Workplace Seating Requirements for Employees under California Law

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As an employee, you spend a significant amount of your day at work, and your employer is obligated to provide you with suitable working conditions, which include seating. California law mandates that employers must provide suitable seating for their employees during work, and if the nature of the work requires standing, then employers must place seats in proximity to their employees’ work areas. However, there are some exceptions, and this article will explore those distinctions and how courts have interpreted California’s seating requirement.

Legal Background

The Labor Code and a series of wage orders issued by California’s Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) provide for California’s wage and hour laws, including minimum requirements that employers must follow concerning wages, hours, and working conditions under the wage orders. 

Initially, the seating requirements applied only to women and children in 1919, but the law has since been amended to apply to all employees regardless of age or gender.

Identical Seating Requirement for Agricultural Occupations Under Wage Order 14

Under California’s Wage Order 14, all working employees shall be provided with seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats. If employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, then an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area. Also, employees shall be allowed to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.

Seating Requirement for Certain On-Site Occupations Under Wage Order 16

For occupations in the construction, drilling, logging, and mining industries, when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats, suitable seats shall be provided for employees working on or at a machine.

Suitable Seating During Work Activities

Employers must permit employees to sit when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats. However, there are exceptions, and courts lack clear tests to decide whether the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats. Seeking counsel from top Los Angeles employment lawyers to understand exceptions.

Defining the “Nature of the Work”

The “nature of the work” is defined by the California Supreme Court as the tasks that the employee is performing at any particular time. If the tasks require standing, then an employer is not required to provide seating.

When Work “Reasonably Permits” Seating

Courts consider the totality of the circumstances to determine reasonableness, including the nature of the tasks and the feasibility of seating. For example, if the tasks require an employee to move around frequently, then an employer may not be required to provide seating. 

However, if the employee is performing a task that does not require movement, such as working at a checkout stand, then an employer may be required to provide seating.

Seating Required During Lulls in Operation

As an employee in California, you may be entitled to suitable seating during lulls in operations. Lulls in operation refer to a period where the nature of work permits the use of seating and employees are not engaged in active duties. Examples of such lulls in operation include waiting for customers or clients, waiting for the next assignment, or during breaks.

Under California law, employers must provide suitable seats during lulls in operations. This requirement is stipulated under the wage orders and applies to all employees in California. The IWC has made it clear that employees are entitled to seating even if they spend only a few minutes in a particular area.

However, there are a few exceptions to the requirement of suitable seating during lulls in operation. The exceptions apply in cases where seating would interfere with the performance of an employee’s duties or when there are legitimate business reasons for not providing seating. 

One such example is in the retail industry, where employees need to move around the store and interact with customers. In such cases, providing seating may not be feasible, and the employee may not be entitled to suitable seating.

Another example is where there are safety concerns that would arise if the employee is seated. For instance, if the employee is operating heavy machinery that requires them to be in an upright position for safety reasons, the employer may be exempt from providing suitable seating.

What Kind of Seating Is “Suitable”?

In California, “suitable seating” refers to a chair or bench that is designed to allow employees to sit comfortably and perform their duties. The seating must be reasonably designed for the work being performed, and it should be safe and convenient for the employee to use.

The employer must provide seating that is appropriate for the employee’s height and weight. For instance, a bench that is too high or too low may cause discomfort or even injuries, and it may not be considered suitable seating.

Penalties for Violating California’s Suitable Seating Law

If an employer fails to provide suitable seating as required by law, they may be liable for civil penalties. California’s Labor Code and Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (called “PAGA”) allow employees to bring a lawsuit against their employer for violating suitable seating requirements.

Labor Code section 1198 provides that an employer who violates California’s seating requirements may be subject to civil penalties. For a first violation, the penalty is $100 per employee. For subsequent violations, the penalty is $200 per employee and 25% of the amount unlawfully withheld.

As an employee in California, you are entitled to suitable seating during work. California’s seating requirements apply to all employees, regardless of age or gender. If your employer has violated California’s seating requirements, you want to consult with employment lawyers.

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