Ask An Advisor: Do We Have to Buy a Chair for a Remote Worker We Just Hired?

With the rise of employees working remotely, we have experienced more calls lately on whether an employer is required to purchase an office chair or other office equipment for a new hire who works remotely.

Onboarding a new hire has the potential to set the stage for a positive, productive relationship, while a negative experience can affect an employee’s engagement; productivity; and ultimately, their decision to stay with an organization. As more people are working remotely, this may be a good time to pause and consider what office equipment and supplies should be provided as part of the onboarding experience for remote staff.

A workstation for an employee in the office often includes a chair, laptop, monitor and keyboard, mouse, and possibly wrist rests and footrests. Remote workers have the same needs as those in the workplace when it comes to their workstation. Most of us likely know someone who has worked at their dining room table or kitchen counter—however, sitting on a dining chair or barstool falls quite short of providing the adequate back and arm support that often comes with a good desk chair. Even though a remote worker is not physically in the workplace, OSHA still requires an employer to provide a safe work environment, and this includes office equipment, such as a chair and other furniture.

From a legal standpoint, does an employer have to purchase a chair? The answer is maybe. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may come into play, as it requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability unless the accommodation creates an undue hardship. But what if the employee does not have a disability under the ADA? If employees must purchase their own chairs, state laws may have reimbursement laws which could require an employer to reimburse employees for any work-related expense. Other states may have less restrictive rules or may follow the Fair Labor Standards Act which does not address reimbursement of expenses. Employers should take the time to establish a remote-work policy that addresses the reimbursement of business-related expenses.

Employers should also consider reviewing a remote worker’s “office” setup and discuss any equipment needs during the onboarding process. Setting up a video conference with HR or a safety officer is a great way to provide an ergonomic assessment of the workspace and ensure an employee receives what is needed for an ergonomic and safe workplace. Whether working in the office or remotely, establishing an internal policy regarding what ergonomic equipment may or may not require a medical certification can also be a helpful guide when questions arise. For example, what if an employee requests a more expensive stand-up desk or some other special equipment? Will these be approved only for ADA-related disabilities, or will any request be approved?

If you want to know more about the ADA, ergonomic furniture, or remote-work policies, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!

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