Employers may want to ban e-cigs along with lighted tobacco products, Oklahoma City attorney advises
Q: Why would an employer consider banning e-cigarettes in the workplace?
A: For the same reasons they ban regular cigarettes or other tobacco products. Electronic cigarettes are similar in appearance to regular cigarettes but don't contain tobacco. Instead, there's a heating mechanism inside that turns liquid nicotine into a vapor the smoker inhales. While most agree e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes, many have raised concerns that e-cigarettes emit toxic chemicals into the air and pose a risk both to the smoker and others in the surrounding environment. Many employers implement tobacco-free policies to reduce health care costs and increase productivity among employees. Employers may ban e-cigarettes as part of an overall tobacco-free workplace policy for fairness reasons and for ease of administration. Because e-cigarettes resemble regular cigarettes, particularly from a distance, many employers find banning all types of cigarettes makes enforcing a no-smoking ban easier.
Q: What should employers do before implementing a ban?
A: As with any policy change, it is best to put the policy in writing and then provide notice to employees and others entering the workplace. For indoor workplaces that currently allow lighted cigarettes, employers will need to put a new policy into effect quickly to comply with the Nov. 1 effective date of Oklahoma's new law prohibiting lighted tobacco products in almost all indoor workplaces. These employers may consider banning e-cigarettes and/or other tobacco use as part of the policy.
Q: What needs to be in the policy?
A: When implementing a new policy, employers should consider the purpose of the policy. For example, is the employer simply trying to comply with Oklahoma's new ban on lighted cigarettes in indoor workplaces? Or does the employer view e-cigarettes as posing health risks and decreasing productivity along with tobacco products? Or is the employer concerned with fairness issues if it allows e-cigarettes but not tobacco use? The employer needs to answer these questions to determine the best policy for its workplace. Employers should put their smoke-free or tobacco-free workplace policies in writing and provide notice to employees before the policy goes into effect. The policy should clearly state at a minimum whether there are any areas where smoking/e-cigarettes/tobacco use will be allowed; which products are/are not allowed; and the consequences for noncompliance with the policy.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER