When designing an office and choosing furniture for it, one may fail to consider some legal problems that could arise from their choices. There are many rules people simply may not be aware of. Other times, no explicit rules may exist for certain things, but a company could still find itself faced with a lawsuit for not addressing them. With that said, here are six things with regard to the office environment that could cause legal trouble for a company.
1. Failure to provide special chairs to obese employees.
In 2009, when the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act took effect, legal definitions of disability were extended — with the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.) — to include severe obesity. And in 2012, the E.E.O.C. actually settled with a nonprofit in a case regarding weight discrimination in the amount of $125,000. Then, in 2013, the American Medical Association declared obesity as a disease. While the decision did not have any legal power in itself, it can provide allegations of disability discrimination based on weight more credibility, making it easier to win lawsuits alleging weight discrimination.
Given the provided facts above, it’s easy to see how a company not providing an obese employee with a proper chair could strengthen a disability case based on weight. But regardless, even if disability laws did not provide protections for obese individuals, if an employee’s chair breaks resulting in an injury, the business could face liability issues for not providing a proper chair.
Considering the standard weight capacity for office chairs is 250 pounds, a clear issue would arise from giving an employee over that weight a regular office chair. With that said, to avoid running into legal problems, employers should provide employees over 250 pounds with big and tall chairs (find ours here).
2. Not offering ergonomic chairs.
When it comes to buying office chairs, weight capacity isn’t the only thing that businesses should take into account. Facilities managers and other professionals in charge of purchasing office furniture should avoid buying cheap chairs for the workplace, because they won’t stand the test of time, for one. However, cheap seating also typically doesn’t come with as many ergonomic features, which, believe it or not, a company’s chairs may need to avoid troubles with the law.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that employers must maintain workplaces free of serious hazards, including ergonomic hazards. It relates ergonomic hazards to those that may cause physical damage to a worker’s body. With that said, businesses should ensure the chairs they provide will support the health and comfort of their workers. Failure to do so could result in various penalties for OSHA violations.
Several of our chairs offer significant ergonomic features. Find them within our seating section.
3. Not providing a way for employees to stand while working.
This also ties back to OSHA requirements making it mandatory for employers to avoid ergonomic hazards. Because many studies have linked sitting to a wide array of health problems, some people, like Kirsi Bhasin, have suggested that we may see sitting lawsuits come about in the near future.
One way to avoid such a lawsuit is to provide sit-stand desks to employees. Some companies may not want to spend the money required to provide every employee with an adjustable height desk. In this case, they can just buy a few and allow workers to share them while still providing regular desks to each person. If an employer finds that the sit-stand desks are always being used, they can implement a system where people can reserve them for certain periods of time.
4. Supplying computer monitors without a way to adjust their height.
Yet another thing to consider to avoid ergonomic hazards and thus ensure compliance with OSHA is how computer monitors are positioned. Neck pain, back problems, etc. caused by the incorrect height of computer monitors. OSHA actually provides recommendations regarding the positioning of computers screens on its website.
To avoid problems relating to positioning of monitors, businesses can provide employees monitor arms that allow them to adjust the height of their computer monitors. Find the ones we offer on our accessories page.
5. Placing office furniture too close together in a way that restricts movement of a handicapped employee.
In general, it’s a good idea for businesses to have a fair amount of space between desks. The space should allow for uninhibited movement around the office and to ensure no one bumps into each other when they leave and return to their desks. However, it is especially important to ensure enough space exists to allow for people in wheelchairs and the like to make their way around.
6. Setting up electronic features for furniture without a licensed electrician.
When companies set up cubicles, benching, or other systems with multiple stations in their offices, best practice dictates that they should run their electricity through multiple circuits. This prevents overloading any one circuit. However, in order to run electricity to more than one circuit, the electricity needs to be hardwired to the building.
Now, regular people can’t hardwire electricity to a building. They need to hire licensed electricians to do this. If a company hardwires electricity themselves and doesn’t hire a licensed electrician, insurance will not cover them in the event of, say, an electrical fire. Legally, the insurance company will not have to cover a business in this situation.
With these things in mind, businesses can help protect themselves against potential lawsuits and other legal issues. If there are any potential legal problems we missed, please let us know what they are in the comments!