By SHLC on April 5, 2016 in Legal Update

At long last, the California Supreme Court issued a decision clarifying the state’s “suitable seating” requirement. California has long required employees be provided suitable seats “when the nature of the work reasonably permits” their use. However, employers and plaintiff-employees disagreed on how to interpret this standard. An absence of authority on the subject prompted the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to certify the issue to the California Supreme Court, which in turn requested an opinion from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) on the matter. The California Supreme Court has ruled largely in favor of plaintiff-employees and adopted much of the DLSE’s pro-employee position.

Prior SHLC Blogs on this topic can be found here: https://suttonhague.com/california-employers-in-the-hot-seat-california-supreme-court-seeks-labor-commissioner-input-on-suitable-seating-requirement-for-workers/ & https://suttonhague.com/california-alert-labor-commissioner-gives-guidance-on-suitable-seating-requirement/.

Standard for Employee Seating

The Court held that the “nature of the work” is a task-specific standard, rejecting the employer’s “holistic” approach that looked at the work as a whole. “If the tasks being performed at a given location reasonably permit sitting, and provision of a seat would not interfere with performance of any other tasks that may require standing, a seat is called for.” The Court also held that “[w]hether the nature of the work reasonably permits sitting is a question to be determined objectively based on the totality of the circumstances” and may include the employer’s business judgment and the physical layout of the workplace, but not the characteristics of the individual employee. Finally, the Court held that employers who do not provide suitable seating have the burden to prove that no such seating is available.

The Court did emphasize that the nature of the work must reasonably permit the use of a seat. This will take into account tasks actually performed at a particular location and “consider the relationship between the standing and sitting tasks done there, the frequency and duration of those tasks with respect to each other, and whether sitting, or the frequency of transition between sitting and standing, would unreasonably interfere with other standing tasks or the quality and effectiveness of overall job performance.”

Advice to Employers

  • Seats should be provided if a particular task can be performed while seated and without creating a safety hazard.
  • Employers must also provide seats “in reasonable proximity” to the work area for employees to use during “lulls in operation.” (Wage Orders, Section 14(B))
  • If seating is denied based on safety concerns (i.e., a trip hazard), have a qualified safety consultant provide a written opinion as to the safety issue created.

The cases before the Court were Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. and Henderson v. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA.