Update: California high court rules on “suitable seating”

Most major retailing chains have been sued under one or another of two California laws providing that workers who otherwise would spend most of the day on their feet must be given suitable seating when “the nature of the work” permits it. The scope of the law’s application had been ambiguous, but now the California high court has ruled and trial lawyers are apparently pleased with its answers. [Lisa Nagele-Piazza, BNA Daily Labor Report] More: Coyote.


  • From my read of the article, both sides are satisfied with the ruling.

    On prudential grounds, I am unsure whether it is good to require employers to do this. However, if employees can perform their jobs while seated and it will make them happier and healthier with minimal cost to the employer, I cannot for the life of me understand why employers would not provide a seat. So, I am ambivalent. The rules are not great, but the employers are jerks. The only loser is the employee who the employer unnecessarily makes uncomfortable.

  • It’s always expensive and cumbersome to bring in the law to settle a question, and the answer often ends up affecting situations beyond those originally contemplated, but… Why are employers against seating? I’ve been to stores abroad with sitting cashiers, and banks here in the USA with sitting tellers, and received fine service from both. Are there customers who prefer to be served by standing tellers?

  • Neither side got exactly what it wanted going in. Looking at what the Employees thought the standard should be and what the employers wanted going in, the CA Supreme court ruling seems reasonable.

    I am not sure that the law is good policy, but that is not for the courts to decide.

  • Why are employers against seating?

    Employers might be against seating because of the associated risks of a person falling when they go to sit on a stool-high seat. They might be opposed to the idea of the costs associated with purchasing and maintaining stools. They might be opposed to the science that shows that people who sit all day are less healthy. Employers might be worried about others tripping over the chairs in areas where there is employee traffic. They might be worried that because stool high chairs are more likely to break, the chair may break with their employee in it causing a workplace injury claim. They might be worried that a seated cashier may reach for an item to scan and tip the chair over.

    They might be concerned that the law will lead to more employee complaints (as has happened here), more oversight from a governmental bureaucracy like the state equivalent of OSHA. Or they might be worried about the time it will take to train people to use the chairs (which will surely be mandated as well.) They might be concerned with the inability or the conflict that will surely follow with the seating requirement and the ADA.

    I am not sure that the law is good policy,………

    While I appreciate and understand your point, it is not good policy for the law to address a problem that doesn’t exist. If a company wants their people to stand, that’s their decision. If a company wants people to be able to sit, that is again their decision.

    The law should not make people and companies comply with some ignorant person’s vote in a legislature saying “this is a nifty idea.” If that is “policy” in your view, I agree.

    On the other hand, I view it as against the foundational documents of the US and the states as it deprives people and companies to make choices that don’t harm anyone. To me, that is more than “policy,” but that is to an extent semantics.

  • Didn’t Seinfeld already settle this one? Who wants to side with George?

    (George notices the security guard standing near the front door)
    GEORGE: See now this I don’t get.
    SUSAN: What?
    GEORGE: The security guard.
    SUSAN: What about him?
    GEORGE: Why does he have to stand?
    SUSAN: Because he’s a security guard.
    GEORGE: But I mean look at him. He’s gotta be on his feet like that all day?
    That’s brutal. I think I’m gonna say something to your uncle.
    SUSAN: George, you just met him. Don’t say anything to him.
    GEORGE: Aren’t you concerned about the security guard?
    SUSAN: Not really. (Walks away)
    GEORGE: Let me just say this. It is inhumane to make a man stand on his feet, in
    one spot for eight hours a day. Why shouldn’t he have a chair?
    JERRY: Well, what about criminal activity? He’s got to be alert.
    GEORGE: What, he can’t jump out of the chair? How long does that take?
    Here look at this. (he moves to the end of the booth) Here, watch. (stands up)
    Criminals. Boom. I’m up. (pretends he’s shooting) Stop It! Stop It! Stop It!
    JERRY: Maybe they offered him a chair and he turned it down.
    GEORGE: Would you get out of here. Who’s gonna turn down a chair? I would be very interested to know how he felt about all of this. Maybe I’ll have a talk with him.
    [Setting: Ross’ clothing store. The employees are being held up at gun point. The camera moves from the right to the left. There is a masked man taking the money from the cash register. As the camera moves all the way to the left of the store, you see the security guard fast asleep in his new chair]
    (Scene ends)

  • There was a time that women’s protective laws required that sales counters in stores such as the old Woolworth’s Five and Ten (pre self service) required there be seats available for clerks at the counters. NY, PA and MA were among those that had had them, as I recall. Woolworth did have wooden folding seats built into the counters, somewhat along the lines of those that you you used to find in limousines in those days. They were affixed to the counters at either end of the space used by the clerks behind the counters. When the stores converted to self service, and the clerks no longer worked behind the counters, the folding seats went the way of the DoDo birds. Clerks seldom, if ever, used the seats as they were hard to fold down and very uncomfortable.
    The last ones I saw were way back in the mid 1950’s when stores were being converted to self service. Once in a great while, usually in organizing campaigns, the unions would find a willing inspector to cite a store for not having clerk seating, self service or not, so the union could make an issue out of the lack thereof, but even that petered out as the years rolled by and the requirement faded from memory.
    I am sure there are a few surviving clerks or associates from Woolworth, Kresge, Kress, or McCrory’s around who remember them.
    As for stools at checkouts, the associate is somewhat of an anti-theft tool, and has to remain in a position where they can observe carts to see if merchandise is concealed, etc., which they can’t do while seated, just for one reason they are not generally used.