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Creating a Smoke-Free Workplace - Legal Implications

As the public is becoming more and more educated on the danger of smoking and the results of secondhand smoke on nonsmokers, support for smoke-free workplaces is growing.

A smoke-free workplace is an ideal situation for many reasons, including:

  • Improved health for everyone. A smoke-free environment helps create a safer, healthier workplace. Fire hazards are reduced, and non-smokers will appreciate it as well, as they will not be subject to secondhand smoke.

  • Lowered health care costs. Direct health care costs to the company may be reduced when fewer employees smoke, and often times, insurance companies will lower health, life, and disability insurance coverage when employee smoking is lowered dramatically.

  • Lowered costs. Maintenance costs are lowered when workers do not have to clean up after smokers.

  • Increased productivity. As the employees' health improves as a result of no longer smoking, the amount of sick days or half days taken by employees is reduced significantly, allowing them to get more work done.

Legal Implications
Before setting up a smoke-free workplace, it's important to understand the legal implications involved with banning smoking-or not banning it- from your workplace. Currently, there are no real federal laws that regulate smoke-free environments. There are a number of local laws that enforce smoke-free environments, but these are mostly limited to public areas like restaurants and grocery stores.

You will want to check your state and local laws with regards to rights of smokers as well as nonsmokers. In addition, review the laws in the OSHA handbook and the protections outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Lawsuits can come from both parties - nonsmokers who don't want their health compromised by secondhand smoke can file lawsuits, and an increased number of smokers who claim their addiction to smoke is a disability and banning smoking discriminates against them are filing lawsuits as well. It would be in your company's best interest to go over all local and state laws before enacting any kind of smoke-free environment.

When proposing a smoke-free environment, focus more on the benefits it will have on the company instead of the ethical or health considerations. For example, you could focus on the decreased productivity that results from frequent smoke breaks (smokers take on average 55 more minutes worth of breaks per work day) rather than the issue of smoking itself. In addition, rules should apply to everyone such as, everyone in the company, smokers and nonsmokers, are only allowed two 15-minute breaks per work day.

Creating a Smoke-Free Environment
Most companies that are not entirely smoke-free have designated smoking areas that are the only places in the building in which smoking is allowed. These can be separate rooms or kitchens, with or without separate ventilation systems, or they can be designated areas outside. When designating outside areas for smoking, make sure nonsmokers are not subjected to smoke in passing; for example, many public places put ashtrays right outside the entryways, so nonsmokers are forced to pass through secondhand smoke when entering and exiting the building. At the same time, it's probably not fair to have a designated smoking area by the dumpster a half mile away.

When considering making your workplace a smoke-free environment, it's best to research the legal implications as much as possible. Any lawsuit, whether as a plaintiff or defendant, is a costly expenditure and can be avoided with the proper preparation before enacting any kind of nonsmoking policy.

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