17 October 2011 by

The right to sit at work

At first blush it seems a bit peculiar to have to pass legislation called "The Law on the Right to Sit in Employment" as Israel did in 20071. Especially because legislation usually addresses social injustices or exploitation, in this case that of workers.

The explanation for this legislation is less dramatic. It is common in shops and reception desks, for instance, that employees are required to spend their working hours in motion or in a standing position. This law in Israel gives those employees the right to sit when there is no need for them to stand or walk.

This law obliges the employer to "provide the employee in the place of employment with a seat for work" and outlaws "preventing an employee from sitting during work, unless the regular performance of the work does not enable sitting". Those employees are entitled to "proper chairs, which have back support in a sufficient number and in good condition, for sitting during breaks in work". A breach of the law attracts substantial compensation even if the employee has not suffered any injury.

South African legislation may not be as explicit, but certainly addresses the same issue.

The Code of Good Practice: Employment of People with Disabilities2 requires employers to accommodate employees with disabilities. The reasonable recommendation includes adapting or reorganising work stations and certainly would include in appropriate circumstances the right to sit in a proper chair.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act3 requires of every employer, where reasonably practicable, to provide an ergonomically sound seat for every employee whose work can be effectively performed while sitting. But it also protects those employees whose work is normally performed standing to be allowed to take advantage of any opportunity for sitting which may occur and for this purpose the employer shall provide seating facilities. But it goes further to require seats with backrests where the nature of work performed by the employees is such that seats with backrests can be used.

Employees who need to undress at work (for work purposes) must be provided with separate changing rooms for males and females and that employer shall provide adequate seating in the form of chairs or benches (no further specifications) in every changing room for the maximum number of employees that will be using the changing room at any one time4.

Where employees at the workplace are exposed to a hazardous chemical substance or biological agent or at the workplace come into physical contact with any known poisonous substance which may cause illness if taken orally or are exposed to dirt, dust, soot or similar filth, or handle or process untanned hides or skins, or unwashed wool or mohair (nothing to do with touching the warm garments of co-employees) are entitled to a separate dining room or eating place on the premises and the employer must provide tables and chairs in every dining room5. There is no mention of backrests in this context. Presumably, because they are not working when eating they don't require seats with backrests.

Every employer is also under a duty to provide sanitary facilities and apart from the employer's duty to make toilet paper available free of charge to employees, the employer shall provide every water closet pan designed to have a seat, with a seat6. So much for sitting in the workplace.

Faan Coetzee

1 International Law Office: Employment and Labour - Israel 5 October 2011.
2 Clause 6.9.
3 The Facilities Regulations, Regulation 8.
4 Facilities Regulations, Clause 4(2)(b).
5 Facilities Regulations, Clause 5(2).
6 Facilities Regulations, Clause 2(3).

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