Calif. Walmart cashiers win victory in fight for right to sit while at work

By Jack Parker
November 5, 2018

OAKLAND, Calif. — In a settlement reached Oct. 10 with workers who sued Walmart, the retail giant agreed to provide seating to all cashiers who request it in their California stores. Walmart also agreed to pay $65 million to nearly 100,000 current and former front-end employees. The agreement stems from a lawsuit filed by Walmart employee Nisha Brown in 2009. It is set to be finalized at an Oct. 24 court hearing.

Cashier in Europe sits down while working at supermarket.
Cashier in Europe sits down while working at supermarket.

Anyone who has worked as a cashier knows that standing in one place for hours is hard on the body. Brown’s suit said the company was violating a 2001 California law that says employees must be given “suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits.”

Walmart has long provided seats for cashiers with medical disabilities. Walmart bosses admitted that those workers were able to do their jobs.

Nonetheless, Walmart attorneys argued that cashiers must always be standing, so they can move around to greet customers and look inside the carts. When the work gets slow cashiers are required to stock and straighten shelves. The bosses also argued that sitting makes workers less efficient. And customers, they claimed, prefer cashiers who stand. To have to provide stools to cashiers who asked for them, they said, would cause significant loss of revenue.

Walmart decided not to go to trial and signed the agreement. It was clear it would be difficult to win in court, since the company had already conceded that those cashiers already sitting had no difficulty doing their work.

Most of the cashiers at the store where I work say they’re pleased with the proposed settlement, though not all. A few had already won the right to sit, though management made them get letters from their doctors and give them to the personnel department in the store.

A 14-year veteran behind the register told me she thought this was great, because you don’t need to stand all day to do the job. Some days — particularly on the weekend — the store gets very busy and by the time we get to go home we’re beat.

Another cashier said that when she took a trip to Europe everyone she saw at the cash registers in the big retail stores was sitting. And they worked as fast as we do.

Some other co-workers say they think the bosses were right, that you shouldn’t sit down. You need to stand to do the job, one cashier who had previously worked a white collar job told me. How else can you look into customers’ baskets to make sure you’ve scanned everything they brought up to purchase?

Last year Bank of America paid $15 million to settle a lawsuit brought by tellers who wanted the right to sit. The pharmacy chain CVS and Home Depot recently settled suits allowing their cashiers to sit at work.

Although Walmart has agreed that cashiers can sit, we still have to see how this plays out in the stores. It might take a fight.