December 26, 2006 > Watercooler Counsel
by Rich Proulx
Watercooler Counsel is a bi-weekly column to help employees and employers navigate the tangle of workplace laws. Get practical answers straight from the source: the people who enforce the law (not the lawyers!)
Q: I transferred from West Virginia to Walnut Creek for a managerial position with my employer 2 years ago. Our client, who accounts for 80% of our business, told my boss that he does not want to work with a woman. As a result, my boss transferred me to San Francisco two months ago. Now he said there is not enough work for me here and wants me to relocate to the Midwest. I don't want to move. Can he fire me if I refuse to transfer?
- YoYo No More
A: He can. But it would not be a wise move. It was illegal for your employer to have transferred you because a client preferred to work with a man. Customer preference is no excuse for discriminatory treatment. Regarding your forced relocation, an employer could terminate an employee for refusing to transfer, because California is an at will employment state. So, this means an employer can terminate an employee for no reason. Your situation is different, because your termination is a direct consequence of your employer's prior discriminatory transfer. If your employer terminates you, it would be illegal. If you wanted to file a discrimination complaint, you could contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at 1-800-669-4000.
Q: I work on the computer all day. Lately, my back has been killing me. I'd like to get a new chair for my desk. Is my employer required to provide me with one?
- Aching Architect
A: Before asking your employer for a new chair, I recommend you take a look at the website for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at www.osha.gov . Their interactive "e-tools" helps you to assess your computer workstation for ergonomic compliance and help determine what equipment you might need. Now that you have gathered your shopping list, I hate to break it to you, but your employer is not required to provide you with ergonomic equipment. Of course, many employers choose to do so to avoid potential workers compensation costs. There is an exception if you have a disability, which under CA law is a physical or mental impairment that limits you in a major life activity - such as sitting. In that case, you have a right to a reasonable accommodation from your employer, which could include an ergonomic chair.
Rich and his team of government experts meticulously research your questions every two weeks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupations with the greatest number of injuries were laborers, heavy truck drivers and nurse's aides. The most common problem? Back strains and sprains. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, whose day job is Enforcement Supervisor for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov). Identifying information in the questions may be fictional.