3MAR-VZ-blog-image-02-28-14Shayna Balch, a partner at Fisher & Phillips LLP, wrote an interesting article about smokeless cigarettes in the workplace. The acceptance of e-cigs has become a touchy issue for most workers and their employers because the jury is still out on the health effects of vapor smoking.

Balch offers four ways employers can manage the use of these revolutionary devices at the workplace:

    1. Learn what smokeless cigarettes are. Smokeless, or electronic, cigarettes are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine without producing smoke. The user inhales flavored nicotine vapor and exhales like they would a traditional cigarette. The difference is that there is no secondhand smoke, odor, or tar as with traditional cigarettes.

    1. Designate vapor smoking areas. While the health effects of traditional smoking are pretty well known, the same can’t quite be said for smokeless cigarettes. It’s best to designate a specific area where vapor smoking is allowed, but is separate from traditional smoking areas. Most e-cigarette users are former smokers who don’t want to be around or breathing secondhand tobacco smoke. Segregation will alleviate employee grievances.

    1. Schedule break times. Many employers and co-workers complain that smokers abuse their smoke break privilege. Both conventional and smokeless cigarette users need to understand there’s a limited time for smoke breaks, and that unauthorized or excessive breaks will result in disciplinary action or termination.

  1. Create an e-smoking policy. Employers may need to revise their smoking policies to address e-cigarettes in the workplace.

Most companies adopted policies using the language found in Arizona’s 2006 Smoke-Free Act, which prohibits smoking in the workplace and in company vehicles. The problem is that the Smoke-Free Act prohibits the use of traditional “lighted tobacco products”—not electronic “smokeless” cigarettes.

Employers may want to revise their company smoking policy with these key points in mind:

    1. Whether or not smokeless cigarettes are permitted in a work space, during office parties, in company vehicles, or at client sites

    1. Will vapor smokers have designated vaping areas, and where will those areas be

    1. Policy rules should be provided in writing and employees should be made aware of the consequences if they fail to comply; disciplinary action or termination

  1. The process for grievances needs to be created should the electronic cigarette user break the rules or infringe upon co-workers rights to a safe and clean work environment

In the end, clear policies will go a long way toward ensuring smokeless cigarette users are treated fairly, and that no one will be alarmed and feel uncomfortable when they see someone puffing on an unfamiliar looking device.