From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant/Legislative Specialist
After research showed that prolonged sitting may be linked to multiple health problems, employers started looking for ways to reduce the amount of time their employees spend sitting at their desks. One option adopted by many employers is providing workstations that move up and down, enabling employees to quickly alternate between sitting and standing. For this option, employers can purchase complete desks that raise and lower electronically or manually or desktop height adjustable equipment that can be placed on existing office furniture. There are also height adjustable workstations for industrial settings.
Some employers provide sit/stand workstations to any employee who asks for one, while others only provide the workstations for employees who already have medical problems that might be improved by reducing sitting. Both approaches raise questions about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) might apply. The following are some of those questions:
If we only give sit/stand workstations to employees who need them for medical reasons, can we require medical documentation?
Yes, a request for furniture that is not typically provided to employees is a request for an accommodation under the ADA. When an employee requests an accommodation and the disability and need for accommodation are not obvious, the employer can request a limited amount of medical documentation to substantiate that the employee has an ADA disability and needs the requested accommodation.
What if the employee or medical provider indicates that a specific desk is needed?
An employer ultimately determines what accommodation will be provided and has the right to choose among effective options. As part of the interactive process the employer can suggest other types of adjustable height workstations or even other options besides workstations to find out what might be effective. If there are multiple options being considered, the employer may choose the less expensive option, again providing that the option is effective.
What other options are there besides providing sit/stand workstations?
It depends. For some employees, having the ability to alternate between sitting and standing with an adjustable height workstation may be the only effective accommodation. Other employees might benefit from an ergonomic or adjustable office chair or additional support when sitting, which could be provided by adding a lumbar cushion or seat cushion. An ergonomic assessment could be performed to ensure that the chair being used is placing the employee in an ergonomically correct seating position. Other accommodations for sitting and standing could be explored, depending on the need of the employee, for example an employee might benefit from taking periodic breaks to get up and walk around.
If we give sit/stand workstations to any employee who requests one, can we require employees who need the workstation for medical reasons to go through the interactive process to document it as an accommodation?
Generally the answer is no, you cannot make employees with disabilities jump through extra hoops to get a benefit of employment that you just give to employees without disabilities. See the next question for an exception.
What if an employee with a disability needs a different type of workstation other than the sit/stand workstation we give to all employees upon request?
In this situation, the employer can probably have the employee go through the interactive process and treat the request as an accommodation request because the employee is asking for something outside what is given to other employees. The employer can ask questions or seek documentation to understand why the employer’s chosen workstation would not be effective in meeting the employee’s disability-related needs.
What if we start out giving sit/stand workstations to any employee who asks, but later find out we cannot meet the demand for the workstations? Can we then opt to require medical documentation before providing the workstations?
Yes, it is okay to change your policy and decide to only give sit/stand workstations to employees with disabilities as accommodations under the ADA. When changing a policy, it might be beneficial to educate employees in general about the change and remind them how to request accommodations related to alternate workstations.