Have you ever seen a cashier at one of Maine’s major supermarkets sitting down when scanning your groceries? In fact, have you seen it at any supermarket in the United States? Didn’t think so. 

The only major exception is Germany-based Aldi, which operates some 2,000 stores in the United States, employs 25,000 people and uses European-style checkouts, allowing its employees to sit.

A Washington Post report some years ago raised the question of why grocery checkout clerks in much of the world can sit while working, but not here in America. The author spoke with one generous and sympathetic customer of a Safeway in Maryland who bought seven stools at Ikea and donated them to the store for use by the cashiers. 

After weeks of keeping the stools in storage, the customer was finally asked by management to come by and pick them up. A Safeway spokesman told the Post: “Sitting on a chair could potentially expose employees to injury. Part of their job requires them to lift heavy objects – laundry detergent, frozen or fresh turkeys, cat or dog food. Their checkstands are designed to be conducive to standing.”

Then why not provide checkouts that are designed to allow the employee to sit? It is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 50,000 items in the average supermarket, most of them not heavy objects.

The other day I told two cashiers here in Maine that their counterparts in Europe can sit while working. “That would be wonderful,” one told me, the other nodding her head in agreement. I’ve also mentioned to cashiers in Europe that, were they in the United States, they would have to stand all day. One clerk in Germany frowned when I told her this. “No one would work here if they tried to make us stand,” she replied. 


In Great Britain, the relevant government body recommends that storessupply adjustable seating and allow staff to stand or sit.” What a novel concept, letting the employee decide how to occupy their small work space for hours on end. 

A 2016 ruling by the California Supreme Court issued guidance on a little-known state labor policy which states that “all working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.” The policy was before the courts again just last month in a case involving an AutoZone auto parts store.

The fact that cashiers in supermarkets elsewhere in the world are provided seats clearly indicates the work reasonably permits employees to sit. 

American grocers continue to argue that seats are not suitable for cashiers because the conveyor belts are too high. Once they continue installing the standard American checkstand, they may never have to let their employees sit. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has said there is “ample evidence that prolonged standing in the workplace leads to a number of negative health outcomes … there is significant evidence that prolonged standing at work (primarily in one place) increases risk of low back pain, cardiovascular problems, and pregnancy outcomes.”

Is there any hope that retail chains will follow the Aldi example? Possibly, with a business rationale. Aldi is admired in the industry for being hyper efficient. For now, new markets being built in Maine and across the United States still require the people who work them to stand.

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