How to protect your company from a lawsuit tip #5: Allow your employees to sit

How to protect your company from a lawsuit tip #5: Allow your employees to sit

Ever feel like your boss is a drill sergeant, barking orders to stay on your feet all day? Well, you have a secret weapon against such orders: It's the legal right to sit. Sitting, one of the most basic human activities, can be surprisingly controversial in the workplace. One can say that some employers take your right to sit for granted.

However, before you demand your right to lounge on a beanbag chair while presenting at an annual shareholders’ meeting, you need to know that there’s a spectrum of regulations involving sitting.

Sit down for a brief history lesson

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Progressive Era in the United States saw a rise in “suitable seating” laws. Most states now require employers to provide seating, with some state laws specifying that seating must be provided for all genders, not just the ladies.

However, these laws typically focus on providing a seat; they do not guarantee your backside gets glued to it all day. The key term here is “reasonable.” If your job requires constant movement, like being a mail carrier or a zookeeper sprinting after escaped penguins, then standing is necessary.

California takes a seat at the table

California made waves in 2016 with a Supreme Court ruling that said employers can’t deny an employee a seat just because they prefer workers to stand. The court essentially said, “Listen, if you can do your work sitting down without messing up customer service, why stand? Just take a seat.”

Israel also takes a stand on sitting down

The right to sit isn’t just an American issue. There are also legislations on sitting down in countries such as England, France, and Israel.

Israel, in particular, enacted the Right to Sit in Employment Law in 2007, establishing clear guidelines for workplace seating. Employers must provide suitable seating for employees and are legally obligated to design workplaces that facilitate seated work. However, the law acknowledges potential exceptions for employers who can prove the inability of employees to sit while performing their regular duties.

The standing debate on work duties and breaks

Certain professions, like servers, cashiers, and retail workers, involve being on one’s feet for extended periods, and many managers prefer to prioritize a visible and active presence on the sales floor. Ray Kroc, McDonald’s former CEO, exemplified this perspective in his famous catchphrase, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean,” which reflects a focus on constant activity and efficiency.

Some managers still echo Kroc’s sentiment, aiming to deter perceived slacking or encourage a fast-paced environment. Regardless, managers must recognize the potential benefits (e.g., improved well-being and productivity) of allowing employees to take scheduled breaks.

Can you permanently park yourself in your chair?

Not quite. Remember the “reasonable” bit? While a state like California protects your right to a seat when the work allows it, it doesn’t mean you can be a couch potato at work. Taking breaks to stand up, stretch, and move around is crucial for your health. Studies have shown that prolonged sitting can lead to a host of problems, from obesity to heart disease. So, the key is to find a balance.

When a seat is taken for granted

When 27-year-old Atlanta resident Zay strolled into her customer service gig one fine morning, something seemed off-kilter. The break room was without chairs, and there wasn’t a single seat at her usual invoicing table. At the back of the store was just one sad folding chair, labeled with a stern “Not for employee use.”

Zay and her fellow employees asked their boss about this sudden furniture famine. Turns out, there was a new strict no-sitting policy, supposedly concocted by management to transform their staff into productivity powerhouses.

But for Zay, productivity would be a problem if she has no perch to rest her weary bones. Battling through the day with a sore back wasn’t exactly her idea of a good work environment. A little break and a seat would work wonders for her comfort levels.

Sadly, Zay resigned, citing the lack of seating options and a toxic work environment. And she’s not the only one who stood up for herself. Her other colleagues followed her lead and walked right out the door.

The right to sit at work isn’t about laziness. It’s about employee well-being and productivity. So, the next time your feet are killing you at work, know your rights, have a conversation with your employer about seating options, and take back your power — from a comfortable, seated position, ideally.

Or sit down with our legal experts at LaGrandeur & Williams if you feel taken for granted by your employers. If you’re in Washington State and need advice on family law, contact or visit us at our Renton office.