Should I Ban Smoking in the Workplace?

The adverse health effects of smoking are no secret today. While you cannot control what your employees do on their own time, you can decide to ban smoking in the workplace. Some states ban smoking in all workplaces, so you are bound by law to prohibit smoking if you live in such a state. Others restrict where smokers can go to light up, and still others restrict smoking in certain industries like healthcare and food service.

There is no law protecting a worker's right to smoke at work. Keep in mind that an attempt to prohibit smoking away from the workplace could be an invasion of privacy, and making hiring and firing decisions based on smoking history is discriminatory. Even if state law allows smoking in the workplace, you are still free to prohibit it. Make your policy known in the handbook or other accessible resource to avoid any confusion.

Even if employees smoke outside the building, the odor from cigarettes can linger on their clothes, disrupting their coworkers. Some people also have severe smoke allergies exacerbated by second-hand smoke. A 2007 showed that smokers had lower-than-average productivity, and they called in sick more often. [1] The results of the study suggested that workplaces that ban smoking can reduce the number of sick days their employees take, increasing productivity and the health of their workers.

Smoking in the workplace costs you money. In addition to more frequent sick days, smokers cost more to insure. This drives up everyone's costs, breeding resentment among non-smokers. Second-hand smoke also leads to illness in non-smokers, further increasing absenteeism, lack of productivity and insurance expenses. Cigarette smoke also damages furniture, walls and other interiors, requiring more cleaning and maintenance.

Ultimately, you need to decide if the smoking habits of your employees are having a negative impact on your workplace. Do smoke breaks cut into work time too much? Are others bothered by cigarette smoke? Could a ban reduce the number of sick days employees take? Speak with your employees or administer a survey to get their opinions on these and other questions to make your decision.

Implementing the Ban

If quitting cold-turkey was easy, everyone would do it. Your ban on smoking in the workplace should happen gradually to head off resentment from your employees. When smokers significantly reduce their intake by going hours without a cigarette, they can experience mild to severe physical and mental withdrawal. Gradual implementation of your ban can help reduce a dip in productivity while smokers adjust to the new routine.

Some companies offer incentive programs to help workers quit smoking altogether. Many offer reimbursement for employees who enroll in smoking cessation programs. Others give prizes when employees meet their wellness goals. A tangible reward for quitting can be just as effective as educating workers on the dangers of smoking to get them to quit.

To phase-out the smoking habit at the workplace, employers can make it inconvenient to smoke. Designate a well-ventilated area a distance from the office as the only smoking zone allowed. You can also reduce the smoke breaks you allow, restricting them to lunchtime. Non-smokers may also be more productive when they see that their smoking coworkers are no longer getting extra time off.

There are very few downsides to implementing a ban on smoking at work. You are doing your employees a favor when you look out for their well-being, and you are improving your company's profitability at the same time. Check your state and local ordinances to be sure you are within their parameters, and post the policy prominently. Banning smoking in the workplace benefits everyone. Retrieved 2012-01-10

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