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What to know about Ally’s Law

People with certain medical conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), sometimes need to use the restroom urgently. This can be difficult if they are out of the house or workplace, as not all businesses have public washrooms.

Many states in the United States have passed the Restroom Access Act, also known as Ally’s Law, to acknowledge this medical need.

Ally’s Law requires that retail businesses with toilet facilities for employees allow customers with specific medical conditions to access them if the need arises.

Read on to learn more about Ally’s Law, including where it applies and how it works.

What is Ally’s Law?

Restroom sign for Ally's law
Ally’s Law is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Ally’s Law requires retail establishments to allow people with certain medical conditions, such as IBD, to access an employee restroom if no public facilities are available and they need to go.

The law got its name from Ally Bain, a young woman from Illinois who has IBD. Doctors have diagnosed approximately 3 million adults in the U.S. with IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

When Ally was 14 years old and shopping with her mother in a large retail store, she experienced a Crohn’s disease flare, which included a sudden urge to go to the toilet. There were no public restrooms, so she asked to use the employee restroom. The manager denied Ally access, and she had an accident in the store.

Ally and her mother met with Illinois State Representative Kathy Ryg to draft a bill allowing people to use an employee restroom if they have a medical condition and are in urgent need. The bill became law in Illinois in August 2005. Since then, several other states have passed the Restroom Access Act.

Ally’s Law falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This Act protects people with disabilities from discrimination.

Examples of some of the conditions that fall under the Restroom Access Act include:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • other types of IBD
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • any condition involving the use of an ostomy device
  • any permanent or temporary condition requiring immediate access to a restroom

Ally’s Law also covers pregnancy as a medical condition in some states.

Where does it apply?

The states that currently recognize Ally’s Law are:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

In most cases, these states have passed the Act as a result of grassroots efforts by those with IBD and their supporters. Other states are currently developing similar laws.

In some states, business owners have strongly opposed the Restroom Access Act over fears of liability or concerns that some people will abuse the law. However, there is little evidence to support these worries.

How does Ally’s Law work?

Pregnant woman shopping
In some states, pregnancy is considered a suitable condition for Ally’s Law.

The law in each state usually requires a person to show proof of an eligible medical condition to a business owner or employee.

Proof may be in the form of a document that a medical professional has signed stating that the person has a condition that may require the immediate use of a restroom. Alternatively, it might be an identification card that a national organization has issued.

The law may vary slightly from one state to another. For example, some states include pregnancy as a suitable condition while others do not. Not all states accept an identification card in place of a signed medical document.

Some businesses may be exempt from the Restroom Access Act. Those with fewer than three employees, for example, are not obliged to let a customer use an employee toilet as it may leave the store open to damage or theft.

The law does not require retail stores to alter their facilities in any way for people with eligible conditions.

Establishments are also not liable if a customer sustains an injury while using an employee restroom unless there is evidence of negligence on the part of the business.

Other support

Those with a relevant medical condition, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, can seek additional support from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.

Members can get an “I Can’t Wait” card, which states that they have a medical condition that requires urgent restroom access.

Alternatively, the Crohn’s & Colitis website provides additional information on IBD. People with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can obtain a Restroom Request Card from this website.

What happens if a company refuses?

If a business denies a person with valid documentation access to a restroom, they may incur a fine or another punishment. The penalties vary from state to state.

In Washington, first-time offenders receive a warning letter. Refusing access for the second time is a class 2 civil infraction.

In Massachusetts, there is a $100 fine for a first-time offense, which doubles for a second offense.

A person with an eligible condition and valid documentation can contact their local law enforcement agency if a business refuses to give them access to a restroom.

If the local law enforcement agency fails to deal with the matter, it is best to contact an elected official, such as:

  • the mayor
  • the county executive
  • a local senate representative

It may also be helpful to contact local news agencies or a national organization to bring attention to the issue.

Takeaway

Some people require immediate and urgent access to a restroom. If a public toilet is not available, they may be able to use an employee-only restroom, provided that they meet specific criteria.

These include living in a state that recognizes the Restroom Access Act, having an eligible medical condition, and carrying the appropriate documentation.

Identification cards are available from national organizations for people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Alternatively, a doctor can provide an individual with the necessary documentation.

If businesses do not comply with Ally’s Law, people can contact law enforcement or an elected official.

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