California Restroom Sign Law Effective March 1

Starting March 1, 2017, all single-user toilet facilities in any business establishment, place of public accommodation or government agency must be identified as “all-gender” toilet facilities. The law authorizes inspectors or other building or local officials responsible for code enforcement to inspect for compliance (Health and Safety Code sec. 118600).

restroom sign California law
Make sure your restroom sign has the right geometric symbol.

The recent White House action to rollback restroom protections for transgender students is unrelated to the restroom signage requirement for California businesses.

A “single-user toilet facility” is defined as “a toilet facility with no more than one water closet and one urinal with a locking mechanism controlled by the user.”

Employers will need to check their signs for compliance.

There are two signs required to identify a restroom:

  • A sign with the geometric symbol that identifies the restroom as male, female or unisex — the circle for women, the triangle for men, or the triangle superimposed on the circle for unisex. The unisex symbol of the triangle superimposed onto a circle is the only specific indicator required by the California Building Code
  • A wall-mounted designation sign that identifies a permanent room or space to be provided for a toilet facility. This sign must be tactile (can be read by touch) and indicate that the facility is a restroom and whether the restroom is for men, women or unisex. These signs can use pictograms but the Building Code does not require the use of pictograms. While wall signs at restroom doorways may not be strictly required in every situation, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed that claimed lack of such signs. If you are unsure whether you are required to post a wall sign, get appropriate legal advice.

In short, if an employer has a single-user restroom that already has the unisex geometric sign, they don’t have to do anything. If the restroom has the male or female geometric sign, it has to be replaced with the unisex geometric sign. The tactile sign also has to indicate it is all-gender, unisex or just a restroom (without reference to gender).

Businesses often use pictograms to identify restrooms, such as a symbol for a male or a female.  Pictograms have specific requirements. Again, make certain that any symbols or language you use comply with the Building Code standards.

Many lawsuits have been filed relating to restroom signage. Different signs are required on both the wall and the door of nearly all public restrooms. Get legal advice about the appropriate sign if you have any questions.

Be careful as many online retailers sell signs that might not comply with the law. In addition, some pictograms can be considered offensive.

The DFEH has also proposed regulations relating to the use of restrooms. These regulations are currently pending.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

CalChamber members can read more about “Restroom Issues” on Gender Identity and Expression in the HR Library. Not a member? Learn more about what HRCalifornia can do for you.

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