Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

May 01, 2014

E-cigarettes and the smoke-free workplace

Drug and Alcohol 

Question: What are electronic cigarettes?
Answer: Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes,” are tobacco-free, nicotine delivery devices. They are battery powered and do not emit tobacco smoke. E-cigarette users are said to “vape” the devices, rather than smoke them.  The e-cigarettes emit a vapor cloud which is a mix of water and nicotine.

Question: We have a smoke-free workplace and the law prohibits e-cigarettes at work, right?
Answer: Probably not. Smoke-free workplace regulations only address tobacco smoke in most states. This is true for California, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington.

Question: What about the laws that prohibit smoking within a minimum distance of building entrances, windows, etc.?
Answer: Again, these rules generally apply only to tobacco smoke.

Question: What if we don’t want to allow e-cigarette use and/or employees complain about them?
Answer:  You can expand your policy to include prohibitions on e-cigarettes, even if the law has not yet kept pace. For non-union employers this is usually as simple as sending a notice to all employees. To ensure everyone understands the new policy, you may also want to explain it verbally and get a written acknowledgment. For a unionized workplace, you should advise the union of your intent to change your policy, and bargain as needed.   

The popularity of e-cigarettes is a pretty recent phenomenon and legislation has not kept up with these products. The health effects of e-cigarettes are still largely unknown. Also, there have been occasional reported instances of the batteries in e-cigarettes exploding while charging or exploding while being used. Prohibiting e-cigarettes may simplify the enforcement of your smoke-free workplace policy, so you don’t have to distinguish ordinary cigarettes from e-cigarettes at a distance, deal with coworker complaints, or worry about fire hazards. If you have any questions about implementing a new policy, please contact your Vigilant staff representative.

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