businesses aren't as ridiculous as they seem on paper. I'm positive she was given an ample amount of bathroom time. It was most likely she was spending a quite long time in the bathroom for them to even get that serious.

May 2, 2013 4:19PM
For all those who complain about this situation, please think of fairness.  How is it fair to an employer to be forced to pay for an individuals consistent bathroom breaks?  What's to stop an individual from abusing this privilege?  If she gets to go all the time, why don't other employees get the same courtesy?  Why can't a smoker go take a 2 minute smoke break twice an hour on top of their breaks, if they have the same physical need?

And I know many people will argue, "But she's pregnant and has a doctor's note."  Well that doesn't matter. She was hired under a certain sense of requirements.  If she is not able to do her job under those parameters, she needs to go on disability.  It's not fair to put the burden of her pregnancy on the employer or to allow her to receive more time away from doing her job than other employees. 
May 2, 2013 3:59PM
Hmmm, let's see here.  She gets 1 hour of paid breaks in an 8 hour day. She knew the rules when she took the job.  She becomes unable to do her job, under the rules she was hired. She was warned that if she can't do her job within the conditions of employment that her job might be in jeopardy. Why does this country always side on the side of entitlement. 
Entitlement mentality is breaking this country apart piece by piece.
The article is written to seem that they are picking on the poor pregnant women. Which if this were really the case I would have to agree it seems extreme, although again, within the Employers rights. There is a side to this story we will never know. Good employees are way to hard to find so it is my guess, she had other issues, they fire her, so she plays the Pregnant Women Card. 
May 2, 2013 2:56PM
If you work in a widget factory, you get reviewed on your ability to create widgets. If she's not creating widgets, she is reviewed poorly and she loses her job. What's the problem?
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