As organizations update their employee policies for a 2022 employee handbook, they should take time to review tobacco use policies. MP’s HR services team suggests employers utilize these four considerations as they review tobacco usage policies in their 2021 staff handbook.
1. Check applicable state laws first.
Employers should always review applicable state (and sometimes even city) laws to ensure their tobacco use policies meet HR and compliance requirements per the location. States vary drastically in the rights they provide smokers and employers. Some states allow employers to even refuse to hire smokers. In other states, smokers are a protected class and cannot be discriminated against. If employers have remote workers or workers in different states, they must review the applicable HR and compliance requirements in these states in addition to the location of the company headquarters.
2. Add language about e-cigarettes and vaping.
Workplaces should ensure that their tobacco usage policies include language about e-cigarettes and vaping. HR compliance experts suggest that employers treat e-cigarettes and vaping similarly to tobacco use. They should add a section into existing tobacco use policies that explicitly states that staff may not vape or smoke e-cigarettes in the office. If they provide a designated area of smokers, they can share it in this language. Because research surrounding vaping and e-cigarette usage is still relatively new, employees may assume they can use their devices inside the office building if there is no policy preventing it.
3. Designate an area where staff may smoke—or ban it altogether.
Some businesses, such as medical offices or nursing homes, may wish to ban smoking outdoors in parking lots because they work with medically vulnerable people. Other workplaces may choose to ban smoking outdoors because it will waft into building windows. To avoid difficulties and contentious conversations about where employees may and may not smoke, it’s a best practice to explicitly outline the areas where staff may or may not smoke. You may also want to set guidelines for the smell of smoke in the workplace and requiring employees to wash hands or take other measures to eliminate it. This can be especially applicable for positions working closely with the public, such as hairstylists.
In the office, if applicable, employers may want to designate separate spaces, such as coat closets, for smokers and non-smokers, respectively.
4. Reconsider permitting smoke breaks or allowing smoking at all.
Organizations are never required to provide smoke breaks to their staff. In some states and industries, employers may ban employees from smoking altogether. One example of this scenario is firefighting. Fire departments often ban firefighters from smoking both during and outside of work. Firefighters must be in peak physical condition to complete their job duties. There are also insurance concerns, as firefighters who contract lung cancer may sue the department for liability. Departments reduce their risk and exposure by forbidding employees to smoke.
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