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I'm sure many developers have faced this scenario: you're currently negotiating a new position at a company and you're going through the whole list (salary, perks, benefits, etc), but there's always something missing.

In my 8 years of professional work, not once have I seen a clause on ergonomics or injury prevention. I'm talking about providing an ergonomic chair, keyboard or even a stand for your LCD. I have a bad upper back and neck which I need to go see the chiropractor every week. I always make sure there's a least a good chiropractic plan in the contract, but that's just fixing the problem's surface. My chiropractor is telling me that my neck is straightening (not good) and that I should try to prevent bad ergonomics in the workplace to stop it.

I'm at a point in my career where I'm in high demand and can make some reasonable demands myself. I have asked several companies in the past to procure me a better chair (Herman Miller, Humanscale, etc) or keyboard (Microsoft Ergonomic) or even an LCD stand, to which I normally get chuckled at. There is no doubt that this profession is ruining my neck/back, but good luck trying to pin this on any specific (or even collective) company for their lack of ergonomics.

My question is, how do you approach the subject? Has anyone been successful in the past? Do you do on the contract or wait until you're in the company, then ask? How do you make sure the company hold's their end of the deal?

Any suggestions and opinions would be greatly appreciated.

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closed as off topic by ChrisF Sep 30 '11 at 12:10

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This issue is not unique to software developers, but affects all office workers. It's therefore off topic for this site. Unless you can rewrite the question it's going to get closed. –  ChrisF Sep 30 '11 at 7:40
    
As a side note, a non-ergonomic chair is usually not the root cause of your symptoms: it is just aggravating your existing condition. The root cause is bad postural habits and/or weak/tight muscles and/or incorrectly aligned joints. There are activities and treatments (like yoga, physiotherapy and various bodywork methods) which can improve all these, thus let you make and keep yourself healthier rather than making you dependent on some external tool or treatment. –  Péter Török Sep 30 '11 at 7:48
    
offer to supply your own ergonomic chair, keyboard, whatever, and tag it as personal property –  Steven A. Lowe Sep 30 '11 at 13:27

2 Answers 2

The cost of buying a decent chair is a pittance compared to the cost of not buying a decent chair (decreased productivity, missed work, increased health care costs). Managers may worry that approving a high-end chair like a Herman Miller Aeron for one employee will lead to requests from all the other employees, and at $620-$900 each that may be a reasonable concern. So, take steps to mitigate that risk:

  • You can often shave a couple hundred bucks off the price by searching the Internet.

  • Get a note from your chiropractor to show that you really do need a better chair. In addition to showing your manager that this is a serious situation, you'll also be giving him or her a good excuse to approve a better chair for you without having to do it for everyone else.

  • You don't need a chair that can morph into something that's comfortable for any body; you need a chair that's comfortable for your body. Head to the back of the local office supply box store, where they keep the furniture. Try out every chair in the place. There's a good chance that you'll find one for $150 or less that's both comfortable and adjustable enough for you.

If the manager "chuckles" when you make your request, look him in the eye and say something like: "I'm very serious. I don't think you understand how much pain I experience just from sitting at my desk trying to work. Do you know that I see a chiropractor every week just to deal with this? She tells me that my chair is a big part of the problem, and if I ignore the problem it's only going to get worse." If he or she is a reasonable person, that should inspire some empathy and hopefully some action. You could also bring the issue up (respectfully, of course) the next time you hear your manager or some other higher-up talking about being "committed to a safe and healthy workplace."

If nothing else works, go out and buy your own chair. If you can't get reimbursed for it, then you can probably (in the US) claim it as a tax deduction. You obviously shouldn't have to provide your own chair, but whether you do or not, the important thing is to get a better chair, now.

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At sufficiently large companies, there isn't a real need to include such a clause in your employment agreement because they will be subject to OSHA regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), state departments of Labor and Industry rules, and general liability risks that make them sensitive to ergonomic needs. Programmers and other desk-workers generally have specific occupational hazards that apply to them, and sensible companies try to prevent injuries by making sensible accommodations.

When I was at Microsoft, a department focused on ergonomic accommodations took care of most of the categories of requests you are describing (with the exception of specific chair brands; there was no trouble procuring chairs that met ergonomic needs, but I don't think the affected employee was involved in picking the exact brand).

Smaller companies may be exempt from some of these requirements, or organizations just beyond a certain size may be unaware of their obligations and legal risks. And if you're an independent contractor, the company may not have any obligations to you, and you may need to either include these details in your negotiations or work such needs into your rate. But if you're full time at a medium to large company, and even at many small ones, you often just need to ask. Talk to HR if your manager isn't supportive. Talk to an attorney for advice if that doesn't result in an appropriate response.

If you are highly desired by your employer, you can negotiate nearly anything into your employment agreement, but for most of the things you mention, there's no need.

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I don't think Microsoft is a very good example of how the rest of the industry works... –  J_A_X Sep 30 '11 at 5:32
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@J_A_X, I've seen the same thing at large (and sometimes not so large) companies, none of which are Microsoft. –  Caleb Sep 30 '11 at 5:44
    
At smaller companies, I've seen the same thing (Zillow, an advertising tech company, a regional newspaper) but perhaps without a dedicated department. At the smaller ones, usually someone in HR would arrange such things) –  JasonTrue Sep 30 '11 at 15:33

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