Smoking in the workplace is a controversial issue. Most employers have a policy or rule about smoking that prohibits smoking in the workplace or limits it to certain designated areas. There are few employers left who allow unrestricted smoking in the workplace, and with good reason:
- Laws in most states require a written policy or certain practice to be followed or prohibit smoking in the workplace. Check to see if your state has a law that requires you to have a policy or prohibits smoking in your workplace.
- The majority of employees seem to be in favor of smoking restrictions.
- Smoking is a health hazard. Smoking-related illnesses endanger the smoker directly and the nonsmoker indirectly. Some employees have allergies to smoke and their needs must be accommodated, if the ADA or similar state laws apply to you.
- Employees are suing. One of the rationales is simply that the right of an individual to risk his or her own health does not include the right to jeopardize the health of those who must remain in the area of the smoker in order to perform their jobs properly.
- Nonsmoking employees are suing not only to restrict smoking, but are suing for disability, workers' compensation, and unemployment compensation.
- Employees who smoke account for higher insurance premiums, increased medical payments, and higher absenteeism rates.
Steps to take. In handling the issue of smoking in the workplace, take the following steps:
- Determine if your state's laws require you to have a smoking policy.
- Determine if you can refuse to hire or retain employees who smoke.
- If you are required to or want to have a policy limiting smoking in the workplace, determine if you will:
- Allow smoking areas (and decide where the areas will be).
- Limit whether, when, and where customers can smoke.
- Formulate your policy, and communicate or post it if required.