United States: When You Gotta Go: Time To Check Your Restroom Signs

Last Updated: February 28 2017
Article by Tiffany T. Tran and Christopher Im

Seyfarth Synopsis: As of March, all single-occupancy restrooms in California businesses, government buildings, and places of public accommodation must be gender neutral. This post reviews the annoyingly specific requirements regarding restroom signage to help employers remain compliant.

North Carolina achieved notoriety with its "Bathroom Bill," restricting restroom access on the basis of gender. California has countered with its own bill, AB 1732, the Equal Restroom Access Act, signed by Governor Brown in September 2016.

Single-occupancy restrooms once could be designated as being either for males or for females. The Equal Restroom Access Act, applying to single-occupancy restrooms in businesses, government buildings, and places of public accommodation, requires that they be available to everyone. The Act defines a single-user restroom as a "toilet facility with no more than one water closet and one urinal with a locking mechanism controlled by the user." Assemblyman Phil Ting provided context in stating that "this bill sends a simple message that everyone's rights must be respected and protected...restricting access to single use restrooms defies reason."

To comply with the new law (codified at Health & Safety Code § 118600, et seq.), the signage on single-occupancy restrooms must be updated to gender-neutral signs by March 1, 2017. And although the Act does not create any penalties or a private right of action for non-compliance, inspectors, building officials, and local officials can inspect, and it is likely that municipalities will pass or revise ordinances in response. So this is a good time to take a fresh look at existing signage to see that it complies.

The California Building Standards Code provides the requirements for the three types of restroom signs to be aware of for your business:

  • Geometric signs: a circle (women), a triangle (men), and a triangle on top of a circle (gender neutral)
  • Designation signs: signs that identify permanent rooms and spaces (i.e., restrooms, closets, and vending areas)
    • Tactile signs: Signs that are read by touch (i.e. raised lettering and Braille)
    • Pictograms: Pictures accompanied by tactile characters and Braille
  • Directional and Information signs: signs that are read visually

California requires at least two signs to identify each restroom open to the public: a geometric sign and a designation tactile sign. Just how California businesses must designate these signs is very peculiar indeed, so you'll want to read this closely!

Geometric Signs

The required geometric symbols are different for men's, women's, and unisex or all-gender restrooms. Women's restrooms are identified by a circle measuring 12 inches in diameter. Men's restrooms are identified by an equilateral triangle with all sides being of equal 12 inches length. Finally, relevant to AB 1732, all single-occupancy restrooms must now be identified by an equilateral triangle measuring 12 inches on each length within a circle with a 12 inch diameter. The color of the triangle must contrast with the color of the circle within which it is superimposed.

Regardless of which geometric restroom sign is used, the sign must contrast in color with the surface on which it is mounted. So a light sign should be on a dark door and, conversely, a dark sign should be on a light colored door. Further, each geometric sign must be ¼ of an inch thick and be mounted at a minimum of 58 inches and a maximum of 60 inches above the ground.

Designation Signs

Designation signs that must be tactile include signs for "Restroom," "Women's," Men's," "All-Gender Restroom," and "Unisex Toilets." Descriptive signs, such as "All restrooms are open to persons of all genders," are not considered designation signs and are not required by law to be tactile.

For required tactile signs, the lettering must be 1/32 inches thick, in all uppercase, 5/8 inches to 2 inches in height, and may not be italic, oblique, script, highly decorative, or any other unusual style. Left-flush or centered 3/8 inches to 1/2 inches below the lettering must be a Braille duplication of the lettering. Tactile signs are also subject to certain mounting requirements, including the requirements that the sign be mounted on the latch side or on the right hand side of doorway without a door, and placed outside the swing of any door.

Although pictograms are not required by the new law, they are commonly used to identify restrooms. Familiar pictograms used for restrooms include the toilet symbol, as well as the corresponding symbols for male and female. If pictograms are used, California law requires that they have contrasting colors and no glare, and the field must be six inches minimum in height with no text, Braille, or anything else in it. A text description must also be placed below the field in tactile lettering and Braille. Pictograms are subject to the same mounting requirements as tactile signs and should be placed adjacent to the door.

Important For Our Readers:

  • The minimum size of the pictogram field will not fit into a 12 inch triangle. As a result, all "unisex" geometric signs with pictograms in them are not compliant and should be not used.
  • You must use approved symbols and verbiage when using pictograms. Although many websites offer pictograms for use, they may not comply with the size requirements, or they may potentially be offensive. So look at these very carefully for compliance!

Directional and Information Signs

Directional and information signs provide messages about interior or exterior places and facilities, such as: "Smoking is not allowed in the restrooms" or "For customer use only."

These signs have various requirements regarding matters such as the finish, size, style, thickness, and spacing, depending upon the viewing distance and mounting height. Unlike designation signs, directional and information signs are not required to have raised lettering or Braille.

Note that when using directional and information signs, it is important to remain generic so that the sign does not become an identifier requiring tactile signage. For instance, "the company's restroom is open to all persons" is generic and only gives information about the restroom. Contrast that with a sign saying "Unisex Restroom" which specifically identifies the restroom and is therefore a designation sign that must comply with tactile sign requirements.

Workplace Solution: As you can see, California's bathroom signage requirements are very technical and specific. Please contact your favorite Seyfarth attorney if you need any assistance with remaining or becoming compliant with these specifications.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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