You May Be Owed for This Workplace Health Hazard

A certain kind of office will do anything to keep employees from sitting all day. Standing desks, treadmill desks, on-site gyms, adult recess — they're all attempts to keep workers active and fulfilled. If sitting is the "new smoking" of long-term health effects, you may find your employer considering the very terms of your employment a liability. According to some lawyers, maybe they should.

Drexel University legal scholars Natalie Pedersen and Lisa Eisenberg have authored a forthcoming analysis of potential workers' compensation claims in sedentary environments. Many office jobs require long hours in front of a computer by their very nature, but the health consequences of those requirements may be dire. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat, and high cholesterol are just a few of the health risks elevated by long periods of sitting. Some studies have suggested correlations with heightened risk for cancer and cardiovascular issues.

Is your employer responsible for these conditions, like a mining company might be responsible for black lung disease? Maybe, say Pedersen and Eisenberg. If nothing else, introducing liability costs could spur companies to make their work environments better for their employees. This could go beyond employee wellness programs or discount gym memberships; in Denmark, for instance, workers have had the right to a standing desk by law since 2014. Other companies structure their office spaces to make things like coffee machines less convenient, so workers will have to stretch their legs a little more.

Of course, Pedersen and Eisenberg aren't the first to ask this question. Previous court cases seeking worker compensation for all-day sitting haven't gone very far. One big problem is proving that harm came about specifically because of workplace conditions, and that it was accidental. But there is a case to be made that improving conditions for sedentary workers can help keep health care costs down, in a way that isn't patronizing or invasive. Pedersen calls it simply recognizing "the full cost of employment."

Beyond top-down changes, there are lots of ways to keep yourself moving at the office. Maybe the easiest? The free website StandTimer lets you set a variety of alarms to notify you that it's break time, even for just a brief stretch or a stroll. A mere two minutes at a time can make a big difference.