Effective March 1, 2017, under a new law known the Equal Restroom Access Act, California businesses that have single-user restrooms are required to designate such restrooms as all-gender and must post appropriate accessible signage to that effect. If the employer does not have single-user restrooms, the law does not require that an all-gender restroom be made available. Rather, the law prohibits any single-user restroom from being restricted to one gender or the other, no matter how many all-gender restrooms exist at a location.

“Single-user” means a “toilet facility with no more than one water closet and one urinal with a locking mechanism controlled by the user.” This includes restrooms intended only for use by employees. For example, a walk-in restroom with two stalls and the stalls lock, but the restroom door does not lock, may be restricted to one sex or the other. This is because even if the stall doors have locks, the restroom itself is not “single-user” since more than one person can use the restroom at a given time due to the lack of a lock on the restroom door. In contrast, a restroom that has a lock on the entry door is “single-user,” and must be all-gender, even if it has both a stall and urinal. 

The law requires signage to comply with the California Building Standards Code, found at Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, which provides the requirements for the types of restroom signs. Title 24 requires signs in two locations: one located on and one located next to the restroom door. Each sign must meet specific requirements: (1) a high-contrast geometric sign (a circle for women, a triangle for men, and a triangle on top of a circle for all-gender); and (2) a designation sign (identifies permanent rooms and spaces, i.e., restrooms, closets, and vending areas) and tactile sign (read by touch, i.e., raised lettering and Braille). Despite that the signage must be accessible, the new law does not require that all restrooms be accessible unless that is otherwise required. When ordering signs, businesses should take care not to order signage with the universal disability access symbol unless the restroom has been designated by the business as accessible.

Inspectors, building officials, or other local officials responsible for code enforcement are authorized to inspect for compliance with these provisions.

Practical Guidance

Businesses should review all restrooms to determine whether they meet the definition of single-user. Restrooms that are single-user must be designated as all-gender, with compliant signage. There are many vendors of compliant restroom signs, which are of a particular shape, contrast, and size, and have particular installation requirements. Additionally, employers should be mindful of transgender rights in the workplace beyond single-user restrooms. More information is available for employers and their employees in the Transgender Rights in the Workplace poster available from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).