Employers in California must comply with various Industrial and Commission Wage Orders. These orders are essentially employment regulations that specify minimum requirements for employee wages, hours, and safe working conditions. Many of these Wage Orders contain a section that alludes to the California Sitting at Work Law (or California Sitting Down at Work law).
This Suitable Seating Law requires that California employers provide suitable seating to all workers whose jobs reasonably require the use of a seat. Failure to comply with this law can lead to lawsuits and significant monetary damages.
Therefore, if you believe your employer has deprived you of suitable seating at work, then you should contact a local employment law attorney for further guidance. Your attorney can determine whether you have a case, and if so, can help you obtain damages from your employer.
What Is Considered a Suitable Seat?
According to California state law, the type of seat that will be considered to be a “suitable seat” will largely depend on the nature of the work and the circumstances of each workplace. For instance, a mechanic may only need a bench to sit on while periodically taking breaks from working on cars.
In other work environments, like a startup or a co-working space, a basic chair or stool that can be used by the average person will probably be sufficient to satisfy these requirements.
The number of suitable seats provided will also depend on the nature of the work and the conditions of an individual workplace. For example, cashiers at retail stores must be provided at least one seat at their work station or one seat near their cash register if they continuously rotate cashiers on separate break schedules or if an employee alternates between standing and sitting while working their shift.
Additionally, where a seat is located will be left up to an employer’s discretion. However, the law provides that a seat must be placed in a location that is reasonably close to an employee’s work area or in a spot where an employee can see their work area in case they need to immediately return to their duties.
Lastly, although the law does not expressly specify this last point, it is strongly advised that employers offer seats in employee break rooms and/or in back offices.
Who Needs a Suitable Seat?
California employers are required to provide suitable seating to all employees in two scenarios:
- When the nature of a current employee’s work “reasonably permits the use of seats”; and
- When employees are not performing job tasks and the nature of their work requires standing, adequate seating must be placed near their work areas and employees must be allowed to use such seats, so long as it does not interfere with their job performance.
Thus, suitable seating must be supplied to all employees whose job tasks reasonably permit the use of seats, regardless of whether or not they have a disability or asked their employer to provide seats.
While this may seem clear in situations where an employee works at a desk all day, it is not as clear when a job entails duties, such as cashier work or tasks carried out by car mechanics. In these scenarios, a court will have to assess other factors before they can issue a ruling requiring that a California employer must provide suitable seating arrangements.
Is Suitable Seating Different from “Reasonable Accommodations”?
One of the main differences between suitable seating and reasonable accommodation requirements is that California’s suitable seating requirements stem from state employment laws, whereas “reasonable accommodations” is a term that applies to issues that fall under a federal law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
In other words, suitable seating requirements only affect employers in California, while reasonable accommodation requirements affect employers in every state.
Another major difference between the two is that employers must provide suitable seating arrangements for all employees, regardless of whether or not a worker has a disability and/or whether or not the employee requested it. On the other hand, the ADA’s “reasonable accommodations” requirement only applies to workers with disabilities who have submitted a request for suitable seating accommodations.
This is an extremely important distinction to recognize because it means that even workers who do not have a disability or do not make such a request will be permitted to take legal action against a California employer.
Additionally, though the conditions of California’s suitable seating law are not directly tied to other state and federal disability laws, lawsuits based on these other laws can provide substantial evidence to support an action for suitable seating.
For instance, if an employee can prove that their employer provided suitable seating to accommodate one of their colleagues in the same position, then this can be used as evidence to show that a job reasonably necessitates the use of suitable seats.
What Happens If You Don’t Comply with Suitable Seating Requirements?
California employers who refuse to provide suitable seating options for their employees can be sued for failing to comply with suitable seating regulations. Some common legal consequences for employers who fail to adhere to these requirements include:
- Extensive monetary penalties: For example, a state law known as the California Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) provides that the court distribute monetary penalties on a per violation basis. Under this Act, an employer who is not in compliance will need to pay $100 per day for each employee for an initial violation.
- This amount will increase to $200 per day for each employee if the employer continues to ignore the law.
- Class action lawsuits: Employers in violation of suitable seating requirements may face class action lawsuits. This is because individual employee claims can usually be combined to form the basis of a class action. Also, class action lawsuits tend to result in substantial damages awards due to the amount of plaintiffs attached to the case.
- Mandatory changes to company policies: Depending on the facts of a case, a court may order an employer to update their company policies and/or handbook to reflect the current laws. Making changes to existing company policies can be costly and can sometimes disrupt business operations as well.
- Compliance with Wage Orders: California Wage Orders cover a variety of legal issues in the workplace, which include suitable seating requirements. Thus, the court will likely order an employer to provide suitable seating if they have not already done so.
What Other Issues are Connected with Suitable Seating Laws?
Aside from being in violation of suitable seating laws, a lack of suitable seating can also lead to personal injury lawsuits based on injuries or work accidents that result from a lack of suitable seating.
For example, if a job reasonably requires the use of a seat and an employee develops back problems over the duration of their job due to inadequate or unavailable seating arrangements, then they may be able to sue their employer for compensatory damages.
Another legal issue that can arise from lack of suitable seating is that it may violate work safety regulations. For instance, if an employee works with dangerous chemicals or has to operate heavy machinery for prolonged periods of time, they may get tired and not being able to sit can endanger the well-being of themselves, other workers, and any customers who may enter the business.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Suitable Seating Issues?
If you believe that your employer has denied you your right to suitable seating , then it may be in your best interest to contact a California employment lawyer for further advice.
An experienced employment lawyer will be able to review the relevant laws in your area and can compare them to your employer’s policies to identify any potential legal violations. Your lawyer can also discuss your options for legal recourse and can determine whether you have a viable claim.
Additionally, if you have colleagues that have been affected by your suitable seating issue, your lawyer can assist you with bringing a class action lawsuit as well.