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Last updated: 21.06.2023

Using chairs at work

Employers are responsible for their workers’ health and safety, including appropriate seats. Employers may not forbid the use of chairs at work without a good work-related cause and hearing the workers.

Workers must have access to seats at work, but sitting is prohibited at some retail sector workplaces such as self-checkout stations.  

Note that employers may not prioritise their workplace’s appearance or image above health and safety requirements. 

Employers are responsible for occupational health and safety 

By law, employers must protect the health and safety of their workers at work. The purpose of this obligation is to prevent hazardous situations and other risks work could pose to the health and safety of workers. If the risks cannot be eliminated, appropriate methods must be chosen to reduce them as much as possible. 

As a result, employers must analyse and assess the work’s hazards and stress factors. The employer must use competent experts for the above. Occupational healthcare specialists such as physiotherapists are qualified experts on healthy working positions and ergonomics

(Occupational Safety and Health Act (pdf), 738/2002, sections 8 and 10.) 

Workers have a legal right to appropriate seats at their workplace if their work can be done while seated. If the workers cannot work while seated, they must still have access to seats for resting purposes.  

(Government Decree on Workplace Health and Safety Requirements, 577/2003, section 3, in Finnish) 

Employers may not forbid sitting without hearing the workers 

The dangers of constant sitting have been a hot topic in recent years. New research has also pointed to problems with stationary work done standing up. For optimal health outcomes, working positions should be varied throughout the day. 

Workplaces must assess the need for chairs based on how they affect the current and future work ability of workers. For example, this means accounting for wear on joints over time. The individual differences of workers must also be considered.  

Categorically prohibiting the use of chairs is not the best solution for bad ergonomics. The same is true of prevention. Also note that employers may not prioritise their workplace’s appearance or image above health and safety requirements.  

The market is full of good ergonomic chairs, including models for tight spaces and jobs that require workers to quickly get up and go. By law, employers have a general duty to exercise care. Forcing workers to practically stand still for a full shift without the work requiring them to do so goes against this statutory duty. The problem remains even if the length of the work shift is shortened to four hours, for example. 

You should also read the Yle article Sitting Kills, but Standing All Day is Bad, Too (in Finnish). 

Changes require industrial cooperation 

By law, any matters directly affecting the health and safety of workers, including changes, must be discusses in industrial cooperation for occupational health and safety, which means the occupational health and safety committee (työsuojelutoimikunta). The use or prohibition of chairs is undeniably a matter that affects the health of workers, which means it may not be decided by the employer on their own.  

Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces (pdf) (44/2006, section 26, subsection 1) 

What can I do if my employer forbids sitting? 

  • Contact your occupational health and safety representative. A health and safety representative must be elected for any workplace that regularly employs more than ten workers. 
  • The occupational health and safety representative must demand that the matter be discussed in the occupational health and safety committee. 
  • The committee discussion must include a competent expert – a physiotherapist from the occupational health service, for example. 
  • If the matter is not resolved, contact your Regional State Administrative Agency’s occupational health and safety unit. Request an inspection to discuss the matter. 

See also