Sitting for excessive amounts of time has been linked to health problems ranging from neck strain to heart disease. It may even increase the risk of death from diseases like cancer. That’s bad news for office workers, many of whom spend the bulk of their workdays slumped in front of a monitor.
Standing desks offer a way for workers to inject some activity into their working hours. In 2014, Denmark became the first country in the world to legally require companies to provide standing desks to workers. So far, the perk is strictly optional in the U.S. But that could change if it ever became more expensive to withhold the benefit.
And how could that happen? Two words: workers’ comp.
A forthcoming paper, “If sitting is the new smoking, should employers be held liable?,” to be published in the Lewis and Clark Law Review, analyzes workers’ comp claims stemming from sedentary work environments. The authors argue that companies that do not provide accommodations like standing desks or activity programs should be held accountable.
“As our workplaces have become more sedentary, our risk of adverse health outcomes has increased,” says author Natalie Pedersen, JD, an assistant professor of legal studies at Drexel University, in an interview at ScienceDaily. “Increases in technology have only exacerbated an already dire situation leaving a large portion of the American workforce sitting for most of the workday.”
Could Companies Really Be Forced to Pay Up?
Short answer: maybe, but it won’t be easy.
“Establishing that the workplace was a cause of the harm can be a minefield,” writes Niki Gianakaris of Drexel University. “Sedentary workplace claims were rejected in most of the unusual exertion or special rules jurisdictions, according to the authors, but there have been cases that show courts may be willing to find that claimants have satisfied the requirements.”
Pedersen and her co-author, Lisa Eisenberg, JD, say that the cost of sedentary work environments to health insurance markets should be examined. Pedersen notes that forcing employers to bear the costs associated with sitting-related ailments would “incentivize employers to change their workplace design as necessary in order to avoid liability.”
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