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Risk in Context

California Employers: Don’t Take Workplace Seating Law Sitting Down

Posted by Darryl Griffiths June 22, 2016

The California Supreme Court recently ruled that companies in California must provide seating to employees whose duties can reasonably be conducted while seated.  While appeals are expected, this ruling has a direct impact on many employers in California, particularly retail, financial services, and manufacturing, who must now evaluate if an employee's duties require a chair.

Seating accommodation decisions must now be based on the tasks performed at a specific workspace, “rather than a ‘holistic’ consideration of the entire range of an employee’s duties anywhere on the jobsite.” Further, if the nature of the work reasonably permits seated work, the court ruled unambiguously that an employee should be provided with a suitable seat.

In response to the ruling, affected companies with operations in California now should consider evaluating their workspaces to identify which, if any, employees may be entitled to a seat. The following should be taken into account in your determinations:

Duration: Consider not only the duration of an employee’s primary tasks, but also the duration of other tasks that may occur in or around the workstation.

Frequency: Understand the overall frequency of the activities or tasks that take place in the workstation. As part of this review, note the frequency of awkward postures, forces, and other physical movements.

Task location: Review the physical layout and location of the workspace, which can directly affect how employees do their jobs. If tasks are currently performed while standing, determine if introducing a seat may increase the risk of injury. If a seat in the space would not interfere with the performance of any other tasks that may require standing, then a chair is required.

Before making decisions about seating accommodations, consider a professional ergonomics assessment. Ergonomists can analyze the tasks performed in the workspace to determine if they can be performed seated in an optimal, efficient, and safe way that will not injure the employee. If seating is determined to be appropriate, the ergonomist can also assist in identifying the best option, which, for example, may range from seating at the workstation to a designated seating area nearby.

The court put the onus on employers to explain why they cannot provide suitable seating if the nature of work and totality of circumstances call for it. Therefore, conducting a thorough analysis to ensure your company is compliant with California’s new ruling may not only help reduce the possibility of litigation, but also overall workers’ compensation costs through a reduction in workplace risk factors and an improvement in worker health and safety.

Darryl  Griffiths

Vice President, Marsh Risk Consulting