U.K. Agency Publishes Guidance on E-cigarettes in the Workplace

By Roy Maurer Sep 4, 2014

The United Kingdom’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) published a guidance to help employers decide on policies allowing employees to smoke e-cigarettes at work or banning them in the workplace.

Acas is an independent government agency with the purpose of improving employment relations through advice, training and arbitration.

Employers in the U.K. can choose whether to allow employees to smoke e-cigarettes—battery operated devices which simulate tobacco smoking by producing a vapor that resembles smoke—at work because the devices fall outside the scope of smoke-free law.

The guidance looks at the practical issues involved in allowing or prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes at work, and offers tips on rules and policies.

Allowing E-cigarettes at Work

Employers may want to support e-cigarette use for employees trying to quit smoking. “Advertising for e-cigarettes focuses on them being substitutes for cigarettes and often they are used as an aid to stop smoking, so employers should carefully consider the implications for their own organizations when deciding what to do,” the agency said. However, the vapor from e-cigarettes may bother some co-workers and could potentially provide a health risk to colleagues as the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are unknown, Acas said.

The potential confusion over who is smoking what is another issue to consider as e-cigarettes can look identical to actual cigarettes. If e-cigarettes are permitted, some employees may argue that real cigarettes should be allowed too.

Acas advised that if e-cigarettes are allowed at work, line managers should have to give approval on an individual basis.

Prohibiting E-cigarettes at Work

Preventing e-cigarettes at work may hinder those who use them to stop smoking. Employers may want to consider organizing a separate e-cigarette smoking area external to work premises, Acas advised.

Be Clear About Smoking and E-cigarettes

Employers should be clear about their rules on the use of e-cigarettes at work. A policy on e-cigarettes can be included in the smoking or drug and alcohol policy.

“When introducing new rules, employers should first consult with any recognized union or elected representatives, and they should speak with all employees to make sure they understand what the new rules mean and that they apply to them,” Acas said.

Employers should put up notices in the workplace which make it clear where employees may or may not smoke either cigarettes or e-cigarettes at work.

“Smoking is forbidden within workplace premises, however organizations can make certain areas available at work to be smoking areas,” Acas said. If employers provide a smoking area, it must comply with the legal requirements contained within the smoke-free laws of the U.K.

Employers may also wish to consider setting out rules about smoking breaks, Acas suggested, including how many can be taken, how long the break may last and any requirements about covering the work while on a break.

Employees should be reminded that smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes in a prohibited area at work will result in disciplinary action and that smoking cigarettes in a designated smoke-free public area is a criminal offense.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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