Smoking tobacco is a serious hazard to someone’s health, but if a person wants to smoke, that is his or her right. Although there are no federal laws that prohibit smoking in the workplace, many states have established their own laws. With that being said, many states have no laws on the subject, and ultimately, it is up to you as the employer to come up with a policy that will make everyone happy. Smokers are due certain protections, but people who choose not to smoke and do not want to be exposed to secondhand smoke should be protected as well.
Can People Smoke at Work?
The answer to this question really depends on where your business resides. Many states have laws in place that prohibit people from smoking indoors. Other states have laws that allow smoking to occur in certain places but not others, and then additional states have no laws whatsoever on the subject. In addition to state laws, many cities have passed further laws regarding smoking tobacco at the workplace, so in order to see what you absolutely must comply with, you should check with your specific state and city.
You are free to develop your own company-wide policies regarding smoking in the workplace. Many employers seek to curtail smoking because they want to limit the amount of secondhand smoke other workers are exposed to. Secondhand smoke has been shown to lead to similar health problems as actually smoking. You may also have some employees who have medical conditions that make it difficult to breathe when they are in the presence of secondhand smoke. If it can be shown that someone legitimately cannot breathe while around smoke, you may be required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to accommodate the condition.
Can Smokers Be Discriminated Against?
Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia have laws that make it so employers cannot refuse to hire or fire someone based on what he or she does after work hours. This means you cannot deny employment on the sole grounds of somebody being a smoker. Some states do not have laws like this, so while you are free to hire whoever you want based on their lifestyle, it is not necessarily good business to go about doing that. You could disenfranchise employees, even ones who do not smoke, by firing someone based on something he or she chooses to do after hours.
Exceptions do exist to this rule. While 29 states prohibit discriminating against employees who smoke, there is the possibility that you operate a business where it would not be good to have someone smoking on the payroll. An example of this would be the American Lung Association. This is an anti-smoking advocacy group, so it would not be in their best interests to hire smokers. Similar organizations would be able to choose not to hire smokers and not break any laws. Hospitals and firefighter stations can generally impose similar bans.
Can Smokers Attempt to Change Policies?
If a smoker feels as though he or she is being unfairly treated, the best course of action would be for the individual to talk to you about any concerns. It is possible you may be unaware that a certain policy is unfair or harmful to a certain group of people. You do not have to allow people to start smoking indoors, but you could create a designated breakroom or area outside the office where people can go to enjoy a cigarette. With so many different types of business and different laws existing from state to state, it can be difficult to pinpoint a one-size-fits-all solution to smoking in the workplace. The best you can do is try to make everyone feel comfortable while remaining inside your particular area’s laws.
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