01/28/2015 12:49 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2015

Will Sitting Lawsuits Be Far Behind?

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Sitting is the new smoking. This phrase has been creeping up in the media as more and more research points out the health risks of sitting too long. It's really no new news that sitting is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and even early death. Even those who make time for exercise and spend a good deal sitting during the day are at risk too.

We are a culture of almost non-stop sitting -- at work, in our car, in front of our TV. For many employees, the bulk of the time spent sitting is done at work, whether it's in front of a computer, in a meeting and even during lunch. A case in point is a recent client of mine where a good two-thirds of their employees work more than 50 hours a week and most of that is time is spent sitting. Many of these employees are overweight, which is no surprise.

Some employers are waking up to this fact and taking measures to minimize the health risks of sitting. In fact, a study done by the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management found that employees at a financial services firm who used a treadmill desk experienced a significant positive impact on their work performance and physical activity.

Dr. Ben-Ner, who conducted the study, pointed out:

There are multiple factors [to increased productivity]. Once you get up from a sitting position, you increase blood circulation, leading to better blood flow to the brain. [Increasing activity levels] improves memory and improves cognitive function. We're talking about small gains in multiple domains that translate into improved productivity.

While a treadmill may not be on every company's agenda, there are other ways to shift from a work culture of sitting to a culture of movement, as former Director of NASA's Life Sciences Division Joan Vernikos points out in her book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death -- and Exercise Alone Won't.

This begs the question: Will the companies who do not take action get sued by employees? It may very well be something on the horizon as we see organizations like the WWE getting sued by their former employees -- two wrestlers. While wrestling can certainly bring on injuries, the former employees claim that the organization ignored or minimized the signs of brain damage and other injuries while it kept on reeling in the millions.

Sitting may also be the new smoking in more ways than one. There have been lawsuits on secondhand smoking in the office. There are still workplaces where secondhand smoke is a common occurrence. In one case, an employee contracted cancer from a coworker due to secondhand smoke and sued the company. The judge concluded that the cancer was a compensable occupational disease and ordered the employer to pay past and future medical expenses and temporary disability benefits.

There may be long way to go before companies are fully aware of the hazards of sitting and take decisive action to mitigate it. The fact that conversations are happening and some companies are taking action brings hope that with time, more initiatives will be put in place to maximize employee's health, wellness, and productivity.