The number of employees requesting standing desks at work is growing exponentially. With medical experts warning the public about the dangers of prolonged sitting, and many employees finding it increasingly uncomfortable and distracting to sit for hours on end, employers might find themselves on the receiving end of accommodation requests related to standing desks. But, do employers have to provide standing desks as a reasonable accommodation under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
The answer to this question is a resounding…it depends. Employers must consider a variety of factors when assessing an employee’s request for a standing desk (or a sit-and-stand workstation). Based on an approach that looks at all involved factors, also known as the totality of the circumstances approach, an employer’s obligation to provide an employee with a standing desk will vary on a case-by-case basis.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is any modification to:
- A hiring process
- A job
- The manner in which a job is performed
- A work environment to enable a person with a disability, who is qualified for a position, to perform the essential functions of that position.
Title I, § 12111(9)(A)-(B), of the ADA makes clear that a reasonable accommodation may include:
(A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and
(B) job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
Under the ADA, when an employee with a qualifying disability requests a work accommodation that affects their ability to perform the essential duties of their position (the reason why the job exists in the first place), an employer must grant the accommodation, so long as doing so doesn’t create an undue hardship or pose a direct threat (PDF) to the employer that a reasonable accommodate cannot address. The absence of undue hardships and/or direct threats make an employee’s accommodation request reasonable. If a disability is not obvious to an employer, they may ask for medical documentation from a health care provider to confirm the need for an accommodation.
How does the reasonable accommodations process work?
Employers must decide whether employees’ accommodation requests are reasonable on a case-by-case basis. Whenever an employee makes a request for a work-related accommodation for reasons that are not immediately obvious or otherwise already known by the employer, the employer must engage in an interactive dialogue with the employee about the request.
That is, the employee must disclose their disability to the employer and explain why their requested accommodation is needed for perform the essential duties of the job. The employer must:
- Explain the process for requesting an accommodation and make clear who will have access to this information. Both parties must agree to keep the arrangement confidential.
- Request medical documentation, if needed, to substantiate the employee’s need for the requested accommodation.
- Look into all feasible and effective options, and the best option.
An employer must consider several factors when deciding whether or how to grant an employee’s accommodation request. Though not an exhaustive list, key factors that an employer should consider include the cost to grant the accommodation, spatial availability (is there enough physical space in the workplace to grant the accommodation), whether similar requests have been granted in the past (employers must watch out for potential disparate treatment or discrimination), as well as the outcome of past requests.
Employers can also grant suitable alternative reasonable accommodations.
Are standing desks a reasonable accommodation under the ADA?
Whether a standing desk is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA depends on each individual scenario.
Several medical experts have reported that sitting for prolonged periods of time is bad for one’s health. Some evidence suggests that too much sitting can cause over 30 chronic conditions and diseases, including blood clots, chronic lower back pain (compression of the back), a loss of bone and muscle density (weakening the body), an increased risk for varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, an increased risk for heart disease, and a shorter life expectancy.
That said, employers are only required to grant accommodation requests for employees who have a known disability. If an employee does not have a disability covered by the ADA, substantiated through medical documentation or otherwise, an employer is not required un the Act to grant a request for a standing desk. Similarly, if an employee cannot adequately prove that a standing desk will assist with his or her specific disability, allowing him or her to better perform the essential duties of his or her job, an employer is not required to grant the accommodation request.
Next, the employer must next determine whether or not the accommodation request is reasonable. The ADA gives employers the right to choose the most effective, least expensive accommodation option available. For example, standing desks can range from a few hundred dollars to well over $5,000; treadmill desks can cost as much as $2,000; bike desks can cost more than $1,000.
The employer may also consider how much physical space a standing desk would occupy. Depending on the total area of an employer’s physical workspace, it may or may not have the room to bring in a standing desk. However, many standing desks don't occupy a larger footprint than a stationary one.
The ADA may require an employer to grant an employee’s standing desk request in one instance, while not requiring the same employer or another employer to grant the request in another instance.
Required or not, when employers and employees work together to promote a happy, healthy, safe, and inclusive work environment, the results tend to be very positive.