Article: California Supreme Court Ruling on Suitable Seating: Legal and Ergonomics Perspectives

By Andrew J. Sommer, Esq. and Brandy Farris Ware, PhD, CPE, CSSBB

A recent California Supreme Court ruling provides crucial new guidance on how courts should weigh the evidence in so-called “suitable seating” cases, which employee litigants are bringing under the state requirement that employers provide seats to workers where the nature of their work “reasonably permits” the use of seating.

This is a key emerging issue for the Golden State’s business community, with a new cottage industry of lawsuits stemming from a state appellate court decision several years ago allowing “suitable seating” litigation under the California Private Attorney General Act (PAGA). The ruling encouraged new lawsuits because penalties as well as attorney’s fees and costs may be awarded under PAGA.

The California Supreme Court handed down an opinion April 4, 2016 in response to questions posed by two federal lawsuits, setting out new ground rules for what actually constitutes “suitable seating” under the law. Suitable SeatingEmployers with locations in California are well-advised to evaluate their work environments in light of these latest developments and consider the need for workplace safety experts to assess their individual circumstances. Not only can such evaluations, based on the new Supreme Court guidance, help employers head off litigation (or at least reach a favorable outcome if sued), they also can lower other risk factors and costs like worker’s compensation.

The Court adopted a fact-based approach that depends not on the entire job, but on the specific task(s) a worker is performing when the question of seating arises.  Accordingly, an expert ergonomics assessment of specific job tasks is critical for California employers. This can help determine Read More

OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program: A Severe Injustice

By Eric J. Conn, Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group

It has been five years since OSHA launched its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (“SVEP”), and two years since an agency White Paper trumpeted the program’s “strong start” and progress SVEP White Paper Imageon “key goals.”  A closer examination of OSHA’s SVEP data, however, reveals that:

  • SVEP disproportionately targets small employers;
  • SVEP cases are contested more often than other OSHA citations;
  • OSHA has trouble conducting follow-up inspections of small employers, especially those in the construction industry; and
  • The program fails to reach the recalcitrant employers it was designed to target.

The fact is, SVEP (which succeeded OSHA’s controversial Enhanced Enforcement Program) has shown troubling trends from the start. Not only do the criteria weigh against smaller employers, but the consequences for employers thus labeled are dire, placing them in a precarious position, even before OSHA has proven that the employer violated the law at all, let alone in such an egregious manner as to warrant inclusion in SVEP.

Repeat Overkill

SVEP was instituted to target “enforcement efforts on recalcitrant employers who demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees.” To that end, OSHA created four categories that would land an employer in SVEP. However, over the life of the program, one qualifying category has been invoked predominantly: an employer who has two or more willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate citations related to High Emphasis Hazards (NF-2WRF). Read More

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