California employment law requires that "all working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats." Recently there have been a number of lawsuits where employees sued their employer for not providing suitable seating. This law is not yet settled regarding 1) what is considered a suitable seat and 2) who needs one.
Suitability depends on circumstances of the work: chairs, stools, and benches may be required. The number of seats also depends on the work, as one seat per employee may not be necessary if employees rotate between standing and sitting.
Additionally, if employees are required to stand because of the nature of their work, employers are required to provide suitable seating in proximity to the work area. Employees must be allowed to use such seating as long as it doesn’t interfere with their work.
Employers are required to provide seating when the "nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats." While it is clear that people who work at a desk will need a seat, other jobs such as mechanics or retail clerks may or may not permit the use of seats. In particular, cashiers have filed lawsuits arguing that they should be provided with seating. However, at least one court found that the employer was not liable because cashiers needed to project a "ready-to-assist attitude to customers waiting in line."
Additionally, employers need not wait for employees to request a seat in order to assess the situation. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that an employee could pursue a lawsuit even without having asked for a seat.
Employers in California may be sued for not providing suitable seating under two different laws:
- The Private Attorney General Act: The California Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) provides for an employee’s private lawsuit resulting from violations of suitable seating wage orders. Under PAGA, courts assess penalties on a per violation basis. Specifically, the penalty for initial violation is $100 per day for each worker. Penalties for all subsequent violations are increased to $200 on the same per day / per worker basis.
- Class Action Lawsuits: Employees frequently bring their claims as part of class actions, and several $100 or $200 fees may be aggregated to become quite substantial.
Further, employers should note that unfairly disciplining or terminating a worker who requests suitable seating may violate other state and federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which may lead to further penalties.
If as an employee, you feel that you have been denied suitable seating, or have been discriminated, retaliated against, or even fired for asking to provide suitable seats, you may need to consult a qualified employment lawyer or employment discrimination lawyer. Further, you may not be alone; fellow co-workers may also have a case; in such situation, a class action lawyer may be needed.
As an employer, an employment lawyer may help you develop legally sound seating policies and employment handbooks in order to prevent future lawsuits.