E-cigarettes claim to alleviate the negative effects of smoke on both the user and those inhaling second-hand. But should employers still include the use of the devices within a broad workplace smoking ban? Advocates contend that vapor produced by e-cigarettes is harmless, while opponents argue it is too soon to know the long-term impact of exposure. The debate continues.
E-cigarettes in the workplace
To date (May 2015), three states — New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah — have expanded workplace smoking bans to include e-cigarettes, and multiple cities — including Seattle, Boston, and New York City — have followed suit. Employers who are not subject to these expanded smoking bans should decide whether to expand their own smoking policies to include e-cigarettes.
Despite the absence of any study conclusively stating that second-hand vapor causes health problems, at a minimum, the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace may be disruptive. Uncertainty regarding the possible health impact of second-hand vapor may also lead to anxiety among co-workers of e-cigarette users and questions about whether a company’s policy prohibiting smoking should cover e-cigarettes.
For these reasons, many employers — including some of the country’s largest — are expanding their no-smoking policies to include e-cigarettes.
Another emerging element of the e-cigarette debate involves the use of e-cigarettes to smoke marijuana. When “smoked” using an e-cigarette, the vapor produced does not have the identifiable odor that typically accompanies marijuana use. Obviously, this makes detection considerably more difficult and is another factor motivating some employers to ban the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace.
Even in states that have recently legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, employers may prohibit use of marijuana in the workplace, which is yet another reason to address the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace.
Employers must monitor their state and local legislatures for regulations governing the use of e-cigarettes. In locations where the decision is left to employers, the potential workplace impact of e-cigarette use is a critical consideration.
A conservative strategy of extending any ban or restriction on smoking to include e-cigarettes may ensure compliance with municipal regulations while limiting workplace disruption and productivity losses due to e-cigarette use.
Of course, any change in company policy regarding e-cigarette usage should be clearly communicated to all employees.