EU obesity ruling will mean extra furniture bills for firms

Height-adjustable desks are used to give employees the opportunity to spend more time standing, and are already used extensively. Victoria Beckham has previously tweeted a picture of herself working on a treadmill desk. Companies use specialised furniture as a pre-emptive measure, to avoid issues with repetitive strain injury and bad backs – sitting for eight hours a day isn’t good for anyone. There’s also a growing demand for furniture, such as seating, which is suitable for larger or heavier people.

It’s now one measure in what has become a significant focus on employee wellbeing, and extends to some quite well-developed promotion of healthy eating at work – not just the provision of fruit in the office or offering healthy options in the staff restaurant but also the positioning and contents of vending machines are changing. Employers are also offering subsidised memberships to gyms and weight loss programmes as well as pedometers or electronic activity monitoring devices to raise staff awareness of their activity level.

Employers know that making it easier for their employees to stay healthy not only has a positive impact on wellbeing at work, but also reduces sickness absence which can otherwise add significant cost over the course of a year.

Employers can’t be too paternalistic in their approach, since ultimately employees have to make their own lifestyle choices. However, there is potentially a legal imperative for employers to adapt the workplace around the impact of those choices.

The ECJ is expected to make its ruling in the next few months but in the meantime it might pay to do your homework. By carrying out basic research now your business might save valuable time in the long term. Simple tasks such as factoring in additional costs to your budget will ensure staff can to do their jobs to the best of their ability. At the very least it makes sense to look into the costs for new office furniture such as chairs and tables for those people affected. Those that don’t might be left picking up the pieces in the advent of a change in the law.

Kim Pattullo is an employment law expert at HBJ Gateley

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