Q: I transferred from West Virginia to Walnut Creek for a managerial position with my employer two 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
San Francisco, CA
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.
California is an at will employment state. This means an employer can terminate an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, such as refusing to transfer, or for no reason at all.
However, there are limits.
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” could help 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—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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations with the greatest number of days away from work in 2020 due to illness or injury were nursing assistants, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, and registered nurses.
(This article was originally published in the column Watercooler Counsel. It has been included here with minor updates.)