Post COVID in the Workplace Series: Ouch! I Just Fell Off My Treadmill Desk in the Office. Who is Responsible for My Injuries?

a group of people in an office - Ouch! I just fell off my treadmill desk in the office. Who is responsible for my injuries?

As many office workers return to the workplace post-COVID, new questions arise that we did not ponder before the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Many remote workers picked up new working habits and even companions while working remotely. Now, both returning workers and employers are faced with perplexing questions that need to be answered.  This series will attempt to answer these questions and maybe even make you laugh a little . . .

Ouch! I just fell off my treadmill desk in the office.  Who is responsible for my injuries?

Many if not most office workers – people whose jobs take place primarily in offices or cubes sitting at a desk in front of a computer or on the phone – worked remotely from their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.   Now, with government orders that required workers who could work remotely to work remotely being lifted (Remote Work During Pandemic ), office workers will be coming back to their “offices.”

During the remote work adventure, many office workers picked up some unusual working styles.   In Minneapolis, the Walking Worker, Walking Worker,  a 51 year old mom walked 17 to 20 miles per day on her treadmill set up under her standing desk.   Prior to COVID, workplaces were already trending toward standing desks and other healthy options while working a sedentary jobs  (Truth Behind Standing Desks ) and using stability balls as chairs (Rethinking Stability Balls) to strengthen core muscles.  But as workplaces contend with the Walking Workers of the world returning to the office or just those workers who packed on the pounds while working from their couch who want to be the in-office walking worker and stability ball balancer, we do need to consider what is safe and appropriate for the workplace.

Must an Employer provide items like desk treadmills, standing desks and stability balls?

The answer to this question is generally no. An employer needs to provide its workers a safe and appropriate place to work depending on the type of work being done.  Ergonomics, including office ergonomics – the process of designing a job to the fit the worker so the work is safter and more efficient, is not new. While OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, does not provide specific standards for computer workstations, it does provide employers with some resources to consider related to computer work stations. Many employers, as they build out new or refit old workspaces are providing more ergonomic solutions.  Providing ergonomic resources is considered a perk and a way to establish and create a good and productive working environment; ergonomic solutions are not required.

So, since ergonomic solutions are not required to be provided by an employer, items like treadmill desks, stability balls and standing desks are not required either.

Can an Employee Bring in their own treadmill desk?

If the walking worker wants to take her treadmill back to the office with her or if the would-be walking worker – like me – wants to start walking while working in the office, what is an employer to do?  Many employers have grabbled with the question when it comes to devices – millennial workers and their devices created the need for BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) Polices (What Employers Need to Know about BYOD policies).  We can extrapolate from there to the concept of a bring your own chair replacement policy.  Put most simply, employers just need to think through the specific needs and configurations of their workplace to determine if it is a good idea to let workers bring in their own equipment.

What happens if someone falls off their office treadmill desk and hurts themselves?

So, to be completely honest, I just rolled my small treadmill from home – which became a clothes holder during my COVID work-at-home experience – into my office.  My office manager looked at me sideways and told me I had better not fall off.   And thus, a blog post is born.

Whenever a worker is injured while on the job either at the workplace or traveling while working, workman’s comp is implicated.  Generally, all employers are required to carry workers compensation insurance, which covers various expenses incurred when a person is injured while at work.   (What Does Workers’ Comp Cover?).

So, as far as we can tell, if a worker or employee takes a header while working at the treadmill desk, workers compensation would probably kick in.

Its not clear, however, what will happen to my pride if I fall off my treadmill desk so I am going to wear my bicycle helmet (that I brought with me from home), just in case.

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Kimberly Lowe

Kimberly Lowe

For over 20 years I have lawyered from the trenches with experience based on a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of how both for-profit and nonprofit enterprises operate. I guide entrepreneurs, executive management teams, boards of directors, multigenerational families, shareholders and investors through all aspects of the business life cycle from formation to operation to exit. Read Kim's Bio.

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