Monday, September 28, 2015

Sitting on the Job, Will Law Suits Follow?

Start talking to people about sitting too much at work and the stories come out. And, everyone has a story. Some are sad. Some are indignant. Some are angry. You hear the stories and you wonder, what is the human toll and, yes, what is the legal liability for businesses requiring hours of sitting time of employees?
The 50-year old computer engineer talks about his fellow computer workers, some of whom he’s known since they were all in their 20s. They’ve gained weight over the years as he gestures with his hands to illustrate the increase in size. But he strikes a sad note when he talks about those “who aren’t there any more”, two forty-somethings who have died young.
There’s the 40-year old experienced UN attorney told by the boss, I expect to see you in this department sitting at your desks working from 9 to 5 with 1/2 hour for lunch. She’s indignant.
Then there’s the sixty-something event planner whose company has a policy of “move around” but when it comes to encouraging movement, there is none. She’s retired early due to her health problems and she wonders how much a work life of sitting contributed. She’s angry.
Is health and safety in the workplace compromised by requirements that employees sit for hours at a time? Research shows the answer is yes.
The presence of smoking in the workplace was debated as a health issue and anti-smoking measures were implemented. Now on the job sitting has the real possibility of being a similar contentious and  litigious issue. Will measures be implemented to lessen businesses’ liability?
People sue for all sorts of reasons. The bottom line on the issue: a company may need an un-sitting policy to show a good faith effort to meet the risk to employees sitting on the job.

Issue #1

On the job sitting is being linked to lifestyle conditions such as heart attack, colon cancer, diabetes and musculoskeletal problems.When an employee becomes ill, will he or she blame the employer for hours spent desk bound on the job?
Research shows:
• The risk for heart attack increases by 54% for people who sit most of the day
• Sitting on the job for 10 or more years doubled the risk of colon cancer and increased the risk of rectal cancer by 44%.
  • Each 2 hour per day increment in sitting at work was associated with a 7% increase in risk for diabetes for women.
  • Sitting at work more than 95% of working time is associated with neck pain. For General Electric expenses for employees’ musculoskeletal concerns account for 20% of health care expenses for white collar workers.

Issue #2

Then there are corporate wellness programs where employers ask employees to take responsibility and be accountable for their health. Weight and metabolic biomarkers are frequently used tools to measure accountability. Sitting on the job may very well explain why an employee has a hard time meeting such criteria. The employee’s seated job is shown to contribute to abnormal metabolic biomarkers for blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and more. Will an employee sue, after becoming unhappy when being penalized or denied rewards for obtaining wellness goals?
The issue is looming. A survey of 2,900 companies showed 43% give discounts on health insurance premiums and 40% award cash or gifts to employees who participate in health screenings or healthy behaviors, such as exercise, weight-loss and quit-smoking programs. In the future 64% of larger companies plan to start using rewards and 46% plan to start penalties
Help your employees un-sit their work lives. It’s good for business.

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