Walmart Inc. has agreed to pay $65 million to approximately 100,000 California cashiers – current and former – who allege the company broke the law in denying them a place to sit during work hours. Specifically at issue was Wage Order 7-2001 § 14(A), which specifically states all workers must be provided with suitable seats when the nature of their work reasonably allows it. The provision further states that if workers aren’t engaged in active duties of their employment and the nature of the work generally requires standing, the company is required to provide seats in reasonable proximity to the work space that workers can access whenever it doesn’t interfere with their work duties.
In Brown v. Walmart Inc., before the U.S. District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division, it took nine years for a resolution that in the end, will not require the company to admit it did anything wrong. Still, it will have to pay the cashiers to whom it denied seating their share of the employment lawsuit settlement.
California’s Unique System Allowing Employee Lawsuits
This was one of the first California employment law cases filed under the state’s unique Private Attorney General Act, a statute that allows employees to sue their employers – on behalf of the state – and pocket 25 percent of any money that is won in a verdict or settlement. It’s similar to a Qui Tam lawsuit in that way, except instead of whistleblowers, it’s employees who have been impacted by harmful employment practices. Furthermore, it allows those directly affected to be the ones who collect the damages (partially).
California Cashier Seating Mandated
The employee seating provision in California law was first adopted just after the turn of the 20th Century – before women had the right to vote – and it pertained solely to women working in retail. Since 1911, it’s been altered and expanded a number of times.
So why wouldn’t Walmart have simply given its cashiers chairs? The company alleged that to do so would have presented a risk to safety, and might possibly make workers less productive. The nature of cashiers’ work, they said, wouldn’t have allowed a seat because employees frequently were required to scan sizable merchandise, stretch to see what was at the bottom of customers’ carts, bag the merchandise and at times do work away from their register station.
Workers with disabilities or medical conditions were allowed stools, but according to policy, it was only at the store managers’ discretion.
Walmart isn’t the only large employer to have faced such allegations. For example, Bank of America had to fork over $15 million to settle a teller seating lawsuit. Kmart, Home Depot Inc, JPMorgan Chase, AT&T Corp and CVS Health Corp have all been defendants in such claims.
Why Cashier Seating Matters
It’s not simply that employees should be treated with dignity and respect (which means giving them the option to sit when there is no reason they should be on their feet for an 8-to-12-our shift), it’s also a smart thing to do from a worker health position.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed a host of possible injuries workers might sustain if they are forced to stand for prolonged periods at work. In any role where a worker is required to stand more than four hours daily, researchers have found them at risk for increased rates of:
- Muscle pain
- Leg swelling
- Physical fatigue
- Lower back pain
- Body part discomfort
Those who stand primarily in one place for extended periods may be at higher risk of cardiovascular problems, low back pain and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Prolonged Standing at Work, Dec. 9, 2018, CDC
More Blog Entries:
Wage Theft Alleged by Hundreds of Amazon Delivery Drivers, Sept. 13, 2018, Orange County Employment Lawyer Blog