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Do you mind if I smoke?

Do You Mind If I Smoke?

You are most likely to hear a resounding "yes" from a significant number of businesses. Since the early 1980s, a growing number of employers have taken steps to curb smoking on the job. The impetus to implement smoking policies has stemmed either from state or local law, disputes between smoking and nonsmoking employees, or concern for the health, economic and legal consequences of uncontrolled smoking.

Currently, almost one third of U.S. employers have implemented smoking policies that either ban or limit workplace smoking. Many companies have also taken advantage of programs developed by organizations to help smokers "quit the habit." The issue of workplace smoking has become so significant that potential and current employees consider a company's smoking policy to be a benefit of employment.

This article provides factors that enable employers to: (a) assess the value of a smoking policy; (b) implement a smoking policy that is well-received by both smoking and non-smoking employees; and, (c) avoid pitfalls in creating and communicating the smoking policy.

The value of a smoking policy

The value of a smoking policy cannot be underestimated. The following six factors demonstrate why by year's end, 27 of the nation's 50 largest industrial companies will have policies that severely limit or ban smoking in their workplace.

Employee Morale-Many individuals are bothered by smoke. The resulting discomfort they experience when they are exposed to a smoke-filled environment results in low productivity. Further, the well-documented and well-publicized detrimental effects of smoke on both smokers and non-smokers is of increasing interest to our health-conscious society.

High illness and mortality rates among those who smoke-Research has shown that smoking accounts for more than one of every six deaths in the United States. Smokers have a 1,000% greater risk than non-smokers of dying of lung cancer and are up to 200% more likely to die from coronary heart disease. Additionally smokers have a two-to-three times greater risk of suffering a stroke -- the third leading cause of death in the United States.

High accident rates among employees who smoke - The preoccupation with the ritual of smoking detracts smokers from their job and has been cited by employers as a source of accidents in the workplace.

Safety - The possibility of illness and disease is multiplied by smoke inhalation in industries in which employees are exposed to combustible substances or other hazardous materials. Additionally, the risk of fire and resulting property damage is increased by fallen burning ashes and matches.

High illness rates among non-smokers - Studies have shown that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) - a combination of exhaled smoke and smoke emitted by burning tobacco between puffs ("sidestream" smoke) - contains twice as much tar and nicotine as inhaled smoke. Such exposure to ETS can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and raise blood pressure and heart beat. Also, ETS may put non-smokers at risk for lung and throat cancers, obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and stroke.

Financial consequences - Nationwide, the Office of Technology Assessment determined that in 1985, the combined health care and productivity losses attributable to smoking ranged from $38 billion to $95 billion a year. Smoking-related illness costs approximately $16 billion a year, almost half of which employers finance -- and results in 80 million lost work days annually. Additionally, employers incur costs of between $300 and $6,000 a year per smoker due to absenteeism (smoking workers are reported to be 50 percent more likely to be absent from work than nonsmokers), accidents (it is estimated that smokers have twice as many job-related accidents as non-smokers), fire insurance as well as out-of-pocket expense for property damage and for building ventilation and maintenance.

Implementing a smoking policy

A carefully drafted and communicated smoking policy will reflect the company's ultimate goal of creating and maintaining a safe and healthful workplace for all employees. The message to convey to employees is that they are a valuable commodity to the company. As hundreds of companies will testify, an employee who feels that he or she is truly valued lends to high morale and productivity.

1. Determine policy objectives - You must decide on whether smoking will be banned or limited in the workplace. To ease employees into the policy, consider a phase-in plan in which areas targeted for complete bans are restricted one by one. Depending on the nature of your workforce, consider employee involvement in the process. An employee task force may assist management in determining how the workforce feels about limitations or bans and which areas will be best received for smoking restrictions. The employee task force might also serve to increase enthusiasm for the policy and to reiterate to their peers the company's goal of a safe and healthful workplace. Check local and state regulations to determine whether your company is governed by mandatory guidelines for workplace smoking policies.

2. Develop a written policy - The reasons and objectives of the policy should be clearly set forth in a written policy. Consider a note from the president of the company that emphasizes the company's goal of creating and maintaining a safe and healthful work environment and its recognition that employees are valuable assets. The consequences of noncompliance should also be addressed in the policy. Discipline should be consistent with other company policies to avoid discrimination allegations.

3. Revise employee policy guides - A brief synopsis of the company's smoking policy in the workplace should be referenced in the employee handbook and all other sources that discuss company policies.

4. Tell employees - Designate a period of time before which the smoking policy will take effect. Employees are more likely to accept the policy if they have an opportunity to understand it and are given some time to prepare for a possible change in established routine. Distribute the smoking policy to each employee and have each employee sign an acknowledge of receipt of the policy. Ensure that the acknowledgment includes an "at-will" statement, which explains that the policy should not be construed as a contract of employment. Post the smoking policy on bulletin boards and publish the policy in an edition of the company newsletter, if you have one. Place, in clearly visible spaces throughout the premises, the international sign for no smoking which reads "Smoking Prohibited." Notify all contractors and service providers that any of their employees who are found to be in violation of the smoking policy will be asked to leave the company's premises.

5. Train staff - Create an awareness training program for both management and the workforce. The program should explain the company's smoking policy and the objectives for its implementation. Also, the training program should explore the effects of smoking on both smokers and nonsmokers. The program will give employees an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns. A well constructed program will emphasize the positive nature of the policy.

6. Provide assistance - If a formal employee assistance program exists, incorporate assistance for those who want to quit smoking into the program. Employers should consider providing employees with a list of self-help organizations and groups that they can contact to assist them in quitting. Employers must determine whether they will subsidize the cost incurred by employees who seek such assistance. Employers should also consider incentives to encourage employees to stop smoking.

Avoiding pitfalls

As demonstrated above, the benefits of a smoking policy are many, and the difficulties in implementing a policy aare few. However, the manner in which management conveys the policy can make the difference between creating a high-morale environment or a low-esteem environment.

1. Be sensitive - Smokers might be sensitive to the fact that management is targeting THEM and their discontent might impact on their performance. Emphasis should be placed on the value of both the smoking and nonsmoking employee. The company awareness program and written smoking policy should demonstrate the financial, health and safety concerns underlying the implementation of the policy. Employers should inform employees, if applicable, if their state law requires designated no-smoking areas in the workplace.

2. Be sensitive to smokers' problems - Employers must be sensitive to the fact that smoking is an addiction. Smokers who cannot quit may feel that they are not welcome in the workforce. The company may lose valuable employees and potential employees if management is perceived as being insensitive to smokers. Incentives to stop smoking and assistance programs to aid in the cessation of smoking should not be portrayed as mandatory. As a company you may have a concern for a safe and healthy workplace, but that concern cannot be imposed in the living room of your employees lest you subject yourself to invasion of privacy legal challenges and some very unhappy workers.

3. Be flexible - Employers should evaluate their workforce and determine if the smoking policy is effective. If 100% of the workforce smokes and there is a complete ban on smoking in the workforce, employee discontent may be the source of low morale. Employee questions and concerns should be encouraged and should be used to keep management apprised of employee satisfaction. When warranted, employers should consider reasonable changes to the policy.

4. Avoid discriminatory behavior - All employees should be disciplined in the same manner for violating company policy. Discipline should be clearly set forth in the policy, communicated to management, uniformly enforced, and well-documented. Management must strictly adhere to the smoking policy and demonstrate their commitment to making the policy work.

5. Bargaining with the union - Absent language in the collective bargaining agreement, past practice, or behavior to the contrary, employers may have to bargain with the union over the no smoking policy.

6. Legal challenges - Smokers may claim that a smoking policy invades privacy, discriminates on the basis of disability (smokers may claim that they have an addiction that amounts to a disability that does not interfere with their ability to perform their job responsibilities) and violates a contractual right (smokers may claim that previous acceptability of workplace smoking provided a contractual right to smoke).

On the other hand, nonsmokers may claim that they have a common law right to a safe workplace and that an allergy to tobacco constitutes a disability that should be protected under state or federal law.

These questions have not yet been definitively decided by a court of law. Legal challenges might be avoided by a well-defined policy that sets forth the policy objectives and by a positively communicated policy that is sensitive to all employee concerns.

It's time for all company's to evaluate the safety and health of their workforce environment. A healthy environment and content employees are the key ingredients for a productive workforce and, in turn, a successful company.

Caren E.I. Naidoff is a labor and employment law attorney in the Philadelphia law offices of Blank Rome, Comisky & McCauley.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:smoking in the workplace
Author:Naidoff, Caren E.I.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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