November 26, 2013

Dealing with e-cigarettes in the workplace

Smoking electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) in public places is legal.

These battery operated devices that simulate tobacco smoking are not covered by the 2007 ban on smoking in public places.

Therefore, for the time being, it’s up to employers to decide on an appropriate policy for their use in the workplace.

Should employers include the use of these products in their existing drug/alcohol policy or should e-cigarettes be subject to their own set of rules?

Other European countries have introduced regulations governing “vaping” in the workplace, but where do we stand over here?

Employers may find that e-cigarettes fall outside the scope of the definitions in their existing drugs and alcohol policies.

Unlike alcohol and illegal drugs, the main risk of e-cigarettes is unlikely to be employees becoming too intoxicated to perform their roles. The more likely problem is that employees will take excessive breaks.

This is already a problem for many employers with employees smoking conventional cigarettes. As with conventional cigarettes, employers should make it clear that unauthorised or excessive breaks will result in disciplinary action.

A main aim of the Health Act 2006 and associated regulations was to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke and allow a smoke-free working environment.

What should you do?

It is in employers’ interests to promote health and well-being amongst its staff; after all healthy, motivated employees should be less likely to be affected by stress, illnesses and therefore absences. Additionally, employers may see themselves as supportive in allowing staff to use e-cigarettes at work.

The risks of allowing e-cigarettes to be smoked in the workplace, for example, at an employee’s desk, include upsetting other workers who may be trying to give up themselves or pregnant women and the organisation appearing unprofessional to members of the public or clients coming into the office. There’s also a risk that e-cigarettes might undermine efforts to reduce smoking by normalising cigarette use at work.

Employers may be reluctant to allow e-cigarettes into a working environment and prefer them to be treated in exactly the same way as conventional cigarettes. However, sending e-cigarette smokers out to smoke with the other smokers in designated smoking areas may create another set of problems.

Employees who are made to use their e-cigarettes with smokers may bring grievances or even constructive dismissal claims for example, on the grounds that the employer has failed to provide them with a non-smoking environment.  In order to avoid this, employers could consider assigning a separate area for e-cigarette users, away from designated smoking areas.

In putting together a policy on e-cigarettes, employers should consider whether to prohibit e-cigarettes expressly in all workplaces, or to extend the scope of an existing drug and alcohol policy to include e-cigarettes or to create a new set of rules to cover them; and whether to designate a separate area for e-cigarette users if the organisation has a place for conventional smoking.

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