Q One of our employees brought a large ball to work and is using it instead of her company-provided chair. She says it’s better for her back, but she doesn’t have a back problem. She states that she’s using it proactively. Do we have the right to require her to use our company-provided chairs? If she falls or rolls off her ball, are we liable for an injury?
A You don’t have to allow employees to bring in their own equipment, and you have the right to require your workers to use their company-provided chairs. However, you may have a duty to provide ergonomically correct seating under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).
Under the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause, employers are required to keep the workplace free from recognized serious hazards, including ergonomic hazards. OSHA has encouraged employers to take measures to reduce ergonomic hazards in the workplace, including implementing ergonomic programs and workplace assessments. To assist employers with this issue, OSHA has developed voluntary industry-specific guidelines for minimizing injuries (see www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/controlhazards.html).
It would be wise to conduct an ergonomic assessment of the employee’s workstation, including any seating. Through an ergonomic assessment, you can train your employees on proper computer and workstation height, and proper chair adjustments. Special equipment (e.g., ergonomic furniture) can be pricey; therefore, it’s a good idea to develop policies governing the provision of ergonomic equipment. Eligibility requirements may include documentation of an actual medical condition that would dictate the use of special equipment. You can also limit eligibility for company-provided ergonomic equipment to employees who perform specific types of tasks.
If the employee falls off her chair (whether it’s a stability ball or some type of employer-provided seat), you can be liable for any associated injuries if she was using the seat in the course of her employment. Therefore, it’s essential that she be trained on the proper way to sit on the ball while she’s working. You should also ensure that her workstation is compatible with the ball and adjusted as necessary.
Certainly, ergonomic equipment and process changes can increase employee engagement, reduce injuries and workers’ compensation claims, reduce absenteeism and turnover, and increase workplace productivity. In the end, it pays to look into an ergonomic program.
Jennifer Suich Frank is an attorney with Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C., practicing in the firm’s Rapid City, South Dakota, office. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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