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Requests for standing desks: How HR can exercise its options

Chances are pretty good that if you work in human resources, you’ve been approached by an employee requesting a standing desk. In fact, a 2017 Society for Human Resource Management report noted standing desks as one of the fastest-growing benefit requests from today’s worker.

You easily can find articles boasting about the health benefits of standing desks, as well as ones arguing that standing all day comes with its own slew of health risks.

Regardless, the question that matters most for many HR professionals is: When an employee asks the company to spend several hundred dollars for a standing desk or a desk converter, are you required to comply?

The short answer: No.

However, if the request is due to medical necessity or initiated by a doctor’s note, it’s a good idea to treat it as an accommodation request, and process it in accordance with your current Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) policy.

Companies with 15 or more employees are required to offer reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, unless doing so would pose undue hardship on the organization. Therefore, if a doctor determines that the employee has a disability, and the standing desk would accommodate his or her needs, your company will need to engage the employee to determine how you will move forward.

Crucial or just convenient?

When an employee first issues such a request, it’s important not to jump to the conclusion that the request is because of a medical condition. Today’s worker is more aware of health and wellness than previous generations, and may be asking after researching the positive impacts of standing more often. Or it could be because the employee saw a co-worker using one, thinks it looks cool, and wants to try one out, too.

For “convenience requests” like these, your company may want to create a policy on employees bringing their own standing desks or converters to work. For example, if an employee is willing to purchase the equipment from an approved provider, this can satisfy his or her request while your company still determines which products can or cannot be used. You even may consider subsidizing the purchase or allowing employees to repay the company through payroll deductions.

However, if an employee indicates that the request is due to a medical condition, or brings a doctor’s note stating the need for such a desk or desk equipment, put your existing ADA process into practice. Employers can request additional medical information and/or documentation if the disability is not obvious.

With the documentation, employers can engage in the interactive process to better understand the employee’s needs and to discuss accommodation options, which may include different desk equipment. If your organization determines that a standing desk or converter is a reasonable accommodation, you can purchase and install the device.

Interactive process

Remember, the interactive process is just that: interactive. Employers may choose to suggest reasonable alternate accommodations that address the employee’s needs, like taking more frequent breaks, standing to stretch every so often or taking a two-minute walk a few times per hour. Or you could conduct an ergonomic assessment to determine if he or she is using available equipment correctly.

Ultimately, your organization is responsible for selecting the accommodation that best works to meet the employee’s needs while allowing him or her to continue to perform the essential functions of the job.

Standing desks likely are no passing fad, so HR professionals should proactively develop a detailed process to handle requests. Additionally, doing so better prepares you for the inevitable requests for a yoga ball chair or treadmill workstation. Having a solid, well-documented policy for ADA accommodation and convenience requests will allow your organization to be consistent and unbiased when fielding requests for atypical office equipment.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like The Value of Promoting and Prioritizing Employee Mental Health

About the author
Author picture, Tiffany Gamblin
Tiffany Gamblin
Tiffany Gamblin is an HR Manager at Paycom. Since joining the organization in 2016, she has helped develop and implement processes and strategies across the HR department, including benefits, employee relations, compliance and onboarding. Gamblin holds a Senior Certified Professional designation from the Society for Human Resource Management, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in business from University of Central Oklahoma. She brings more than 10 years of HR experience in a generalist capacity to the team.