Expensive ergonomic chair at new job
May 17, 2017 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I have a serious chronic neck injury, and I want a fancy ergonomic chair at my new job. Can I ask them to buy one for me?

If I'm at a workstation that isn't set up properly, or in a chair without proper support, I can easily get a flare-up. At my old job I sorta cobbled together an ergonomic setup, but my chair was never right.

I'm starting a new job next month, and I really want to have a good chair. I tried one recently and it was amazing—but it costs almost $2000! This is my first time working at a company that has money to throw around, so I have no idea how they'll respond if I ask them to buy me this chair. And how would I even word the request? Do I need to approach it as a disability accommodation?

For context, the company is a well-funded, growing tech startup in San Francisco with about 200 employees. I haven't documented any disability with them. If I have to, I'll buy the chair myself, but I am hoping they will at least pay for part of it.

I'd really appreciate The Hive's advice on navigating this! I'm generally an "ask culture" person, but this situation is tricky!
posted by radioamy to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might be surprised. It's a totally deductible expense, and if they don't give you one, and you can later document that you had a flair-up that was job-related, it will be a big mess for them. Ask your manager. But this may require you documenting your disability, if they don't want to get a fancy chair for everyone in the department, so if he or she says "no" initially, you might have to decide whether you're willing to document your disability.
posted by ubiquity at 9:52 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]

I think just asking is the first step! Then they can say, "OK, but we need documentation of your disability," or whatever. But this is not a very unusual request in a SF startup context.
posted by mskyle at 9:54 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]

Is that the only good chair you've ever had experience with, compared to the cheap kind of office chairs? Because there are a lot of good chairs that're about half that price that are amazing in the back department compared to, say, sub-$500 chairs, and the environment you're entering seems like the sort of place that they probably have not been trying to be cheap on this particular thing.
posted by Sequence at 9:59 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

They might have a process in place already-we start with an ergonomic assessment by someone trained to do one, and the move forward with the recommendations. I'd approach by asking for their process-"I have some ergonomic needs that have needed some workstation adjustment in prior jobs. Do you have a process for how I get those assessed here?" Then they may very well say "just go ask the admin to buy what you want"
posted by purenitrous at 10:10 AM on May 17 [9 favorites]

In our office you would need some kind of doctor's note and then they would get you something to help (though maybe not the exact chair you want). I have heard people say that there is some kind of OSHA requirement that employers help employees with stuff like this, but I don't know if that is true.
posted by Mid at 10:13 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I would ask, mention the injury and how the chair makes it uncomfortable/difficult. I work at a public school (so we aren't flush with cash), but the office chair I had was just awful and was giving me back pain, so the principal and I met at an office furnishings store one morning and she bought me a fancy chair for my poor back!
posted by modesty.blaise at 10:41 AM on May 17

I don't know how big your company is, but, the company that I work for (a Fortune 100 company) offers ergonomic examinations to its employees through our health services department, and if they recommend that we need certain special items (i.e, chairs, modified desks, etc..) the company pays for them.

If your company is big enough they may offer this service as well.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:59 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]

This is totally a thing but ask your manager or HR how to proceed. A company with a clue (not all have this) will accommodate you. Not necessarily with the chair brand you want, but with some solution customized to your ergo needs. They may have you go through an ergonomics evaluation or they may just cut a check.
posted by zippy at 11:04 AM on May 17

And how would I even word the request?

IANAL, but what you're asking for is "reasonable accommodation" under Title I of the ADA.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:24 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

Been here, done this. You should expect them to ask for a letter from your doctor.

Yes, the law says they must supply you with "reasonable accommodations" which may mean they will ask you to find a cheaper chair. Office chairs have a HUGE markup, so I wouldn't be surprised if you found a cheaper one. They also might have a wholesaler resource for you to choose from.

I asked for my first chair 20 years ago and it was treated as a "special" situation. Nowadays, the idea of ergonomics is quite common place, so they shouldn't make this a big deal. It's funny how my "special" is not the industry standard in the last two places I have worked.
posted by skydog13 at 11:54 AM on May 17

It's likely that they can receive grant funds or discounts from the company's insurance provider for doing things like providing ergonomic workstation materials to staff. I have applied for and received grants like this for my workplace. The first step is to ask and not feel bad about it!
posted by zem at 12:26 PM on May 17

FWIW, that looks like a pretty standard mid/high back N-way adjustable ergonomic office chair with a pretty high price, which I definitely associate with the Relax The Back store.
posted by rhizome at 3:20 PM on May 17

Oops the last paragraph should read:
It's funny how my "special" CHAIR is NOW the industry standard in the last two places I have worked.
posted by skydog13 at 3:33 PM on May 17

Sequence and rhizome - where would I find a less expensive chair that I could try in the SF Bay Area? I tried every chair at every office chain that I could find, and none came close in adjustability and comfort.

Who is the best person to talk to, my manager or HR? And how do I word my request?

I have never documented a disability before. My neck problem became an issue gradually at my last job, and we just sort of made adjustments informally without ever making things official. Is there a major downside to documenting?
posted by radioamy at 3:35 PM on May 17

By my quick pass at shopping, pretty much every Herman Miller chair goes for ~$1K, and I think of them as being pretty close to the standard for ergonomics. I like the Mirra, and you can get a hi-back Leap for much less than that. It's up to you to try some out and figure out what features make the difference for your situation, but AFAIK after my favorite The Chair Place closed, The Ergo Depot looks like the only place in town. There's probably more in Oak/Berk., and certainly down the peninsula, and if you're OK with second-hand there are always thousands of good chairs harvested from dead businesses on Craigslist.
posted by rhizome at 3:44 PM on May 17

Thanks everyone for your help! I am happy to report that they just ordered me my fancy Relax the Back chair!

I checked out Steelcase, Aeron, and Fully, and couldn't find anything that worked.

I emailed my boss-to-be and said: "As I may have mentioned, I have a chronic neck injury that requires some workstation adjustments. Chiefly, I need a chair that provides the correct support for my spine. What is the process for assessing my workstation needs at $company?"

She wrote back promptly, cc'd the office manager, said they want to make sure I have everything I need to be comfortable. The office manager gave me a tiny bit of pushback, saying that he could ask their supplier to look for chairs that would meet my needs. I replied with a comprehensive list of requirements provided by my physical therapist, and said that the Relax the Back chair was the only one that I found that met all of them. I just got an email saying that the chair was ordered!
posted by radioamy at 4:29 PM on May 26 [1 favorite]

My chair arrived today! I felt the difference immediately. Thanks, MeFi!
posted by radioamy at 7:46 PM on June 22

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