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With health experts persistent warnings about the dangers of prolonged sitting, the popularity of height-adjustable desks is growing exponentially.
But do employers have to provide a standing office desk?
Aside from Denmark, where it is mandatory to offer employees standing desks at work, most countries do not have legislation obliging employers to provide ergonomic height-adjustable desks.
But, failure to do so can become an occupational hazard and neglecting an employee request for one may land an employer in a court of law.
In this article, we unpack the employer’s obligation with regards to standing desks.
The general duty of any employer is to provide employees with a workplace that is free from recognised hazards that cause serious physical harm or death and specific guidelines are applicable for different scopes of work.
In Australia, the Work, Health and Safety Act (WHS) have set out the guidelines for ensuring the health and safety of workers so far as is reasonably practical.
Workstations are included in The Codes of Practice under The Act. This includes the consideration of whether work is better carried out in a standing or seated position or a combination of both.
Further recommendations include:
“Reasonable accommodation” means change within a workplace that enables an employee to effectively do his or her job despite having a disability.
Employers are obliged to accommodate employees that qualify as disabled unless it causes the employer “undue hardship.” In other words, jeopardise the business or functioning thereof.
Reasonable accommodation applies to any employee with a valid request.
Let’s use a couple of examples to illustrate what we mean by this.
An employee feels that they need to lose some weight and would benefit from an ergonomic height adjustable desk.
A request like this without a supported medical recommendation is unlikely to be considered a reasonable accommodation.
An employee with a qualifying disability, corroborated through medical certification, requests a sit-stand desk. Without one the job they are employed to do is compromised so, an employer is obliged to accommodate them.
If it is not adequately proven that having a sit to stand desk will benefit the employee in carrying out the essential duties of the job, the employer is not under obligation to provide one.
If an employee approaches an employer for accommodation with a risk factor that could potentially cause a serious health risk, the line becomes a little blurred.
An increasingly common question is how to get a standing desk at work.
If the request has been made to address a specific health problem, such as a back injury, the employer is compelled to enter into an interactive course of action with the employee.
This may include requesting additional information from the health provider and exactly what accommodations are necessary to improve the employee’s job function.
In the absence of a chronic illness or disability that justifies an adjustable desk, a request for a standing pc desk would depend on several factors.
Undue hardship refers to a situation in which the accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense.
The link between standing desks and productivity may be a good starting point to convince your manager of the benefits of an adjustable ergonomic desk.
The more hours of screen time that a job requires the more justifiable a request for an adjustable desk becomes.
A standing reading desk for book editors or a standing desk for video editors, graphic designers or auditors will be better used than by a salesperson who spends time out of the office or walking around a showroom floor.
An employer's obligation to provide a safe workspace does not only apply to an onsite work environment but according to the WHS code of practice, extends to mobile and remote workers.
Before the Covid 19 Pandemic, Australians working remotely were subject to stringent WHS requirements, often involving a consultant doing a home visit to ensure a suitable work area.
With millions of workers housebound and covid protocols in place, home checks have become uncommon however this does not negate the responsibility of the employer to ensure a safe workspace for employees.
Not all workers have good knowledge of what makes up a safe workstation and the more time spent in an ergonomically poor environment, the higher the chance of a work-related back or neck injury.
Employers should issue guidelines to employees on how to make their remote workstations as safe as possible.
A sedentary lifestyle and prolonged sitting are blamed for a multitude of ailments. These include
There is no debate that modern-day humans need to move more. And an adjustable writing desk could be the answer for many.
An employer is not obligated to fulfil a request for a standing desk unless the country they work in has legislation in place obliging them to do so.
A reasonable request for disability, illness or injury must be considered and negotiated with the requesting employee.
With increasing awareness of the poor health outcomes associated with prolonged sitting, employees will continue to request modified workstations.
The standing desk trend is not likely to disappear soon and it may be prudent for employers to start making changes to traditional workplaces before it becomes obligatory.