[a]ll working employees . . . suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.”
When employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area and employees shall be permitted to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.”
(1) Does the phrase “nature of the work” refer to individual tasks performed throughout the workday, or to the entire range of an employee's duties performed during a given day or shift?
(2) When determining whether the nature of the work “reasonably permits” use of a seat, what factors should courts consider? Specifically, are an employer‟s business judgment, the physical layout of the workplace, and the characteristics of a specific employee relevant factors?
(3) If an employer has not provided any seat, must a plaintiff prove a suitable seat is available in order to show the employer has violated the seating provision?.
had duties associated with their teller stations, including accepting deposits, cashing checks, and handling withdrawals. They also had duties away from their stations, such as escorting customers to safety deposit boxes, working at the drive-up teller window, and making sure that automatic teller machines were working properly. These duties varied depending on the shift or branch location and whether the employee was a lead or regular teller.
courts must examine subsets of an employee's total tasks and duties by location, such as those performed at a cash register or a teller window, and consider whether it is feasible for an employee to perform each set of location-specific tasks while seated. Courts should look to the actual tasks performed, or reasonably expected to be performed, not to abstract characterizations, job titles, or descriptions that may or may not reflect the actual work performed. Tasks performed with more frequency or for a longer duration would be more germane to the seating inquiry than tasks performed briefly or infrequently.
* * *
An employee may be entitled to a seat to perform tasks at a particular location even if his job duties include other standing tasks, so long as provision of a seat would not interfere with performance of standing tasks.
if an employee‟s actual tasks at a discrete location make seated work feasible, he is entitled to a seat under section 14(A) while working there. However, if other job duties take him to a different location where he must perform standing tasks, he would be entitled to a seat under 14(B) during “lulls in operation.” Although the seating inquiries under sections 14(A) and 14(B) are analytically different, the seat provided to an employee under section 14(A) may satisfy the requirement of section 14(B) to the extent it is within “reasonable proximity to the work area” (§14(B)) and is available when work is not required to be performed.
Whether an employee is entitled to a seat under section 14(A) depends on the totality of the circumstances. Analysis begins with an examination of the relevant tasks, grouped by location, and whether the tasks can be performed while seated or require standing. This task-based assessment is also balanced against considerations of feasibility. Feasibility may include, for example, an assessment of whether providing a seat would unduly interfere with other standing tasks, whether the frequency of transition from sitting to standing may interfere with the work, or whether seated work would impact the quality and effectiveness of overall job performance. This inquiry is not a rigid quantitative analysis based merely upon the counting of tasks or amount of time spent performing them. Instead, it involves a qualitative assessment of all relevant factors.
There is no question that an employer may define the duties to be performed by an employee. As the DLSE observes, “[a]n employer's business judgment largely determines the nature of work of the employee both generally, as well as duties or tasks specifically.” Contrary to plaintiffs‟ suggestion, such duties are not limited to physical tasks. Providing a certain level of customer service is an objective job duty that an employer may reasonably expect. An employee's duty to provide a certain level of customer service should be assessed, along with other relevant tasks and obligations, in determining whether the nature of the work reasonably permits use of a seat at a particular location. Providing “customer service” is an objective job function comprised of different tasks, e.g., assisting customers with purchases, answering questions, locating inventory, creating a welcoming environment, etc.
However, “business judgment” in this sense does not encompass an employer's mere preference that particular tasks be performed while standing. The standard is an objective one. An employer's evaluation of the quality and effectiveness of overall job performance is among the factors that can be objectively considered in light of the overall aims of the regulatory scheme, which has always been employee protection. An objective inquiry properly takes into account an employer's reasonable expectations regarding customer service and acknowledges an employer's role in setting job duties. It also takes into account any evidence submitted by the parties bearing on an employer's view that an objective job duty is best accomplished standing. It protects employees because it does not allow employers unlimited ability to arbitrarily define certain tasks as “standing” ones, undermining the protective purpose of the wage order.
just as an employer's mere preference for standing cannot constitute a relevant “business judgment” requiring deference, an employer may not unreasonably design a workspace to further a preference for standing or to deny a seat that might otherwise be reasonably suited for the contemplated tasks. As the DLSE observes in its amicus curiae brief, the seating requirement is “a workplace condition aimed at the welfare of employees performing work and not an „engineering‟ or technically-based standard,” and “[w]hile facts regarding technical aspects of workplace configurations or studies may be relevant to determining whether suitable seating can be provided, the application of the standard is essentially one of overall reasonableness applied to the particular facts.” As the DLSE suggests, reasonableness remains the ultimate touchstone. Evidence that seats are used to perform similar tasks under other, similar workspace conditions may be relevant to the inquiry, and to whether the physical layout may reasonably be changed to accommodate a seat. As the DLSE states, reasonableness must be based on the particular circumstances.
In sum, this case will be difficult to interpret for employers looking for a bright line rule on whether seating should be provided in work situations when seating is not necessarily an obvious part of a job. It remains to be seen whether there will be more litigation in this issue, or whether employers will reconfigure businesses to permit more seating in California to avoid these lawsuits.