E-Cigarettes in the Workplace


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Smoking has long been outlawed in professional environments, but the stance for those 'vaping' or using e-cigarettes is less clear, putting employers in a tricky position.

Article 5 Minutes
E-Cigarettes in the Workplace

The long-term negative impact of smoking on a person's health, and those around them, has meant that employers have restricted the habit in the workplace for decades, eventually leading to a nationwide ban in the UK, with many states in the US limiting the places where cigarettes can be smoked.

However, the stance on newly-developed e-cigarettes is less clear. The UK ban doesn't cover vaping or any electronic smoking devices, instead it's up to employers to decide whether or not professionals should be allowed to do it at work.

Similarly, as e-cigarettes are regulated on a state by state basis in the US, companies need to assess the impact this can have on different business locations and how they want to address any lack of regulations pertaining to the use of e-cigarettes.

The lack of clear laws and guidelines can make it a much trickier situation for employers. After all, you don't want to affect staff morale either way, whether that's by preventing the use of e-cigarettes for those who are looking to give up cigarettes or allowing them for people who don't want their work environment to be impacted.

So what should your company do to keep employees happy? Our quick guide should help you to better understand what the best approach is for your business and employees.

Ascertain what your employees want

It can be easy to assume that everyone will either want e-cigarettes in the office or not, but you shouldn't rush to make assumptions before talking to your workforce. Of course, canvassing opinion can be easier to do with a smaller workforce but it is possible with larger organizations too.

Online resources allow you to quickly put together a survey or poll to understand what your employees think of the matter. If you use a co-working space or have other professionals using the same space as you, it's important that they are considered in your decision too.

Look at your office space

Is it easy for employees to go outside? Would it be simple to have a separate room for e-cigarette users? Answering these questions will help you find the best compromise, which is probably going to be your most viable solution, as it's unlikely that all of your workers will agree.

If you do have people who are looking to give up smoking or do use electronic cigarette devices, allocating a small space in your office away from where people work could be an effective solution.

However, if your work space has easy access to a room terrace, balcony or other outside areas, then it's not a huge ask to get e-cigarette users to go elsewhere.

Guidance from Public Health England (PHE) on using e-cigarettes in public spaces, acknowledges that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it published information to help businesses develop the most appropriate policy for their employees.

Think about customer-facing situations

Along with the requirements of your office, you need to think about how vaping may affect how clients view your business. It may be that your company has very little direct, in-person interaction with customers or employees always go out of the office to meet with them. However, if you regularly have clients coming to your workspace, you may want to think about how your e-cigarette policy may affect them and how they view your business.

For instance, having a vaping-friendly area right near the door where your clients enter the building may not be the best first impression to make.

Consider support programs

A large portion of the estimated 2.8 million e-cigarette users are ex-smokers who have moved to the device to try and quit the habit for health or financial reasons. Although the long-term impacts of vaping have yet to be discovered, many experts believe the electronic devices are far less damaging to the lungs, brain and heart when compared to tobacco.

There's also no evidence that the vapor from e-cigarettes can damage those in close proximity, unlike the dangers of passive smoking from traditional cigarettes.

This means that many employers want to feel as though they are supporting employees who are trying to quit smoking by adopting e-cigarettes. You may want to think about what other help and guidance you can offer. If the rest of the company understands that this is just a support program, they may be more receptive to concessions made to make it easier for people to vape at work.

Think about productivity

While employees who work certain hours are entitled to breaks specified by their company, most businesses do not allow for extra cigarette breaks. However, those who smoke may well take extra breaks to do so, which can impact employee productivity. On top of extra days being taken off for health issues related to the habit, this can have financial implications for businesses.

If you choose to implement a support program to help employees quit smoking, this may encourage the use of e-cigarettes. However, if users are still required to exit the building and take cigarette breaks to do so, this could have a continued impact on productivity. In comparison, e-cigarette use in the workplace could ensure the number of unofficial breaks being taken are reduced.

You may want to assess how much your company is being affected by smoking breaks and whether employees consider them to impact productivity levels in order to inform your decision.

Make sure you're clear

As with any smoking policies, you should make sure that the areas where it is appropriate to do so are clearly marked. For smoking areas, there are strict rules that you need to adhere to in order to make sure your business is compliant. However, you don't need to go to the same lengths with vaping the workplace but make sure your policy is clear.

You may want to put up signs for designated areas, have a section on the company intranet or just make sure each employee knows what your policy entails.

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