How to stop a poop smearer at work?
January 28, 2017 11:21 PM   Subscribe

There is an ongoing problem with someone smearing poop on the walls in at least one bathroom at my office. This need to stop, but I disagree with HR's plan, which is to put cameras outside the bathrooms to monitor people's comings and goings. What can I propose instead?

I am composing an email to protest the plan to have cameras outside the bathrooms. I and many other employees are deeply upset at the idea. However, I have nothing to offer as an alternative. Have you dealt with this successfully or do you have an idea for how to? So far there have been sternly worded memos from HR. I don't know of other efforts, which doesn't mean there weren't any.

For a little context: We work in a 20 story building with male/female bathrooms on alternating floors. I believe but am not certain that the poop smearing is only happening in one men's bathroom. The bathrooms are small—two stalls each except a couple ADA accessible ones which are single stall.

Anonymous because any coworkers reading this will recognize the situation and I don't want them to know my username.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Obviously, this is a health and safety issue for your coworkers and anyone having to clean up the mess, obviously it has to stop.

I was, sort of, relieved to hear of a couple of explanations for why poop might be smeared on the walls of a public washroom (because it boggled my mind that someone would do that, how could any normally socialized adult do such a thing, I'd thought) - it turned out that that is not (usually) related to deliberate biological warfare or indifference* but to people having medical or physical issues. So I can imagine that someone with an issue in that category, who I would imagine had no other option but to do this, might not respond too well to shaming. (Though I can definitely understand the upset behind the shaming.)

*although, I did wonder why people who do this and are embarrassed don't clean it up afterwards... I guess it'd be because of the need for time to do that and fear of others walking in. Because who would clean this kind of someone else's mess, unless they were paid to do that, what a thing to explain on its own. I'd assume they'd not want to be identified with that outcome at all.

So I think it only makes sense for HR to not assume that this is happening because of someone being malicious or antisocial, and instead make an offer of accommodations to anyone who needs it.

I guess the person needing accommodation might not want to have to personally come forward, so HR should either take anonymous suggestions or make some educated guesses as to what might help. (Perhaps they could ask employees to answer the question, "what do you think would help with the washroom situation?" and look for answers addressing medical or physical needs.)

In summary, the argument would be:
- Ask HR how they intend to enforce a no-smearing policy / get the smearer's cooperation
- Ask them to consider this from the POV of health & accommodations & not further shaming the person
- Suggest a suggestion box or anonymous online form & review suggestions & research potential causes of poop smearing.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:24 AM on January 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

This is a nightmare. I don't know which is worse: the pooper, or what it would take to stop someone from doing this.

Don't send email: do it in certified mail.
In your letter, outline several ways that a pooper can spoof the camera system.

For example, always going to the bathroom after another nearby employee, smearing the poop, and the reporting the previous employee as the culprit. Or if there is a conspiracy of shitstains doing this, scheduling the smear events so the cameras don't see the same person at the same time.

Point out the vulnerability of the company to a lawsuit in the event of a false accusation or just the normal behavior of said shitstain in an adversarial legal system, and remind them that they are going to have to design a protocol that can stand up in court.

That being said, there are ways to use those cameras that do not leak bathroom frequency to management, but management has to trust its employees enough to allow them to implement the solution. A Toilet Committee is formed, a robust protocol designed and responsibilities assigned, the 24 recording record is started, and control of the process is passed over to the employees for the sole purpose of discovering the culprit. Upon statistical identification of the culprit, the committee contacts the alleged culprit(s) according to protocol, and informs them that they are under suspicion. No more than 24 hours of data is held at any time, management has no access to the raw recordings, and no metadata are kept beyond what is needed to statistically identify possible culprits, etc, etc.

There are other methods, like card key locks on the bathrooms, but they have the same non-management Toilet Committee setup.

Management would have to run this solution past an employment lawyer, too.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:25 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm working from the assumption that from examination of the evidence you can tell between involuntary ejecta and more intentional, artistic endeavors.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:32 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm working from the assumption that from examination of the evidence you can tell between involuntary ejecta and more intentional, artistic endeavors.

If an actual hand print has been identified in there somewhere... I retract my answer. (But is anyone getting close enough to the evidence, for long enough, to examine it? Could sufficient force at close range mimic a more painterly application process? Is there a CSI mefite in the house who could say?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:47 AM on January 29, 2017

No, your answer is good under all circumstances: work from the most innocent causes first; think the best of people, drive out fear. HR might have already assumed malice, either through evidence or by unwillingness to effectively engage with the problem, or simple error.

Cameras are not the first approach they should take.
posted by the Real Dan at 2:18 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

DNA test.
posted by brujita at 2:34 AM on January 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

This happened where I work about 15 years ago. HR sent round an email along the lines of:

"It's come to our attention that someone is smearing excrement in one of the toilets. This is unacceptable. We appreciate that people can sometimes have bathroom accidents, but this has happened often enough, and in such a way, that it doesn't appear to be accidental. It's unfair on the cleaning staff to expect them to have to deal with this and so it's now become an HR issue. We believe we know who is responsible, but before any formal action is taken we think it would be better to allow them an opportunity to change their behaviour. If there is any further incident of this nature, formal action will follow, which may result in disciplinary action or even dismissal.

If any staff members are experiencing emotional or mental difficulties, Careline, an external counselling service, is available for free and in complete confidence on [phone number]"

That was the end of it, it never happened again. I don't know if HR actually knew who was responsible or if the scare tactic worked. At the time we had about 600 employees, and the toilets involved were on my floor. I couldn't think of a single one of my colleagues who would do it but, hell, people are weird.
posted by essexjan at 3:34 AM on January 29, 2017 [89 favorites]

If cameras are unacceptable, then is the burden of finding an alternative really on those who object to them? I don't think it is. And looking at this (as you seem to be doing) with the idea that your objection is somehow dismissable unless you come up with a better alternative (like what? hall passes? raise your hand and ask if you can go to the bathroom?) weakens your position quite a lot, since you are accommodating a response that your alternative is no good, so cameras it is. Don't say no to yourself here - if you and your coworkers think cameras are not OK, focus on saying that.
posted by thelonius at 4:42 AM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Could be they are trying to empty a colostomy bag or have another medical issue.
Suggest that the company put cleaning wipes in each stall of the bathroom. See if that helps.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:41 AM on January 29, 2017 [16 favorites]

I came in here to suggest exactly what SyraCarol suggested. If this is happening because of medical issues, this person may actually want to clean it up but doesn't have the resources. Putting some Lysol wipes or other cleaning supplies in the bathroom could be a good first step.

Now I'm wondering what I would do if I accidentally got poop in places outside the bowl at work. I don't know! Frantic rubbing with toilet paper? Attempted cleanup with paper towels that would just make the open-mouthed trash cans smell awful? We don't have any cleaning supplies in our bathroom. I might just cut and run too. :(
posted by cadge at 7:21 AM on January 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there any possibility that outsiders are sneaking in and using the restrooms? If that's the case, nothing HR sends out will matter.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:38 AM on January 29, 2017

You'd just wipe it up with some toilet paper - now if the workplace has very cheap toilet paper or the kind you can only take 1 sheet at a time that may make it impossible to wipe it with damp paper but they should be able to take care of the majority of the mess with dry paper.

It doesn't matter what the reason for the issue is, its still the culprit's responsibility to clean up after themselves. Having a medical issue does not give you carte blanche to leave your shit for other people to clean up. If it was a one off accident, that could be excused - they didn't notice or they didn't have the appropriate supplies but if its happening repeatedly and its been noted by HR to the point they're sending out memos and considering spending money on cameras, then the personal responsible has enough notice to have acquired small packet of wet wipes. Its not hard. If it is someone with a colostomy bag, they should be carrying supplies with them anyway.
posted by missmagenta at 7:44 AM on January 29, 2017 [14 favorites]

Had the exact same thing happen where I once worked. Everyone balked about having a camera outside the door so we just tried to keep an eye on the comings and goings. That didn't work. We found out who it was because he was caught poop-handed smearing excrement in another building. It was the guy who delivered water.

Without a camera or someone watching the door your chances of catching the perp arae pretty low.

Re SyraCarol concerns: That was my concern too, and after much discussion it was decided the boss (me) would send a memo dept. wide asking if anyone was having those kinds of problems. Two floors down was a rest room that had better facilities to empty bags and made it clear they could use it at anytime.
posted by james33 at 8:03 AM on January 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

Would toilet paper or wipes be enough to get rid of e coli and whatever else? I don't think cleaning staff use bleach solutions on walls as a matter of course (or necessarily ever)... which would leave a kind of invisible smear, as it were... if anyone is creating this situation, they need to take responsibility for it, but ideally that would involve preventing the issue from happening in the first place.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:02 AM on January 29, 2017

Could be they are trying to empty a colostomy bag or have another medical issue

I appreciate that we are trying to give the benefit of the doubt to the offender(s) in OP's situation, but there is nothing about an ostomy or a person who has an ostomy that makes it more likely to result in repeatedly smearing excrement on a wall.
posted by telegraph at 9:35 AM on January 29, 2017 [20 favorites]

My sister is the person who has to deal with this in her workplace and has had to deal with it multiple times in multiple workplaces. These are not colostomy bag issues, these are intentional smearing of feces (and in some cases menstrual blood) in multiple places in a bathroom that is used by multiple staff members at a government agency. For people who deal with bathroom issues regularly (also: public librarians but my sister is not a librarian) these are Known Issues.

She read through this thread and only had this to add:
Any signs/emails/etc should not use euphemistic language. be clear what the problem is. Emphasize health & safety. Do NOT ask people to disclose medical conditions, but give people contact info for both clean-up and help (if needed). Cameras do work if monitored & people report problems promptly; it should be a last resort, because it breaks down trust.
posted by jessamyn at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Aside from the reason why it's happening, the person either stops their activity or gets caught in the act. So, the camera idea is on the table for HR. I'm not a fan of tracking employee movements via camera. What about swipe card entry to the wash rooms and HR making scheduled checks? Maybe installing a dummy camera?
posted by mountainblue at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2017

DNA test.

insane, probably illegal.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:54 PM on January 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

"...painterly application ..."
Oh, I'm dying here!

Yes, NO to the ostomy possibility. The offender is doing it on purpose. It feeds some kind of kink, I'm thinking. I like the idea of a no-holds-barred wide-spread email stressing the dangers of E coli, and a fake camera. I have no problems with a real camera!
posted by BostonTerrier at 2:03 PM on January 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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