Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Expert Opinion / Workplace Issues: Inability to sit for long periods may be disability

Workplace Issues: Inability to sit for long periods may be disability

Lindy Korn

Lindy Korn

What happens when an employee suffers back injuries and cannot sit all day?

Do they have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The case is Parada v. Banco Industrial De Venezuela, C.A., decided on March 25, (12-3525-cv). The plaintiff fell on a sidewalk and hurt her back. She requested an ergonomic chair at work. That chair never arrived. Parada worked as a Senior Letters of Credit Specialist, a largely sedentary job that involved ensuring that certain documents complied with various standards and issuing credit letters. Parada regularly worked more than 40 hours per week. Her injury prompted her to stand for portions of the workday and to ice her neck and back.

After diagnosing Parada with lumbosacral and cervical sprains and several spinal disc herniations, Parada’s doctors directed her to avoid sitting for prolonged periods.

Soon thereafter, Parada requested an ergonomic chair from a bank manager. There can be no dispute that an ergonomic chair might have enabled Parada to remain at work, since she had borrowed a co-employee’s ergonomic chair for a day and was able to complete her assignments without pain. In October 2007, having received no response, Parada asked again for a chair and even offered to pay for it, to no avail. In late October or early November 2007, Parada complained to the bank that she could not continue working without a better chair.

Finally, the operations manager promised to respond when he returned from a business trip, but advised Parada to speak with another bank supervisor in the interim. Parada then complained to the compliance officer that the bank had failed to accommodate her, and then announced plans to take a leave of absence without a specific return date.

Eventually, she was unable to come back to work because of her back, so she was fired for job abandonment. She then sued under the ADA.

This case is analyzed under the pre-dated ADA amendments, since the new standards for what constitutes a disability did not take effect until 2009.

The Second Circuit says here that “the inability to sit for even a prolonged period of time may be a disability depending on the totality of the circumstances.” The issue here is whether the plaintiff’s inability to sit for long periods of time equals a substantial limitation of a major life activity. There is no per se rule that the inability to sit for long periods of time is a substantial limitation only if the plaintiff cannot sit at all.

The ADA does not like bright line rules. The Court of Appeals sends this case back to the district court to see if there is a factual issue for the jury about whether plaintiff’s inability to sit for long periods of time equals a substantial limitation of a major life activity.

Requests for ergonomic chairs should not be ignored!

Lindy Korn practices at The Law Office of Lindy Korn and can be reached at lkk75atty@aol.com or (716) 856-KORN (5676).